Emma Reich

PhD Student in Ecological and Environmental Informatics

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A brief and incomplete love letter to ecology



All science is based in wonder. In fact, it was a yearning for adventure that led me to pursue ecology in the first place. Whether measuring water potentials of oaks in northern California, collecting algae in French Polynesia, identifying plants in the arctic, or censusing fossils in New Mexico, I have found the act of discovery that comes with research inexplicably exciting.


Science offers a way to explore the world that is inherently curious and beautiful. There isn’t a better way to approach growing and learning than doing science, because it requires you to ask questions. The whole point of science is not knowing, and that ideology opens doors to different modes of perception in all areas of the human experience.


A few years ago I read an essay by Thomas L. Fleischner that highlights how I've grown to feel about research (Why Natural History Matters). In it, Fleischner makes a case for the value of observation-based science, not only for its usefulness in inspiring scientific questions, but for its effect on the human condition by encouraging sympathetic meditation on the surrounding world. At the time, I had started my own journal of natural history observations and I related to his sentiment with an acuteness I did not expect— in my ecological research I too had found joy in the simple act of paying attention. Through careful observation of the natural world, ecological thinking can become a rebellion against standard schemas of thought in that it functions in a space where one must focus on systems separate from one’s personal self. In this way, careful observations in the field can become empathy outside of it. Learning that type of perceptivity has the potential to become really powerful. I believe we can apply this empathy for the unknown into our everyday lives, whether we are interacting with nature or with people.