Our story begins in Fiji. A young David Owens fresh off his undergraduate experience has joined the Peace Corps and is organizing sustainable fishing programs for the locals. For four years this young scientist learns more about the Fijian community, and–more notably–its Chelonian residents. A chance encounter with graduate students visiting the site leads to a graduate degree in animal physiology- focusing on Sea Turtles. Now a PhD having attended sea turtle conferences all over the world, Dr. David Owens is an accomplished professor and Associate Dean of Graduate Studies.
The man in a light blue collared shirt before me has a twinkle in his eye as he recalls his escapades. “Find your niche,” he advises, “then focus on something unpopular”. Dr. Owens is referring to the tendency of those creating careers in the Natural Sciences to focus on topics that have extensive work already published on them. For his research Dr. Owens studied the reproductive physiology of sea turtles—hormones, migration patterns, et cetera. He strayed away from studying the nesting habits due to the quantity of literature already covering the subject—due in part to the ease of incorporating volunteers in the fieldwork involved in keeping track of turtle nests. His research was done with the involvement of graduate and undergraduate students alike. “That’s my favorite part,” he exclaims giddily, “the teaching!”
I frown in consternation, “but if I want to be involved in conservation and public outreach, then what do I start with or focus on—science or outreach?” Dr. Owens urges me to first establish a scientific base. If one has the content down, and becomes an expert, then the propensity for success when speaking on the subject to a broader audience will be exponentially higher. However, he implored me not to dichotomize the elements of communication and science: “The best scientists are communicators, and have a curiosity; not just any curiosity though, it must go deeper.” So:
-Stick with Studio Art
-Get involved at Grice
-Get up in front of people as often as you can
-Do your homework
-Get good grades