June 11, 2014
Kayla Hoppe is a senior in MSU's Lyman Briggs College studying biomedical laboratory science. This story is adapted from an essay she wrote for the Study Away course and originally ran in Briggantine, the Lyman Briggs magazine.
Friday Harbor Laboratories is one of the oldest marine laboratories in the United States. Located north of Seattle in the San Juan Islands, Friday Harbor has been an important setting for research on marine biology, oceanography and fisheries. Its surrounding waters are clean, there is little boat traffic, and it boasts an impressive variety of terrestrial and aquatic organisms. Historically and still today, Friday Harbor Laboratories has been a place where scientists and their families have lived and learned together in community.
During Spring Break 2014, I joined 15 other MSU students on a living and learning experience of our own at the Friday Harbor Laboratories. We signed up for a weeklong Study Away course titled “Science and the Culture of Field Stations,” led by Lyman Briggs faculty members Mark Largent and Georgina Montgomery.
I didn’t know what to expect from this course, but I signed up knowing it would be a unique and rewarding experience. Although I am not a marine biologist, I was very interested to see the work of marine biologists up close. I knew that the procedures and lab protocols would be somewhat similar to my research of plants at MSU. I was also excited for the opportunity to visit the west coast for the first time and to hike throughout the San Juan Islands.
We spent our week at Friday Harbor living and learning much like the scientists that conduct research at the island’s laboratories. We lived in dormitories, ate in a communal dining hall and spent time together studying and exploring the laboratories. Our class also visited a whale museum, went on a wildlife tour and hiked on various trails with incredible views.
Throughout the week, we talked with various researchers about their work and career paths. I found the talk given by Dr. Montgomery’s husband, Bob Montgomery, to be especially influential. He outlined his research like most researchers do, but it was his past that I was most interested in hearing. Dr. Montgomery’s recounting of his own education and early career demonstrated the importance of seizing every opportunity.
He emphasized the importance of hard work and remaining open to all experiences, but most importantly to never be afraid to ask questions and to try something new. His talk directly correlated with my reasoning to join this trip and matched my own mentality that hard work and dedication can take you far, you just cannot be afraid to take risks.
Our class tied these activities together through group discussions and course readings on the history and culture of marine biological stations. We read articles about the history of sites such as Friday Harbor where scientists blended work, friendship, family and recreation.
My favorite article that we read was called “Why American Marine Stations?: The Teaching Argument,” by Keith Benson. This article focused on the important philosophy of “the study of nature from nature” on which marine biological stations in the United States were developed. I was able to witness this philosophy at work firsthand during our week at the Friday Harbor Laboratories.
Through this Study Away experience, I also witnessed the many ways in which marine biological stations function as sites for interdisciplinary research and networking, that are increasingly important in scientific fields. Marine biological stations make it easy for researchers to come together with their knowledge in a fun and welcoming atmosphere. One scientist explained to us that the Friday Harbor Laboratories have historically been more of a community rather than simply a place of work. Researchers of various disciplines brought their families to Friday Harbor and were able to create a diverse, scientific community.
We observed a slightly different type of community by attending the Columbia History of Science Group Conference, which is held each year at Friday Harbor.
At this conference, historians and philosophers of science from around the country gather for a weekend to share their research with colleagues in a comfortable and informal setting. As a spectator and student participant at the conference, I sensed the passion researchers had for their work as well their camaraderie they share with each other.
I enjoyed learning about their research topics, which ranged from the history of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at NASA to the history of groundwater research in the Middle East. I also enjoyed asking the historians about their career paths and hearing their own stories about Friday Harbor.
Through my adventure at the Friday Harbor Laboratories, I had the opportunity to not only read and hear about marine biological stations, but to live and learn at one. I gained a better idea of the history and culture of marine biological stations and talked to scientists about their experience living and learning at the Friday Harbor Laboratories. And lastly, I experienced the importance of “learning nature from nature.” I plan to apply this this mentality to other aspects of my life and career and to continue to seize learning experiences such as this course at Friday Harbor.