by Cassie Gauthier
I woke up around 6:00 am for my first day of work this summer. Not because the drive was far – it’s just a little under 20 minutes and I didn’t need to be there until 9. But because I was nervous.
So, I got up, made coffee, ate breakfast, made my lunch, and even made my bed – which admittedly I usually don’t do – all with extra time to spare. My destination that morning was Trout Lake Station and, even though I spent all last summer as the station’s Summer Science Communications Intern, the place still seemed quite unfamiliar to me.
I had a blast last summer talking with researchers who lived on station about how they collected data for their current projects and coming up with stories to share with you all on this blog. But I wasn’t able to travel to lakes with them, take pictures and videos of their work, or help them collect data.
For me, it was an entirely virtual summer at an entirely real-world research station.
I enjoyed logging onto Zoom for Trout Lake Station’s weekly seminars and being a part of the larger science community the station creates every summer. But I wasn’t able to interact with anyone personally. I didn’t live “in station” in a cabin. I didn’t get to call any of my colleagues “roommates.”
I loved the science outreach I was able to do – making the virtual scavenger hunt that allowed people from all over the Northwoods to explore some of my favorite lakes in a safe way during the beginning stages of the pandemic. But I wasn’t able to see the faces of these people as they learned about what was happening on the Station, something the summer science communication intern usually does when they organize and oversee the annual Trout Lake Station open house.
Last summer was wonderful and getting to have the job experience during the uncertainty COVID-19 brought was more than I could have asked for. But all of this work was done from the comfort of my own room and the house I have lived in most of my life. That virtual experience was far removed from the much more in depth, all-encompassing immersion that comes from living on station all summer.
Luckily, I got a “do over.” This year, my Trout Lake Station experience will be much more like “the real deal.”
This summer is exciting for the Trout Lake community as everyone seems to have high hopes for what it will bring. Station director Gretchen Gerrish says she hopes “people stay safe both in the field and with respect to COVID risks, so that they can be both highly productive in their research, and also so that students on site can form connections and experiences that will help them grow as people and in their career paths.”
This year, graduate students, technicians and undergraduate students are back living on station, much like all of the pre-COVID summers before 2020. There are a few differences –
people working on station have to be either fully vaccinated or have had negative coronavirus test results within a few days of moving onto station. Most of the community are arriving fully vaccinated which helps everyone feel a little more comfortable.
Similar to last summer, masks are required in all common spaces on Station and members are living in “research pods”, sharing cabins and laboratory spaces with people who are working on the same or similar projects to limit exposures between research groups.
Being outdoors and distanced allows us to interact unmasked and is easy to do at TLS. This past Wednesday we had our first “informal” community activity, chopping wood for campfires on station throughout the summer.
This was my first time meeting some of the researchers that I met over Zoom last summer in person. It was also an opportunity to meet new members of the station’s summer crew and learn about four new research projects we are starting up this summer. Last summer the station had to put all of their resources into just keeping existing projects moving, so it is exciting to know I’ll be getting to learn about a lot of new research.
While my first interaction on station was just a group work day of chipping wood, I was again reminded of how special living at Trout Lake Station truly is because of the community’s love for our lakes and the interesting projects they are each working on. I am blessed to now be part of it in person and I hope the stories I share on this blog this summer help readers feel like part of the larger Trout Lake community and inspire them to love the Northwoods’ lakes and learn about the work we’re doing to to protect them.