One thing I’ve learned over two summers of field work in Siberia is that working here…is a little different. Obviously there’s the location, which involves issues like the downfall in productivity on particularly beautiful days, when even the most dogged of researchers must pause for a hike or to do laundry. There’s the fact that our cheap vodka supply is used not for drinking but for preserving samples, as other forms of ethanol are less readily available. I could go on about these physical differences, but what I find most interesting about working in Baikal is the difference in mindset that is necessary to have a fulfilling field season.
As American scientists working in Russia, we are (whether we like it or not) science ambassadors. Since our arrival in July, the Biostation has become a temporary stopping point for a variety of people: two groups of physicists, a group of high school students from Germany and China, and a group of young boys accompanied by the eminent biologist, Professor Oleg Timoshkin.
All of these groups have been curious, and often ask what a group of American scientists are doing in Baikal. In response, we have been giving tours of our lab and explanations of our research project to anyone who seems interested. Marianne and Ted especially have become pros at showing off our lab to these groups, trying to entice them with photos of saprolegnia-infested Epischura. Marianne was asked to give a talk to the Korean, Japanese, and Russian physicist conference, which was received with great pleasure and curiosity by the audience.
Lev lectured to the high school students who stopped by a few weekends back, which was also very well received. The young boys with Professor Timoshkin particularly enjoyed the tour around the lab, and a quick graphic of Epischura as super heroes (done by yours truly in Paint).
This mixing of Russian and US outreach has been an unexpected pleasure, and has brought some surprising benefits! We found out recently that Kirill, who has posted previously about his most recent trip to the states, has exciting news! He has received the Russian Presidential Scholarship, which will allow him to go to grad school in the US (at MSU) for a year with Dr. Elena Litchman. Another student from Irkutsk State University has received the same scholarship and will be studying in Dr. Lev Yampolsky’s lab for a year. I’m convinced Kirill is a scholarship all-star, as he also received the ASLO Outreach fellowship last year which allowed him to work with our team. I think everyone on the team has been inspired by his work ethic and cheerfulness, so it’s fantastic to see his achievements continue.
I know there is a stereotype that scientists are unapproachable and buried in their work, but I think our team has proved that this is not the case. I hope those we interacted with enjoyed hearing about our research, as we also enjoyed learning from them. The nice thing about outreach is that it is never a one-way street- both sides end up becoming enriched in various ways, and it’s why I believe science outreach is so important.