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A Business Analyst Catching Bugs in the Sonoran Desert by Tommy Thiatmaja

Posted by kmyule on July 26, 2022 - 5:07pm in Undergraduate Students

This is a guest post by 2022 Biocollections Summer Scholars Program alum, Tommy Thiatmaja.

It was a starry night and my phone showed that it was 100+ degrees. I approached a white sheet with a UV light, equipped with a strange tubular device and a vial of what smelled like alcohol and acetone. The insects were buzzing loudly around me with some of them flying into my ears, eyes, and even my pants. I put the tubular device to my mouth and began to capture insects by literally sucking them into a tube with my mouth. After spending an hour catching bugs, I headed into my tent to try to get some sleep. The base of my tent was burning my back but it was a well-deserved rest after a day of bug-collecting, mammal-trap setting, and plant identifying. This was my experience for our first survey trip out in the Sonoran desert and I would gladly do it all again.

Tommy Thiatmaja's experience in the field

At the start of this year, I made the decision to change careers and pursue my dream of studying conservation Biology. I had no idea what I was going to experience. I grew up in a big city with no camping experience whatsoever, and the only "outdoorsy" memories I had prior to the NEON DEI program was hiking about five times my whole life (and about half of it not by choice). All I knew was I wanted to work with wildlife, and I had no idea why or how, so when I saw the posting about a summer “biodiversity” scholars program in my STEM club, I jumped on the opportunity. As I write down my experiences these past few weeks, it's still hard for me to believe how lucky I am to be a part of it.

We wasted no time and had our first field trip within the first week of the program at Sand Tank wash, about a 2-hour drive southwest of Phoenix:

Sand Tank Wash

Photos of Sand Tank Wash by Tommy Thiatmaja

During the fourth week of the program, we had our second field trip out at Pinto Spring, two hours east of phoenix:

Pinto Spring

Photos of Pinto Spring by Tommy Thiatmaja

We had dedicated topics each week:

Insect Week

Tommy's photos of insect week

Vertebrate Week

Tommy's photos of vertebrates week tools

I was totally unprepared for what came next: dissecting a field specimen.

Tommy's photo of mammal dissection

Plant Week

Tommy's photos of plants week

In the last week of the program, we had a day with our insect expert Andrew to teach us how to publish an annotated list of species, which is a sort of scientific journal article detailing various species of a certain taxa in a site. On this day, I learned how sparse the number of people is who study beetles, which have a ridiculous amount of species diversity. It was clear to me that we need more passionate biologists if we are to learn more about the countless number of unique living beings we humans are neighbors to.

All in all, I wish that everyone who sees themselves working with wildlife or plants in their future has a similar opportunity to what I had with the NEON DEI scholars program because the world knows we could always use more scientists. If this nerdy, sheltered business analyst can do it, you can, too.

The BioKIC blog will be featuring posts by our program alumni. These posts will be outlining some of the highlights of the ASU Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Biocollections Summer Scholars Program.