OTS 17-3 Feature Films

Films produced in less than a week by the graduate students of the 17-3 Tropical Biology: An Ecological Approach course, with guidance from science communication workshop leaders Nelson St. Hilaire and Gancho Briceño, and faculty-led research project leaders Carey Minteer, Jeanne Robertson, and Beth Braker.

How easily can a scientist make a video?

By: Jennifer Stynoski, PhD (Course Coordinator)

The role of the scientist in getting out the message about their work and its importance is vital in today’s society. No longer will isolated publication of data in obscure and jargon-laden journals and leaving the message delivery to “someone else” function, especially if we are concerned about the public valuing and supporting the crucially important work that we scientists do. I would argue that we are smarter than leaving it to chance like that and crossing fingers that someone picks up the story. Perhaps we just lack some skills in science communication.

In this course, we take a baby-step effort to address the gap between scientists doing science and scientists effectively communicating that science outside of their small network of the campus/conference bubble. We train grad students in ecology to produce podcasts, general public talks, community surveys, and even videos aimed at storytelling about the tasks and work they are doing.

This year, science communicators Nelson St. Hilaire and Eduardo “Gancho” Briceño led a 1-week workshop to train our group in how to produce a short film. The students produced first a “practice” film focused on a story about a leaf-cutter ant on a journey. Three small groups of students completed these videos in less than one day of work. In future posts, we will highlight the three feature films that students produced in association with their Faculty-led Research Projects at La Selva.

¿Estaciones o Burbujas?

By: Adolfo Rodríguez Velázquez, OTS PhD student from the University of Puerto Rico

Un gran número de científicos llegan cada año a Costa Rica. En su gran mayoría para que este país con su gran biodiversidad, paisajes, ecosistemas, entre otros atributos, sean componentes esenciales en el laboratorio de la Pura Vida. En estas casi 6 semanas he sido testigo de todo lo que esta maravillosa tierra puede ofrecerle a la comunidad científica pero hoy 24 de junio de 2017 fui parte de uno de los componente que muchos científicos en algunos momentos olvidamos, la personas que conforman las comunidades alrededor de las estaciones. Como parte del proyecto de integración acomunaría que ostenta el curso de “Tropical Biology: An Ecological Aproach 17-3”, estuvimos desarrollando unas encuestas a la comunidad. Y es aquí donde pude sentir la verdadera esencia de la Pura Vida de este hermoso país con la calidez de su gente. Como científico a veces nos mantenemos en las estaciones, que en la mayoría de los casos podríamos llamar burbujas. Olvidamos que fuera de estos espacios existen comunidades las cuales cumplen un papel fundamental en relación a lo que ocurre dentro de las reservas. Aunque es así, sorprende saber que muchas de estas personas no conocen acerca de las labores que se realizan dentro de las mismas. Por otro lado, venimos a este país y obtenemos tanto, pero verdaderamente, ¿nosotros andamos dejando algo?. La ciencia cada día es más integrativa, y el componente comunitario cada vez posee un mayor peso. Tenemos que integrar a estar personas, ser parte de ellos y ellos de nosotros. Entiendo que este tipo de cursos debe de completar más proyectos de esta envergadura, donde se considere e incluya a la comunidad. Está en nuestras manos hacer la ciencia más integrativa, abierta y accesible.


Poem and pictures by: Anant Deshwal, OTS PhD Student from the University of Arkansas

Venture did we
Into the world unknown
Through the darkest tunnels to be
We the dwarfs, dreaming in the land of giants
Scared, unsure and insecure
Can’t help it, with the lust for research so pure

In our darkest hour and highest of mess
Appeared the majestic tropical angel
Call her pristine, snowy or simply OTS
Illuminating the path unseen
Scientific dilemma of significant p value to be or not to be
Call us whatever for we are the PhD

Bridging the Gap in the Monteverde Cloud Forest


by: Patricia Salerno, PhD (Co-Coordinator)

We woke up on June 6th atop the beautiful cloud forest in Monteverde, surrounded by tourists and birds and plants that live on plants. The students had a one day crash course in making podcasts. The rules of the game were simple. The groups of 2-3 people had to make a story about the projects that they had completed in Palo Verde only a few days before, and make it relatable and engaging to the audience at hand: ecotourists. They needed to interview at the very least two people. One of the interviewees needed to be an author of the paper, and another one a tourist. Target length, three minutes. Total number of hours to work on it, nine. Total technical instruction on production for building a sound clip and mixing it, about an hour. The results: brilliant. Couldn’t be more proud. They truly succeeded at what the entire exercise really was about: telling an engaging science story, and bridging the gap!


Tropical Biology: from The Cloud Forest to the Rainforest

Tropical Biology in Palo Verde

The Tropical Biology an Ecological Approach 17-3 group at Palo Verde Biological Station inside Palo Verde National Park

By: Patricia Salerno, PhD (Course Co-coordinator)

It’s week three of the course, and we are just getting settled in to our fourth site, La Selva Biological Station. Though we may be missing the fog, the quetzals, and the enormous epiphyte diversity that we got accustomed to in Monteverde, we are thrilled to chase around the many frogs and lizards, to network with an enormous variety of researchers, and to begin phase three of student projects and phase two of our science communication training.

We started out in Palo Verde, which graced us with low mosquito abundances and great faculty leaders: Dr. Chris Murray (Tennessee Tech U.), Dr. Jennifer Powers (University of Minnesota), and Dr. Oscar Laverde (Universidad Javeriana, Bogotá Colombia). After wrapping up three very successful projects and our first dance party (of course), we headed to Cirenas in the Nicoya Peninsula. The adventure of getting there – and almost not making it on the first night due to high tides and bad roads –  was competely worth it.  We spent four days learning about statistics in R and about writing and editing scientific papers in between running around the rocky intertidal and mangrove communities.

After the Pacific Ocean we headed to Monteverde, where we did a full day workshop on effective storytelling through podcasts. Afterwards our sixteen students split into five groups and developed their first independent projects – after a bit of back and forth with developing solid testable hypotheses given the available time and resources.

Our twelve day stay at La Selva will be packed with field and classroom adventures. The students will be carrying out a second faculty-led project while concurrently producing a film with our invited science communication crew, Nelson Saint-Hilaire and Eduardo Briceño. Later on they will develop their second independent projects. We are looking forward not only to working with our three guest faculty at La Selva (Dr. Carey Minteer, Dr. Beth Braker, and Dr. Jeanne Robertson) but also to our last two sites: the Oak forest in Cuerici and the Premontane forest of Las Cruces!