Saturday, March 20, 2010

What Brings Us To Love Natural History

In response to some of the comments on my first post I’ve been thinking about a few related things. Some of the comments were about what drew people (or not, as the case may be) to biology or an appreciation of nature/natural history. I’ve been thinking about my own story which is a little bit convoluted. I, like some of the commenters, was pushed away from biology in high school. As I was deciding what science class to take my freshman year I started hearing a lot of rumors about how hard and boring freshman biology was. Looking back on it now it seems a little silly. I was fairly comfortable with difficult but difficult and boring did not seem to go very well together. So I opted to take what my school called “physical science” which was basically a remedial class that mixed earth sciences and physics. The teacher was one of the best I had in high school and I actually ended up having a really great time there. In high school I stayed with chemistry and physics and dodged biology entirely.

In college I had a similar inclination to dodge the boring and difficult and had no desire to be involved in four hour lab sessions, molecular biology or the dreaded organic chemistry. I really didn’t even slow down to consider biology. I ended up in my college’s second most popular major: psychology. But I found that I was most interested in neuroscience and finished having taken every course offered in that field. Somewhere around my senior year I become very interested in learning more about evolution, sort of by way of evolutionary psychology (which seems very backwards now that I think about it). This eventually brought me into contact with two books by one of my heroes, Carl Zimmer, Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea which is a primer on the subject and At the Water’s Edge, an amazing book that discusses the evolution of fish onto land and whales back into the water. This was also the time in my life that I started becoming more interested in hiking, camping and shooting (with my camera) plants, animals and fungi.

There’s a little more to it than that but I decided that I wanted to be a science educator around this time too. I started taking some more science courses, eventually went to grad school, started introducing myself as a science educator in cover letters and eventually I got to be just that.

If I had to say a moment or a time that really inspired my interested in biology and natural history it would be reading At the Water’s Edge. Zimmer isn’t a biologist or a teacher, he’s a writer, so maybe that’s why I continue to try to reach people through this medium as well.

So what drew you to biology or an appreciation for nature/natural history? Or what had the opposite effects? Were you like me and some of the commenters, rejecting or getting turned away from the field because of the way it’s approached in public schools? What changed that? Or if you’re still not particularly enthusiastic about biology or natural history why not?

1 comment:

  1. I started out very young with an almost weird fascination for animals of all kinds, so it was sort of inevitable that I would be drawn to studying biology. However, my public school experiences did pretty much nothing to encourage this. In fact, for awhile in high school I was very removed from the idea that studying biology was the right way to go for me. I thought I would be more likely to pursue environmental science and focus on helping to protect nature rather than learning about it. I really identify with the comments made by Joe on your second post about how it would be much more effective for biology/science in general to be taught from the macro level to the micro rather than vice-versa. Once I began to learn more about evolution in a broad scope, instead of learning about cells or mendelian genetics, that's what really sparked my interest and began to point me in the direction of majoring in biology in college. Also, I went on a natural-history focused trip to Ecuador my sophomore year of high school which, cheesily, rekindled the fascination with animals and plants that I had as a child.