I finally returned to the Kruger Park this past March! How lucky I am to do work with such amazing scientists and staff there, in such an incredible landscape filled with animals I never thought I'd get to see. And folks, it pays to hang out with botanists: While admiring a particularly hardy and beautiful Terminalia sericea, one of my favorite savanna trees, I encountered my first ever chameleon in the wild. What a beauty that I never would have noticed had we not stopped to smell the roses -- uh, I mean, the silver cluster-leaf!
This trip to Kruger was much too short, but I managed to cram in a workshop, a conference, and a field course of Duke Master's students led by one of my advisors, Jim Clark. It was amazing to watch myself jump between these three professional modes (workshop leader, networker/presenter, and teacher); I think even a year ago I wouldn't have had the stamina for it.
Savanna Soils Workshop
The first few days of my trip were spent facilitating a workshop brought together by Laurence Kruger and Norman Owen-Smith, with co-runners Emily Wedel and Arjun Potter. It was a lot of work, but what an incredible gift to have spent so much time with a small group of savanna scientists whose work I have admired for years. I learned a lot during those few days, about savannas, scientific careers, and especially how to balance so many different personalities, ideas, and relationships.
Some workshop takeaways:
Savanna Science Network Meeting
After the workshop was the 20th annual Savanna Science Network Meeting, where savanna scientists from across the globe gather to share their science and network with each other. The week was filled with so many interesting presentations, great conversations, and new friends made. Words can't describe how amazing it was to realize that I am embedded in a community of kind, intelligent, multi-faceted scientists who all want to share ideas and beers and watch the sun set together.
If I take anything away from this week, it's (1) I should be more confident in my science; everyone loved my talk (see video recording here), and (2) I can't wait to come back next year!
Duke Field Course
What can I say? I love teaching. I had an absolute blast interacting with the Master's students, showing them the wonders of the savanna and experiencing new discoveries with them. I even had fun spending hours gluing fluorescent strings to dried marula seeds. I need to remember the joy I feel in teaching when I consider my career. PS - Read the students' blog here!
I also learned through these three experiences that I have become a much more resilient person since my last trip to Kruger. Criticism, conflict, and differences of opinion really don't shake me as much as they used to; whether this is through exposure therapy or a genuine increase in my confidence as a scientist is still up for debate, but I think it's a little of both.