I sit on a small crowded jet, with barely enough room to perch my laptop on the fold-down plastic tray. The white noise of flight is surprisingly loud. I have to turn up the volume of my music almost all the way in order to hear it through my headphones. We're cruising at some 30,000-odd feet, and when I squint out the window to my right I can see aluminum airfoils of a wing and a distant expanse of blinding white clouds. The cloud seem motionless, like a flat expanse of snow. It seems as if we could be flying over Antarctica, but we're probably closer to the coast of Florida by now. Our flight will take us to San Juan, the capitol of Puerto Rico. We'll stay the night with a friend of Dave's, a professor from the University of Puerto Rico named Steve before we hop on a little prop plane to the other side of the island the next morning.
"Steve is a tall bachelor. That’s the best way to describe him.” He said to me when discussing travel plans over the central table in his lab. He grinned a little. "He's a great guy, but very much a bachelor. I can't guarantee we'll have anything more than a spot on his floor."
Dr. David Logue is my psychology professor from the University of Lethbridge. I’ve been working in his lab for a year now, working on independent studies for credit while completing my degree in Psychology. As far as professors go, he might strike you as atypical. The stereotypical university professor you could picture as a bespectacled intellectual in a suit jacket and slacks, harriedly pacing with some collection of papers to and fro, his disheveled hair flapping about. As laughable as this picture might be, I have met quite a few profs who fill it with uncanny accuracy. David Logue is not that image. His hair is kept from shaved to peppery stubble on his head and his face. He wears only comfortable jeans (“Bootlegger. They’re stretchy.”) and one of maybe three or four t-shirts or a thoroughly loved hoodie, a little faded and a little threadbare. “He’s a professor? Does he always dress so… casual?”, my mom whispered to me when he was sitting across the table from us. Yes, mom, he does.
When you speak to him, though, you will immediately taken aback by the intensity of his conversation. Any conversation with him is be paired with unflinchingly direct eye contact and an intensity of focus that feels unnerving or interrogatory at first, until you realize that’s just how he is. His intelligence is constantly honed to a point, boring into whatever task or hapless undergrad wanders into his path (yup, that hapless undergrad is me). That's most people's first impression, but as you get to know him, you find him to be a gregarious and laid-back person. He's a likeable guy.
The airplane dips and shifts. The clouds are gone, and a patchwork quilt of farmland spreads hazily under the wing now. I know we’re moving at mind-numbing speeds, but at this altitude it feels like we’re just suspended, caught and unmoving, above the earth. David has relocated from seat beside me to a lucky pair of empty seats to catch some sleep, his toque pulled low over his eyes (if you Americans don’t know what a toque is, get yourself some culture and google it). We met at 4:30 am this morning to catch our first flight; I’m pretty tired too, but of course I won’t sleep. I'm trying to make a mental down-shift from the hectic last few weeks of finals and final projects to ... what ever this trip to Puerto Rico is.
Puerto Rico. I should explain what exactly I’m doing there and why.
David asked me to come with him to help with the field-work of his research. His research has focused on these little yellow and grey birds that live in the dry tropical forests of Puerto Rico’s southeast, named Adelaide’s Warblers. He has spent field seasons since 2012 returning to Puerto Rico to catch and band these birds, and particularly to record them singing. David’s research (and what I’ve been helping with for the past year) is all about birdsong. It’s a neat way to study animal communication; what are they singing? Why are they singing it? How do they use their songs? I’ve helped with acoustic analysis of these songs for a year now, and even half-baked a few theories of my own about their usage. Now, though, I will be helping collect the next batch of data. My days will start before dawn, to catch or locate these birds before they start singing. We will also run a few experiments, to see how they react to different stimuli. Hopefully I will be able to explain some of that as we do it, I think it's pretty neat stuff.
One month. April 10 to May 10.
When we think about the past, it's easy to see how A lead us to B, and what line of happenings led us to where we are today. Standing in the present, we see our past as a fairly straight line of events. But, that's not the case. What seems to us to be a direct line of causal events is actually a wildly convoluted one of chance encounters and unlikely occurrences that subtly push us in all different directions. So, sitting in the present, how do we shape our life in direction we want?
In scientific analysis, a signal is meaningful information that emerges from meaningless background. That background can be called noise. The challenge is figuring out how to tell the two apart. What means something and what doesn't? What is important? What isn't?
Outside of science, we can decide what is meaningful, and what isn't. That is what I'm trying to do while I'm in Puerto Rico. I'm trying to figure out how to move my life in the way I want it to by separating the signal from the noise, while at the same time learning to enjoy the combination of the two.
A current undergrad of Psychology at the University of Lethbridge. I'm a budding scientist and... blogger?
My supervisor and professor, the protagonist of this blog. For more information on David Logue's research on Adelaide's Warblers, check out his website: