I spent the first week driving to and from in Washington, DC to attend a pre-departure meeting for the National Science Foundation East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes Fellowship that I received. This is a highly competitive fellowship to go to one of seven different locations in the Pacific and Oceania (Japan, South Korea, China, Taiwan, Singapore, Australia, or New Zealand). The goal of this fellowship is to foster collaborations between U.S. graduate students and international researchers.
For years, I have been trying to get to Australia to work on a new group of frogs. Frogs in the genus Pseudophryne are small, brightly colored, and toxic. It is a great system to compare to Poison Dart Frogs. What makes them really fascinating is that they produce the same kind of toxins as the Poison Dart Frogs, but they make them on their own, rather than by diet like the Dart Frogs. They're the only frogs that can do this.
There were 215 recipients of the award that attended this meeting in DC that ranged from fellow evolutionary biologists to sociologists to nuclear physcists. There was a lot of brain power in a small room and a ton of enthusiasm. It was inspiring to see all of the different people there all being excited about their own particular projects. Being a biologist, I tend to only surround myself by biologists, so it was an interesting experience to interact with non-biologists. I felt a bit intimidated talking to those grad students, but I like to think that they were intimidated by my project.
There were 30 recipients of the award for Australia. And they are going to be stationed all over the country. The way the award works is that we have to develop a project with a host researcher who will mentor us while we are in the country. I will be working with Dr. Michael Mahony of the University of Newcastle and Dr. Stephen Donnellan of the University of Adelaide (with Newcastle being my home base). I'll be the only person in Newcastle, but there are people who will be nearby, so I imagine we will occasionally meet up with our cohort to explore the country. We will be in Canberra around June 20 for an official welcome by the Australian Academy of Sciences, and then be sent off to our host locations.
With the visa, I only have a maximum of 90 days in country, even though I only officially have to be in the country June 23 through August 19 (8 weeks). I think I'm going to go a few weeks earlier to work on my project and to ensure I have plenty of time to rub elbows with Australian researchers and explore eastern Australia.
This is an amazing opportunity not only to get to a new country, but to establish contacts in an area that has been of interest to me for much of my life. As a result of this, I have decided that I am going to go all gung-ho with the trip and blog about it on regular basis. I have also joined Twitter (@JPLawrencePhoto) to keep social media involved. This is going to be a productive summer, and I can't wait for it to start and bring you all along!
And just so I can have a photo with this post, I managed to stay in the Smokies and Shenandoah National Park when going to/from DC. The photo is of Trillium cuneatum, a spring wildflower found throughout the woodlands in the Appalachians.