Relishing Nature with Research

Sophie in Forest

Sophie Baur  I  Biological Data Sciences  I  Undergraduate  I  Portland, Oregon

A Knack For Nature

From a young age, I was surrounded by nature and the outdoors and fell in love with it. With a mother who worked for several river restoration groups, I grew up attending river clean-up events and occasionally accompanying her on field work outings. During my summers in elementary school, I often attended camps at places like local farms and the National Audubon Society, which helped to cement my interests in the outdoors. As I grew up, these interests translated into a passion for conservation and sustainability. I knew I wanted to play some role in protecting the places that I loved. Being raised in Portland, with its proximity to so many different natural environments (from coasts to mountains and forests to deserts), I was exposed to a lot of different "forms" of nature and found inspiration in this. I love hiking and traveling and seeing new places. I've been lucky enough to see a few really cool places in other countries, but most of the traveling I do is in the Pacific Northwest since there's so much to see here. Outside of these interests, my hobbies are pretty tame; I'm a big reader and enjoy playing music. I've played flute for eight years and am not involved in any musical groups anymore but still love playing in my free time.

Beyond The Classroom

I've interned remotely under OSU's Crop and Soil Sciences Department to model forage species' percent yield responses to changes in soil and climate characteristics, which I enjoyed because it was my first opportunity to apply some of the programming and statistical skills I'd learned in classes to practical and real-life scenarios. It was also a great opportunity to work with a variety of people from different backgrounds (faculty, OSU Extension partners, other students, etc.), get introduced to the research process, and learn from people with more experience. I currently work in the Seed Lab, helping to test the purity of seed samples sent in by different farms and agricultural companies. This has been a great way to get some hands-on experience and to get a feel for what it's like working in a lab.

Finding A Footing In Research

My forage species modeling internship was offered through the Beginning Undergraduate Researchers Support Program under the College of Agricultural Sciences. Finding a way to get into research was a bit of an intimidating prospect for me when I first entered college, and this was a great way to start out and receive a lot of guidance. I found out about this opportunity through an email sent out to all students within the college and applied to the research positions through the program that interested me. I was fortunate enough to be offered the position that was my top choice and most relevant to my major, which helped me explore my interests and introduced me to what professional contexts my studies fit into. 

This experience was very important to easing me into research and helping me learn how to communicate and make connections with faculty and other people outside of my immediate classes. It also taught me the foundations of the research process and opened up other opportunities to me, such as my current lab position.

A Voice For Women

I think, in particular classes much more so than others, the way others perceive me as a woman has had its challenges. In general, my experiences in classes have been overwhelmingly positive, but I have taken a few computer science and math classes that contain upwards of 80 or even 100 students where I could count the number of people who were not men on one or two hands. It can be a bit of a disconcerting feeling, especially when working in a group with solely men and there is an apparent gender bias when it comes to their acceptance of ideas and problem-solving methods. In these instances, it is uncomfortable (especially as someone who tends to be quieter) but I have realized it's important to restate ideas or points when they are dismissed or not acknowledged, rather than to just let it go. Thankfully, these types of challenges have been fairly rare, but it is disappointing that they ever do happen.

Removing Limitations

My best advice for incoming and current students would be to be flexible and willing to try new things! I actually didn't have a big interest in agriculture when I entered college but all of my experiences and positions up to this point have been agricultural-related, and I have loved them and learned so much from them. Limiting yourself to opportunities that only mold tightly to your interests is hugely limiting and could you prevent from finding other things you're passionate about. A lot of opportunities and cool experiences open up when you're willing to step a bit outside of your comfort zone.