Climate Risk Mapping

by Ella Gay (’24).

I was initially drawn to this internship because of the environmental research aspect that it seemed to offer. As a biology major interested in research and an environmental studies minor looking to explore the effects of climate change, it seemed like a perfect fit. I feel like my three years of Wake Forest education definitely prepared me well for the work over this summer, but there were still so many new skills I developed, especially since I had never partnered in work with the com department before.

            One of the skills that I believed was most eye opening was learning about the concept of participatory risk mapping. As a science focused student, I had been fixated on numbers, data, and trend seeking for so long. Being able to be mentored by Dr. Rowie Kirby-Straker and learning from the work of Dr. Simmons, I was able to grasp the importance of community collaboration. I finally was able to pair data and results with real human interactions and perceptions they had about their environment. It showed how meaningful it is to give a voice to these members of the Caribbean that are living through the climate risks and disasters we are collecting information about.

            Another key realization for me was the precision it takes to correctly develop research methods and be approved by the IRB. It was my first time ever completing the quite thorough training they require, as well as making revisions and reading over the series of proposals and amendments that were made. It was eye-opening to see that you must be so careful when assessing factors like limiting bias and ensuring proper compensation for participants. Additionally, I saw how every time you would revise something to the survey procedure or data collection, you had to be very clear in your amendments. You cannot simply “make it up as you go” without meeting the standards of approval.

            As for how it will help me with future life, it has many benefits both academically and professionally. It gave me my true introduction to zotero which is becoming increasingly common in almost every class. The repetition of adding articles, tags, and sorting the links into folders gave me a clear understanding of how to use the citation tool most effectively. It also made me fall in love with the structure of using tables to clearly organize information. It now seems to be my go-to method for almost any document setup, which will be helpful for a lot of my future schoolwork.

Additionally, I am hoping to apply to grad school in the fall, and research experience and collaborating on a publishing project is a great way to prove your skill sets. It also helped me come to the realization that I will feel more fulfilled professionally if my career involves collaboration with people who need more support and information when it comes to climate and environmental risk.

            Overall, I am so grateful for this opportunity and the benefits that came from it. I would highly recommend it to students who are looking for a way to apply their environmental interests in a communication way, especially if they are not excited by alternative career paths of environmental science such as environmental law. I also think it is a great way to get a sense of the research world without needing a ton of prior experience. If you are willing to work hard, it is an opportunity to test if research is a path you would want to continue in life. I also think it is important to stay highly organized and on top of your deadlines. In many cases, it is crucial you work swiftly and effectively. Staying organized will help collaborators quickly understand your work and make sure you are keeping up with the experiment’s pace without missing out on important details.

            I really look forward to seeing how the rest of the data collection process wraps up. I am happy to help in any way in the future if you want to reach out, especially when it comes to the publishing process and seeing the final products.

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