While walking George last weekend, it occurred to me that very little specialist knowledge is employed in ecology.
It is a statement that must be qualified; what I mean is that we don't learn about nucleotide base sequences or learn how to cultivate and examine bacterial cultures, much less perform analyses on the biochemistry of organisms. Of course, all of these can be gainfully applied in ecology, but one doesn't need such knowledge to do ecology.
When Dr Normaniza Osman said a year ago that students in the Ecology & Biodiversity and Environmental Management divisions simply jalan-jalan cari makan, she was not at all wrong.
While walking George, I was convinced that ecology is about walking about and making trips to all sorts of places and seeing all the life around us. It's about opening our eyes to the wonders 99% of humanity rushes by.
And so there really isn't much specialist 'knowledge', unless you take into account the plethora of scientific names and classification maps we are subject to. In just two months I have learnt so much more than I ever had in the last 21 years of my life; one would think I was some sort of god the way some of my friends react when I make random comments on the plants and animals we casually encounter.
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Talking to Li Ern this morning about long-distance relationships and prayer and waiting for God's answers, I realised just how much training to be an ecologist has shaped me in these areas.
Of all the fields of biology (and perhaps also in many other scientific and non-scientific disciplines), ecology is the only one in which the biologist/practitioner cannot force something to happen. The biotechnologist can tweak with an organism's genes until a favourable progeny is obtained; the microbiologist can play around with the yeast culture; the engineer perfects the device to suit given requirements; the farmer manipulates the land to produce a good crop.
But the ecologist confronts his/her subject (i.e. nature) on its own terms. Nothing can be done to make Proboscis Monkeys appear where there are none. And ecology involves a lot of waiting, especially where animal observation is concerned. Even when it comes to plants, a lot of waiting may be involved; seed dormancy may result in the temporary scarcity of plants generally considered to be abundant in an area.
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Waiting, observing, approaching not on my own terms, throwing myself into a world larger, wilder and more fascinating than anything I can ever imagine...
This must be where I was born to be.