What the Textbooks Can’t Tell You

Posted by Emily Lai u5500513

It has been almost three years since I have started pursuing an undergraduate degree in Geography and International Development Studies. For me, one of the primary reasons of choosing to go to university is to better equip myself in becoming a long-term, contributing member of society at large. Conflictingly, on more than one occasion, I’ve come to the end of particular courses and wondered to myself, “How do I make a difference out there, if I’m sitting in here?” Let’s face it, university life is chock full of decisions. Between choosing the institution, figure out your living situation, deciding on a program and creating post-graduate plans, it seems like the decisions never end. This year, one major decision brought me to the Australian National University all the way from McGill University in Canada for a semester on exchange. The work experience part of our assessment in one of my classes, Biodiversity Conservation, has allowed me to bridge that gap between the classroom and the world ‘out there’.

In April, I worked with the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation (SMEC) in a grassland earless dragon survey in the Majura region. The abundance of this endangered species directly impacts potential land development plans.

Apart from a few slugs and black widow spiders, we unfortunately didn’t catch any grassland earless dragons that day. Photo from http://bwvp.ecolinc.vic.edu.au/fieldguide/fauna/grassland-earless-dragon#details

Apart from a few slugs and black widow spiders, we unfortunately didn’t catch any grassland earless dragons that day. Photo from http://bwvp.ecolinc.vic.edu.au/fieldguide/fauna/grassland-earless-dragon#details

In May, I went out to the Scottsdale Reserve with Greening Australia for a day of native tree planting. This ongoing re-vegetation effort aims to crowd out the highly invasive weed, the African lovegrass.

Managed by Bush Heritage Australia, properties like this rely on donor dollars and volunteer groups such as Greening Australia and school groups to re-vegetate and care for the land.

Managed by Bush Heritage Australia, properties like this rely on donor dollars and volunteers such as Greening Australia and school groups to re-vegetate and care for the land.

That day, a group of 14 volunteers planted over 34 0 trees in Scottsdale

That day, a group of 14 volunteers planted over 340 trees in Scottsdale!

I returned to the Greening Australia nursery a few times in Aranda to help out with weeding and preparing the plants that eventually end up in the field.

Every week, enthusiastic volunteers make sure hundreds of plants are healthy and ready to be planted at various locations in the ACT and NSW.

Every week, enthusiastic volunteers make sure hundreds of plants are healthy and ready to be planted at various locations in the ACT and NSW.

In the nursery, plants are sorted depending on their species and 'batch number,' or the date they were potted

In the nursery, plants are sorted on benches depending on their species and ‘batch number,’ or the date they were potted.

Mural-sized birds in graffiti covered one of the  buildings at the nursery.

Beautiful mural-sized graffiti birds covered one of the buildings at the nursery.

In my opinion, the work experience had less to do with the specifics of the task itself but rather the simple idea of going out there to get our hands dirty. As the saying goes, “There’s more than one way to skin a cat.” Whether it is a course on biodiversity conservation, hydrology management or urban planning, I believe there should be a heavier emphasis for undergraduates to experience learning from a myriad of approaches – Lectures, conferences, academic research, fieldwork, community engagement and studying abroad. In fact, I have come to realize that the research-intensive teaching style at my home university has allowed me to compare and highly value the emphasis on fieldwork at the ANU. So get out there and plant some trees, spot a few possums in the dark or catch a few dragons… No amount of university lectures or textbook readings can give you that same experience.

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About Biodiversity Conservation Blog

I am an Associate Professor at The Australian National University and convene a (very awesome) course called Biodiversity Conservation. Myself and students in the course contribute to this blog.
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One Response to What the Textbooks Can’t Tell You

  1. Emily. I’ve enjoyed hearing about the differences between your training in Montreal and Australia. I hope you enjoyed your experience in Australia. Phil

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