Postgraduate studies, in essence, involves an important choice regarding the field of study you want to follow. Unlike undergraduate studies, you might find yourself following your postgraduate research field for the rest of your life! It thus becomes important to follow your passion or to find love in what you do. This month I just felt it was worth highlighting the field of study that I am in and why I find joy in what I do.
I work in ecotoxicology. And like MANY people before me, I had no idea that such a field existed, let alone that I can make a difference in the world, in such an interesting way. I think a lot of researchers don’t start out knowing what they’ll do one day. Many of us start our undergraduate years with some vague (and wrong) ideas about our future, until we meet someone or learn something that suddenly changes our world. It was somewhere in a third-year ecotoxicology course, during the practical, when I saw the theory come alive that I decided that this is something I could do. In that practical, we had to expose earthworms to Cadmium and assess endpoints such as mortality, fecundity as well as any changes in their metabolic activity. The “aha” moment for me was when I started analysing the data and interpreting the results to conclude on the effects of this chemical.
Ecotoxicology focuses on the effects of contaminants, mostly of anthropogenic sources, on the different ecosystems. These range from terrestrial systems to aquatic and marine systems. The main goal however, in any of these systems, is to figure out how we negatively impact these systems and how we can be able to reverse, in part or completely, these effects for the benefit of the environment and all that benefit from it. Having had a dream to work in spaces that directly benefit humanity, I couldn’t have asked for a better field of study. My passion in particular is aquatic toxicology which focuses on how these contaminants or environmental pollutants affect the water quality, aquatic systems and those who benefit from these systems. You could say, how we are affected by our own doings; be it deliberate or not.
One of the closest related fields that I am currently also working with is chemistry. There is no way that one can assess for pollution and various contaminants in the environment without knowing what those contaminants are and how they break down in the environment and what their specific effects are. On the other hand, the pharmaceutical companies discharge a lot of pharmaceutical waste into the environment and the assessment of such contamination directly links the pharmacy field and the ecotoxicology work. Needless to say, the work of an ecotoxicologist expands beyond just the research labs and university classrooms. It comprises many risk assessment arm of many chemical, biochemistry and environmental consulting industries to name but a few.
With the forever increasing population and changing environment, I think the work of an ecotoxicologist not only ends with the current generation but opens doors to new research that is focused on ensuring that we have clean water, living aquatic systems and a safe environment for more than just our generation.
As I have often highlighted in my previous blogs, there are different stresses that come with research. At times it becomes very stressful to a point of breaking down. Supervisors and deadlines can often be daunting too. However, doing what you love and what makes you want to do more makes the challenges bearable. Most scientists would agree that passion is what drives us through the hard times. When you go out there and can already see what needs to be done in your field to address a particular problem, that is what I call doing the science that matters!