The (wo)Man Behind the Curtain

Authored by Natalie Claunch

Natalie Claunch is a member and friend of the Orianne Society. We are happy to have her as a monthly guest blog contributor throughout the span of her thesis work with Northern Pacific Rattlesnakes (Crotalus oreganus). Her research will be focused on evaluating the effects of environmental and acute stressors, such as drought, dehydration and predator stress, on venom production and composition. Northern Pacific Rattlesnakes are known to have varied venom composition throughout their range and life stages, so Natalie has chosen to investigate the plasticity of venom composition in adults. Her goal is to take our supporters through the process of her research to not only share information about the natural history of Northern Pacific Rattlesnake, but also to provide insight about the process of research itself.


Where do I start? That’s a question I have been asking myself constantly in the past year as I applied to graduate school. Well, here I am. I drove across the entire span of the United States to pursue the opportunity to research Northern Pacific Rattlesnakes. I’m studying for a Master of Science in Biology at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly to most), and I need to write a thesis based on original research by the end of Spring 2016.

It’s all very intimidating but infinitely exciting at the same time. But how did I get here? How did I even decide to pursue research?

I’m asking myself the same thing. This is my first time conducting original research, so every paper I read and accumulate, every grant proposal I write, every stumbling block I will face will be the first time I have faced any of it.

And instead of discussing this with only my fellow graduate students, I thought it would be appropriate to share my experiences with a broader audience. The processes of science and research can sometimes seem mysterious—like the man behind the curtain in The Wizard of Oz. By the time most people hear about a research project, it is often already over—results analyzed, paper published and now broadcast as a few simple sentences on the evening news or circulating social media as a picture caption. In other words, when most people see research, they see the giant face of the wizard broadcast on a curtain. It is intimidating, it is ethereal and it is beyond the reach of the layperson.

Well, I can assure you that researchers are indeed very real people. And although researchers might seem to have big heads, we all want to be able to relate our work to all types of people. This is why I have asked the Orianne Society to host my blog. The only way to significantly increase understanding and involvement in an issue such as snake conservation is to create opportunities to involve the entire community directly. Whether it be through outreach, bioblitzes or community-based salamander counts, when we reveal the man-behind-the-curtain, great things happen.

My aim through this blog is to take you on my journey down the yellow-brick road through the land of Research Oz. Together we will discover what makes up the heart, the brain and the courage that makes research possible.

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