Importance of Feedback. A Giant Post

So I’ve totally slacked the past on my last two weeks of the PINEMAP internship blogging. I traveled during both my last two weeks and was just so busy running and making plans back home that I neglected the blog. I managed to bank a ton of hours during the summer, so I was able to go back home to Cincinnati and see my family which was much needed. But better to blog late than never? I hope this large post can satisfy my lack of posts.

During my last couple of weeks I put together a presentation summary of my research this summer–specifically the numbers I crunched for fine roots of two different loblolly pine clones. The presentation went well enough, but I definitely still felt a little…not-as-smart…as the literal experts to whom I was presenting. I received some great feedback from my mentor on my powerpoint at the end. Most of his critiques were structural: put this slide here, this fits better there, etc. I typically take pride in my powerpoint making ability, but I think because I had spent so much time trying to impress the experts with my presentation that I lost focus on the big picture and how things really flowed within my presentation.  Here are a couple graphs I put together that I included in my presentation.

Picture1

 

This graph looks very cramped and confusing. I became wary when I made this graph with so many different variables, but my mentor said that the complexity is quite alright as long as I explain it. So essentially, I have different markers for every combination of clone/treatment/depth of roots. Without really explaining what’s going on, you can see that all of the different markers essentially have the same linear relationship; no major differences between treatments and clones stick out. Chris and I expected to see the markers more spread out vertically, but that wasn’t the case. The treatments and clones don’t different with their length:weight ratios. I admit I was a little disappointed that our data wasn’t revealing a big differences in the two clones, but hey, that’s research. Sometimes “no difference” is the answer. My coworkers kept reminding me that which made me still feel valuable to our team.

Picture3

This graph on the other hand does reveal some differences between the two clones. The first two dark orange bars in each size class and depth (x-axis) are for the control treatment. The first bar is the clone which has a wide crown; the second bar is the clone which has a narrow crown. Again, without really getting into it, you can see that the narrow crown clone has much more fine root length than the broad crown clone. This discovery is interesting because you’d hypothesize that a tree with a wider crown (more leaf area) would need a larger root system to support the amount of leaves; that hypothesis isn’t the case here. The narrow crown has more fine root length than the wide crown clone. Because of this we hypothesize that the narrow crown clone has a greater capacity to store carbon below ground than the wide crown clone. Also, less leaf area means less water stress, so the narrow crown clone could save resources in regards to water. Without the full picture, the narrow crown clone would seem to be the “more favorable” clone to plant.

 

As I reflect on my research I’m happy with how it went. I do wish that I had a better understanding of what I was doing the whole time though. I didn’t know why I was scanning roots or digging cores or what I was going to do with the numbers until the last couple weeks of my internship. Even when I read the papers on what my other metrics (ie Specific Root Length, a common morphological metric that speaks to the economic allocation aspects of a tree) and really understood what the papers were saying, I was never totally confident in what they meant for our purposes for the study I was working on. Perhaps that was because our study is so vast, I was only there for a couple months, and I only crunched numbers for one month’s data. This research and focus of loblolly roots was the core (no pun intended) of my internship, but really I felt like it was a backbuner to everything else I learned. Because I don’t feel that I really mastered my few excel graphs and their meanings in the large scheme of things, I feel that my other work this summer was more valuable. Getting dirty, getting poison ivy while digging cores, just doing the field work and doing the monotonous but necessary work of fractionation and sifting in the lab gave me more worth than putting together graphs in excel. I’m saying that because I have no idea how the team would have processed so many roots with one less pair of hands. I gladly did the tedious work and found value in chipping away at the large pile of bags in the fridge. Perhaps that’s my personality. As a person who runs long distances, I’m good at mentally picking away mile after mile and see value in achieving an end result at the finish line. That’s not to say that I want to be a lab intern for good. I don’t. I liked the challenge of putting together the graphs and making sense of huge excel sheets, but I found more value in the typical “intern” work and being another set of hands to help with whatever needed to be done.

So this summer I learned that I like physical and practical results such as an empty bucket that was filled with bags that needed processing; I do not like abstract results that don’t really mean anything like a couple graphs for a study that takes 10 years to complete. Therefore I will not be attending grad school with the purpose to go into the governmental research field. I accomplished a goal of mine for the summer–to figure out if I want to grad school or not. One of the workers in Durham said that the field is declining and the money is tight and frustrating. Why do something that’s failing when I’m not in complete love with it? Even though I do not plan on grad schooling, I still have the utmost respect for people who have that conviction and passion for continued book learning. I certainly don’t consider my choice to not go to grad school a failure of the program–I simply believe my talents could be used elsewhere.

 

On a somewhat unrelated note, I’d like to address the importance of feedback. One of the workers who I spent many hours of driving with had a meeting with me where we gave each other constructive criticism of our summers. We shared our opinions on each other’s strength and weaknesses. This worker said he never had anybody help him in that way, or guide him with career advice, so he wanted to help me. I’m so thankful and glad he did! I learned some pretty cool things about myself. He stated my:

Strengths– Flexibility and adaptability, curiosity, ability to focus on an individual task as well as ability to multitask, punctuality, and level of fitness.

Things I could Improve upon– Technical vocabulary, logical thinking skills, synthesis of info and ability to make small forecasts.

It was good to hear that I’m viewed as flexible. I think I’m hard-headed actually: if I have run 5 more miles on the week to hit my scheduled 100, you bet I’m going out at 9pm to run those last five miles. I never classified myself as adaptable, but I definitely see that in myself now that it was pointed out. I can regroup and refocus well. If you accept the situation and how you feel, you can move on.  I agreed that I could improve my technical vocab; I stumble for words frequently while speaking scientifically. Developing logical thinking skills and synthesis info comes with age he said, but I now know that I should hone that focus.

My point is that I’m extremely happy with my feedback meeting. I received a large booklet of leadership and career development materials and advice–priceless papers. Doing the work is great. Getting results is great. But in my opinion, if you don’t grow personally from your experience, all your results and work is worthless. At the end of the day we should be focused on becoming more open, happier, and growing people. And receiving feedback does just that.

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