I think it was during undergrad at UConn when I first heard the term “lifelong learning.” I can’t remember exactly when or where I heard it but I do remember hearing it quite a bit. I had professors who explained their hope that their classes would help instill a passion for learning that would persist throughout our lives. They hoped we would see how powerful knowledge can be and that we would seek out new knowledge and learning whenever we got the chance. This was lifelong learning, not letting the learning stop after we got our degrees.
Since I graduated from UConn I have since pursued my Master’s degree and am now a Ph.D. candidate at Duke University and if it is one thing I have learned over the last five years since I got my Bachelor of Science is that there are always things to learn. For almost my entire life, minus the first few years, my title or you could think of it as my job has been “student.” My job has been learning. On top of that, my funding for my Ph.D. comes from being a teaching assistant. I have had seven extremely rewarding and all very different teaching assistantships in the last three years. And these, on top of my coursework for my degree, have given me incredible opportunities to learn.
On Sunday I returned home from the Caribbean Invertebrate Zoology travel course in the Bahamas with Dr. Brian Silliman, Ph.D. student from Duke Liz Schrack, Ph.D. candidate from UNC Rachel Gittman and Dr. Fred Diehl from the University of Virginia. What a learning experience that was and I am so thankful to Brian for bringing me along.
In just a couple of days the seven students on the course and I all learned all the species of corals that we would see on our snorkels to genus and species (in addition to all of the fish families). We knew the corals so well that we could snorkel and point to the different species as we swam. I cannot tell you how powerful this learning experience was for me. I have been fortunate enough to have gone snorkeling on many coral reefs before. My fieldwork is in Hawai’i and whenever I get the chance, I get in the water. In the past, I have focused on the “big” things. I would snorkel around and pay most of my attention to the fish and the turtles and the other vertebrates for the most part. But now, the reef is so much more alive and towards the end of the course with this new knowledge and this new apprecaition I found myself looking at the big stuff but also taking the time to appreciate the corals, to try to get as close as I could to look at the individual polyps and to appreciate the more subtle parts of the reef.
As we wrapped up the course in San Salvador, Bahamas, the faculty of the course, including me, had the time to share our reflections with the students. I told them to always take the chance to learn new things. These chances don’t have to be three week intensive field courses. They could be taking the time to read a newspaper article, watch a TED talk or go to a lecture. And given that I hope to work at a college or university after I finish, I will be lucky to have lots of opportunities to continue to learn. And these are the opportunities or the chances that I will always take because what better investment of time could there be?