Become an Expert: Video Transcript

Ethan H. Freid, PhD (PhD Botany, Miami, 2000) [Field Botanist for the Bahamas National Trust]: Being a field botanist, at least, is one of the most enjoyable things I have ever done. It is so much fun. Every single day I get to go do things I love, and to study and do something you love is satisfying, beyond anything I could ever really convey. I love my job; I love the things that I do. I have fun every single day.

How I became interested in botany is the story of mostly really being in love with the outdoors. I am not a person who likes to be inside, I could never see myself in an office, so to be outdoors, to be exploring, to be going to new areas and finding new plants was just something that was infinitely fascinating to me, and as I got here to Miami University, I had opportunities to go into the field and to go study plants in various places. It was just one of those things that I fell in love with, and it was near and dear to my heart.

I live in the Bahamas, and the botany there is interesting to me, primarily one, because it's not an area that a lot of botanists have done work in. So there are a lot of areas that no one has gone into that has not had the surveying that needs to be done to be able to do conservation. We literally don't know what's in some of these islands, so for me that's an intriguing possibility. Now it also for me is a good base to do work in the rest of the Caribbean. So from there I have expanded out, I've done work in Haiti, I've done work in the Grenadines, I've done work in Trinidad, and so it's a base for me. I spend 90 percent of my time in the Bahamas, and 10 percent off exploring other regions.

There are huge opportunities out there for botanists. It doesn't matter whether you're a physiologist or a taxonomist, the understanding and studying of plants is incredibly important right now. We are at a point in time where climate change is occurring, our planet is shifting, systems are shifting, and understanding how plants work, how plants live, where things are occurring, is important, and if we don't have that trained knowledge, people who can go out and look at systems around them and say, this is not right, or this is correct, or this is intact, it's very difficult for us to meet those challenges as they occur. Knowledge is power, and without that knowledge, we're not going anywhere.

At Miami, as a graduate student, there were two things that were the most important. First of all, the faculty. The faculty made all the difference in the world. Those faculty that inspired me, that taught me, that encouraged me, that gave me opportunities, took me under their wing. The second most important part at Miami to facilitate my development was the herbarium here. The herbarium is a dried plant collection, and having access to that resource, so as I was out collecting material and bringing it back and studying it, to have this resource where I could go back and compare specimens to, understand whether I was identifying them correctly, understanding the variation within a species, the variation within a genus, that resource to have at hand where I could go and look at them was important.

A liberal arts degree gives you a broad array of experiences, and as you go through those experiences, whether it's English or math, or the arts or science, learning how to understand those specific areas and look at it logically and critically is important. Now this is not a vocational school at Miami, this doesn't teach us a skill and that's all it did – it taught us to think.

My biggest piece of advice is to study hard and become an expert, at something – it doesn't matter what it is. Become that expert. With that expertise, opportunities will open up for you.

[November 2015]