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Working in a Rainforest Abroad

If you don’t apply, they’ll pick some other guy.

Click. “Dear Ms. Tokarz, I am please to inform you that you have been selected to participate in the 2014 STRI REU Program in integrative biology…” Gasp. I’m in?!

Three Months Earlier

There must be students that are more qualified. The thought crept into my mind as I scrolled through the website. The qualifications seemed to ask for a student who had already completed a research experience.

So then where does one begin? Thankfully, a graduate student involved in geology research shared her experiences seeking out research opportunities with me.

“The first is the hardest to find.” She encouraged me to apply. “Give it a try.”

Why not me? I like plants. I like rainforests. The Royal Botanic Gardens were among my favorite excursions in Rio de Janeiro. Scientific research might be my calling.

I emailed possible mentors listed on the website and was grateful to hear back from one. In my emails and on my résumé I was honest about my heightened interest and my limited experience. I hope my interest is enough. I sent it. Click.


Perhaps interest is the fundamental requirement because technical skills can be taught, but intrigue is innate. Perhaps one connection is all it takes to make an impression. I may not know exactly how I was chosen to be a research assistant at STRI, but I certainly would not have been afforded this opportunity had I not submitted the application.

I do not know exactly what lies before me, but the usually tedious processes of booking a plane ticket and filling out paperwork is making me sing instead of sniffle. I have about five weeks until I step onto Panamanian soil. Let the countdown begin!

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Elizabeth Tokarz

Elizabeth Tokarz attends Yale University and originally hails from the Chicago suburbs. This summer, she will be on Panama’s Barro Colorado Island investigating “consequences of natural enemies for the chemical composition of a tropical forest” with the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. Follow Elizabeth’s investigations!

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