As an undergrad the same question is always asked for every scientific project I do or study: “why is this important?” This question is the bane of undergrads because the answer usually lies in whatever lesson the professor is trying to teach us but we can rarely read their minds to know what answer they are looking for. Every time a new project is assigned I know the question is coming, and I cringe knowing I will not have the right answer. I know in science everything has a reason, but can’t the answer for once just be because someone somewhere was interested?
Recently I have discovered that this horrible question really is in fact crucial to science and does not necessarily have a right or wrong answer like it does in the classroom. Through my experiences this summer, and especially here on the IRES trip, I have discovered that asking why something is important depends on who you are and what information you want to receive. As a researcher, this question may mean why is this project important to the furthering of the scientific knowledge? To the student learning, this question may mean why is this project important to your schooling and what can you learn from it to help you in the future? And to the general public, this question may mean how does this project impact me and why should I care?
All of these versions of the dreaded question need to be answered. What I have learned is that the question the general public is asking is the most important to answer. As I said before, I always want to say a project is important because I am interested in the results. But I am the one who came up with the project so of course I am interested but why should someone else care? Science can have an impact on people’s lives, and they have every right to want to know what specifically is going on. This is why the dreaded question is necessary; it is human nature that we want to know.
Being here at Lough Hyne has opened my eyes to science and the general public mixing. Every day locals and visitors alike come to swim in their favorite spot, kayak through the smooth water and gaze at the beautiful landscape, hang out and catch up with friends, and snorkel the waters to enjoy wildlife in its natural habitat. Right alongside them are the scientists turning over rocks to see what’s below, snorkeling the lough to document algae movement, searching for urchins to estimate population size, and us conducting our own projects to better understand the ecology of the lough. Science and enjoyment coexisting in one beautiful place. Every day when we don our snorkel gear or are just getting out of the water, locals approach us to ask how the lough is doing, what the urchin population is like, and what we are studying here. Everyone seems to be genuinely interested in what we are looking at and amazed that even with how greatly studied the lough is that students can still find things to look at and learn from. As an undergrad, this gives me hope that something I am doing actually does matter and is important. It is important to the community that lives here and travels here. It is important to those who care about the lough and want others to enjoy it just as they have. It is important to those who came here as children, who knew the lough as being abundant in sea urchins and want to know why they have all but disappeared.
The work we are doing here at Lough Hyne is a continuation of the work that has been done here for almost 100 years. How amazing is that? Scientists have been able to study this one area for nearly a century and there is still more to learn. That in itself makes IRES important; we are continuing the tradition of research here and striving to help the public understand marine life. For all of us studying here, we have different answers to the infamous question. We have the answer that helps further the scientific knowledge; we have the answer that teaches us a lesson on research for our future: and we now also have the most important answer for our time here: the reason for why someone should care about what we’re doing. The reason why locals and visitors alike ask us every day about what we are studying. The reason why we get up every day, spend hours in the cold water, do physically demanding work, do data entry until our eyes hurt, and why we love every minute of it. Our answer is simple: this is important because we are interested and are encouraged by those around us (whether local, visitor, or mentor) to help the lough in any and every way we can.
By: Katy Kachmarik