Week 9: All In Perspective
Hey all, and welcome back to my blog.
I’ve made massive progress on my deliverable this week, writing the bulk of the feral cat portion of my whitepaper; I plan to have a draft of my deliverable finished by early next week. Dr. Leslie supplied me two studies about bee populations in New York City, which I’ve incorporated into my whitepaper (once again, thank you Dr. Leslie!)
I’ve also been connected with, and reached out to, a person named Ryan who does Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) projects at Flatbush Cats, one of the most well-known cat shelters which does TNR and supplies veterinarians and holding space in Brooklyn. Hopefully, I can get some type of hands-on experience that’ll supplement my ideas for my project.
In addition, I’m excited to share that Thursday, June 1st is a tentative date for my last visit to the farm for this project. There isn’t going to be any explicit plan for this visit like the last two, and thus I plan to discuss my research and conclusions with Dr. Cuonzo and her wife who also owns the farm, Vita Wallace, while joining along in their planned day.
I’d like to reflect on my expectations for this project. Going in, I was aware that the scope of my project was large, but I thought that only a lack of determination would be able to stop me. Although I had limited the scope of several research projects in the past, I overestimated the length of 70 days. At the conclusion of week 9, I’ve learned numerous lessons about research.
The first is that advisors will see something in your project that you don’t. I never expected for a large amount of my project to focus on public relations and urban ecological philosophy. It came about naturally, and, in hindsight, explains why my mentors recommended that I focus on connecting all of my data and conclusions to NYC—the city, the people, the government, the law, the organizations, and, yes, the cats. However, I also didn’t expect Dr. Leslie to tell me that it’d be impossible for me to calculate solitary bee populations in NYC during this project. It honestly hurt to hear, since, according to my initial mindset, this was proof that I wasn’t determined enough. Yet, in that same Zoom call, Dr. Leslie provided me with valuable information about bees, entomology, habitat loss, and a much better way to structure my whitepaper. I didn’t know the value of what I was hearing until I began to write the first half of my paper. So many of my sentences refer to what he told me in that call. Even though I sometimes just silently disagreed with what I was being told, I realize that all of my mentors throughout this process were trying to help me. If someone has a credible ethos, it’s often wiser to trust them than assume that you know better than they do.
The other crucial part about advising is to be a reliable and judgment-free source of support. My advisor, Mr. Sperrazza, always remained positive and realistic. It was very easy to talk with him, and spurred me whenever I felt unmotivated and lost. I’m a person who is especially self-critical, yet he has helped me lose that tendency and be happy for what I have done; as they say, “you can only do your best.”
Another major lesson that this research period has brought me to understand is that people who eventually become your connections are just that, people. They’re human. The first time that I’d reach out, I’d sometimes be too formal but expect to be admonished for being too informal, or some other unrealistic scenario. In sum, you shouldn’t worry about impressing anyone, but for establishing connections, making yourself known, and working for yourself.
Speaking of reaching out, I’ve learned that networking can get you farther than you’d ever imagine. I’d never imagine that I’d have the opportunity to have my research featured in a New York Times piece, nor to have met such helpful and intelligent mentors (that’s the word I use) in the feral cat world. If people that you meet aren’t viable connections, then you’ve traded in your time to reroute your project—that’s also very valuable, although make sure to be adaptable and have a backup plan!
Finally, the most important lesson that I’ve learned is to simply create motivation for yourself. I personally work better under a time crunch, so I’d break down my work into very small steps, then work before I sleep. However, this needs to be done in moderation; I didn’t take a day off for three weeks, and resultantly became increasingly unproductive until I went outside for a three-hour walk one day. Motivation also doesn’t grow out of comparing yourself to yourself previously, nor to others. It grows out of a genuine interest for what you’re doing.
I hope that these lessons can be useful for any future academic/student. They’ve helped me to become optimistic about what I’ve done, as well as shed my unproductive self-criticisms that I’d experience every week. Research, and more broadly, knowledge, is meant to be cumulative and build on and challenge what’s been established. If your work is proven wrong 300 years from now, but is enlightening today, then you’ve contributed to and advanced that field of study.
Thank you for reading.