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Organized chaos

Everyone knows that bees are busy. Many know that their hives work like a well-oiled machine. But did you know that a bee’s life is basically organized chaos?

Take this video for example. Slowed down to ¼ the speed, these foragers aren’t as graceful as they first appear. At the beginning of the video, a pollen forager (the one with the big yellow pollen pellets on her back legs) flies toward the entrance of the hive but doesn’t actually make it in. About halfway through the video (00:15), there is a 3-bee collision. Some bees are coming back with food; some are leaving to find food. If only they had some stoplights. (Or a rotary.) A few seconds after the collision (00:22), another bee embarrassingly bangs her head on the outside of the hive before entering. Chaos.

But, every bee has a job. And every bee gets her job done. Organized.

Organized chaos can also be used to describe fieldwork. During the off-season, field biologists plan their experimental design, prepare their materials, and almost obsess over the details of the impending field season.

Do you even science?

Design? Check.

Materials? Check.

Plan A? Check.

Plan B? Check.

Plan C? Check.

(Funding? Hopefully a nice big check!)

Ready to science. Organized.

But then, we get out to the field and there is always at least one thing that doesn’t go as planned. Our pollen traps inadvertently stress out the bees, a hive swarms, there’s a drought. In some cases with other study species, the field researcher spends all that time planning, but then can’t actually find the animal she/he is supposed to be studying! Chaos.

This is where fieldwork (my gorgeous Tufts Vet field site above) has taught me valuable life skills. Fieldwork has taught me not to get discouraged by things I can’t control. Like this summer’s drought. Fieldwork has taught me to think on my feet. If I want to get good data, I’d better adapt to the situation and fix whatever isn’t working fast—field seasons don’t last forever. And unexpectedly, fieldwork has taught me a lot about power tools and to love my local hardware store!

Aside from getting to work outside, what I like most about field work is that it often requires some serious creativity. People don’t always think about science and creativity going together but they really do go hand-in-hand. My mass-marking devices, for example, took a lot of trial, error, and creativity. As did training the bees.

Growing up, I was always organized. Chaos stressed me out. Now, I am still organized (mostly) but when I hit a bump in the road (in life or science), I try to get creative instead of stressed.

Step 1: find the problem. Step 2: fix it!

There is always a way. The bees always get their job done.

The more I observe bees, the more I learn that as a scientist (and a general adult member of human society), I can do the same—even at those times when I just feel like banging my head into the hive.

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