Written by and photo courtesy of Eli Martin
Around a week before I set out for Operation Wallacea’s base in Indonesia for my eight week stay as a research assistant, a thought occurred to me. I realized that despite all the work I had done in picking out a program and organizing my travel plans I really didn’t know what I’d be doing on Hoga Island. I had never done any real substantive scientific fieldwork before so I didn’t have much to go on, I knew I’d be diving and helping dissertation students with their projects but that was about the extent of my thinking. I figured I would try a lot of things and hopefully do a different project every week. I must admit that part of my woeful lack of forethought was a bit of sheer nervousness. I was going to a totally new continent on the other side of the world and there would be nobody I knew there. I knew that this program would be a wonderful experience that could inform my aspirations for a future career in marine science, so I managed to power through the nervousness, but I still didn’t like to think too hard about it.
It sounds cliché I know, but I’m telling the truth when I say that as soon as I got to Hoga all my nervousness vanished. All the staff, RAs, and dissertation students were incredibly welcoming and interesting to talk to, and the island was simply amazing. After taking the Reef Survey techniques course, I felt far more confident in both my abilities as a diver and my knowledge of the ecosystem. After that I got to work. I tried several different projects like I originally thought I would, but somehow I always felt a bit removed from them. Fortunately for me, that was about to change. I had the great fortune of being able to work very closely with one of the dissertation students who needed extra support with her field work. Because of this I got to really invest my energy in one project, filming cleaner wrasse and analyzing their behavior and client selection, and see it through till its end. When I first came to Hoga I was worried about how many different projects I could participate in, but when I left I had learned the lesson that often it is best to bring your passion to bear on one. The fact that I had the flexibility to experiment and come to that conclusion is one of the best about working as a research assistant.