Growing up, I found that a lot of people have this misconception that being a scientist is hard and that it’s a job only for smart people. I admit, I am also guilty of this assumption, and always saw it as a career revolving around tons of lab work with many suspicious chemicals. Although that is true to some extent, that’s not how all scientists are, in fact, the life of a scientist can honestly be kind of fun.
My name is Kealohi, I’m from the island of Hawai’i, and I would say I don’t have the typical features of most scientists you would expect, but hey that’s why I’m here. Growing up, I never expected to go into such a field, especially as a woman of color, but to my surprise it’s actually a super interesting field to pursue that presents a lot of amazing opportunities.
Here at La Selva, I study canopy soils, which are basically soils that grow on branches way up in the treetops. With them I look at their sensitivities towards increasing temperatures and what this means for our changing planet. I mean at first glance, soils may not seem like the most thrilling project to be studying, but did you know soils actually play a big role in helping to control rising temperatures? This is done by mediating the CO2 that enters the atmosphere, so by understanding soil sensitivities to rising temperatures, it gives us a better idea of what these interactions could mean for our future.
Now to do this project, yes I do work in a lab, but being a scientist is more than lab work. Being a scientist means I get to immerse myself in nature to better understand what’s going on, which in my case that means working with this cool looking robot sensors, climbing trees, and playing with a giant slingshot to carry out my research. I know it’s not the typical thing you would expect out of a scientist, but since being here it has shown me that there are some really cool opportunities for adventure and exploration as a scientist. Not only does being a scientist help us to understand why things work, it also provides answers that explain what needs to happen so that we can continue to thrive in this changing environment. It’s also a cool excuse to get out and see the world! Don’t get me wrong, it is a lot of work, and sometimes I do spend long nights in the lab running experiments, but given me, it also doesn’t take a genius to do this either. Being in STEM has given me so many opportunities, funded so much that I could never afford, and presented me with some of the most unforgettable life experiences. I know science isn’t for everyone, but that doesn’t mean its not possible. This is what I’ve been doing this far in my career, and I hope it helps to clarify and change what you think the life of a scientist is all about.