A Passion Taught by Science

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The Sitio Linao Mangrove Community, my workplace, viewed from the intertidal area.

 

Most, if not all, that is happening on our planet have evolutionary roots. I’d like to discover when in our evolutionary timeline did humans start to feel very passionate about something. Was it genetics or learned?  Was it felt routinely or only at specific experiences that gave us a sense of purpose? I am curious about this as I have always been living the passion that has become a driving force to reach my goals. I really wanted to be a marine biologist or a wildlife scientist but my first and current job is not in line to any of those. I work as a project-based research assistant at the Institute of Human Origins (IHO) under the supervision of Dr. Kim R. Hill, and this what drove me to ask those questions. From the institute’s name itself, my work is anthropological in nature. I was afraid that I would underperform in this job since it is far from swimming with turtles or climbing mountains, but this satisfied something in me.

 

 

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We conduct the same sets of interviews to Linao people on their economic productivity, demography, and social networks.

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We weigh the marine resources the gleaners collect along the intertidal area during ebb tides.

 

There were times when I felt so down because choosing the job required sacrifices that alienated me from the when-you-work-in-the-government-you-are-successful kind of world. I am in the employ of an American bioanthropologist working in his human uniqueness project, which is clearly not in the scope of what I’ve learned in the University. I’ve been questioned why I, who graduated with flying colors, did not choose a life better than going to stilt houses of a Samal-Tausug community doing the works I never experienced as a marine biology student. Not to mention that there are no benefits, no financial security, hazard pay, or whatsoever stuff you get from working in a company/government. But I still tried. I would say choosing this job was a leap of faith since studying about our own species, though interesting, was never on my list of passions.

The questions were so frustrating at first but I get to live with those every time I felt the pride of working in the world’s single-largest grantee on human origins research. I choose to not leave because my inner scientist tells me to discover more about our early history. I know that my work is a far cry from marine biology, but our research answers questions that human evolutionary biologists have long been asking. I’ve been reading a lot to follow the latest trends in human evolution and it is indeed intellectually tiring. But I’m grateful that my boss aids me in learning by giving me free lectures in our 20-minute ride to our field site. Well, it’s not a formal lecture, but I get to ask questions I like to discover. This developed more my love for this research project.

 

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When my boss is around, since he also spends months in the USA to attend classes, I would sit in the front beside him so we could have random conversations. But I take advantage of this opportunity and open up topics related to evolutionary anthropology.

 

When you view our work from a perspective of a person whose interest is only salary and credit, you’ll have a hard time appreciating the implications of our research. It’s a speck in a vast amount of information that a 12-project research program could produce. There’s nothing special about what I do either.  Though I have a flextime work schedule, my social environment is limited and my work is kind of repetitive. I spend my spring tides on the field collecting data mostly through structured interviews and neap tides at home, coding. For a marine biology graduate, this kind of work is so different. We were trained to study marine flora and fauna, not humans. At first, it felt very marine biology but as months progressed, we delved deeper into the economic productivity, life history, and social networks of the community. Also, the work environment has been very hard for me, not the usual workplace you would imagine. These are not what I thought I would be working in when I was still a student. But the positivity of the people at Linao is like an emotional contagion—it keeps me going.

 

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The kids at Linao are so friendly and happy-go-lucky. Despite being in a depressing situation, they never miss to welcome us with warm smiles every time we visit the place.

 

I am in my second year now and I am amazed by how our simple data are producing interesting results. Sitio Linao is more than just a study site, it has become my home and it offers knowledge to help us understand the early coastal adaptations in the Philippines. I still get the awe-inspiring feeling of knowing more about human origins: of how we were able to expand globally and outcompeted other hominin species to the point of their extinction. We are uniquely unique as a species—a biological outlier as what my boss would consider—and this understanding have helped strengthen my interest on who my ancestors were thousands of years ago. My strong liking to human evolution topic back in high school reinforced my present knowledge. Not only it is intellectually challenging, it is also fulfilling that I get to be academically involved in a topic I have been strongly defending from the people who believe the opposite. Though I face criticisms from having a strong opinion about the matter, the intellectual and personal satisfactions I felt overshadow them. I guess this is one of the many experiences in life when you really feel satisfied without passion being involved. But who knows? Maybe I just didn’t know that my affinity to knowing my early ancestors was embedded in my genes and it takes this research to turn it on, that passion is somehow genetic and it takes a significant experience to awaken it. I do not know the answers but one thing I know is passion, in a stimulating environment, can be learned.

 

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Some children sitting on the wooden pathway sharing jokes with each other.

 

I’ve read in a scientific article that feeling the passion is not just as simple as doing pleasant things, one needs to do something that gives him a sense of purpose and satisfaction—and this what pushes me to do things that are out of my academic comfort zone. I think that involving myself in a scientifically significant research, is what satisfying the scientist in me and is giving me academic purpose. I may not have the passion at first, but things can always be learned and be loved. For a person who’s figured out his passion since childhood, the experience of learning a new one is something to take pride on.

I will be starting my graduate studies in two months at the University of the Philippines Los Baños. Though my program is wildlife studies, I still want to integrate a little bit of what I learned and will learn from the project. It is complicated to think about it but that’s where passion comes in. I’ve learned from Dr. Frankestein in the Penny Dreadful that in life, nothing is happenstance; there’s always an inner clockwork. When you know where you are heading and if your heart desires it, then nothing could stop you from reaching that destination.

Should you want to know more about our research project, visit https://iho.asu.edu/research/IHO-Templeton-research-program/project-4

 

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One thought on “A Passion Taught by Science

  1. I have wondered about this myself. I suppose passion drives me, plus it’s in my indigenous roots. Just want to say I appreciate what you’re doing for the environment!

    Like

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