Did you know that there are people who get paid to live in Panama and catch lizards in the jungle? I didn’t know that was a job until several months ago, but now I’m one of those people! My name is Madeline, and I’m currently on co-op working at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI), which is a branch of the Smithsonian devoted to ecological studies. STRI has several locations in Panama where scientists come from all over the world to study the biodiversity of the tropics. I’ve been lucky enough to have the opportunity to join that community of researchers at the STRI field station in Gamboa, Panama. I’m assisting a scientist with his research on the evolutionary adaptation of a species of lizards, Anolis apletophallus, to climate change.
Let me rewind and explain how I got here. I’m a rising fourth year environmental engineering major, and this is my second co-op. Last year, I worked at an environmental engineering consulting firm on a water distribution project in Cape Cod. I really enjoyed the experience and learned a lot about the industry, but I wanted to try something completely different for my next co-op. During an engineering ecology and microbiology class that I took this past semester, I realized that I love ecology and hoped to find a co-op that incorporated some science or focused more on environmentally progressive engineering solutions, like clean energy. Also, since I am from upstate New York and have lived in the U.S. my whole life, I wanted to take advantage of this chance to try living somewhere else in the world.
Luckily, I found this co-op and it has ended up being everything I could have hoped for and more! I have been in Panama since July 1st, and I absolutely love it so far. It has been great to talk to so many different people and learn from them about ideas and careers that I never would have been exposed to otherwise, and the project that I’m working on is really interesting. More on that later though! Anyways, thanks for reading this. Hopefully my blog will inspire anyone who’s interested in a global co-op (maybe even this position at STRI!!!) to take the plunge and pursue that opportunity… or if not, I will try to make it at least a mildly entertaining read!