Heidi K. Smith is a Ph.D. student in biological sciences at Columbia University. At Nature Afield ( http://natureafield.com), she writes about discoveries and observations on the natural world. Follow her on Twitter as @HeidiKayDeidi. Questions and answers have been edited.
Q: What kinds of things are most likely to catch your eye and end up as a post?
The BBC has these amazing nature documentaries. I bought the “Life” series and started having people over for these small dinner parties, and I would show these things. I’d bring a projector from the lab. How nerdy can you get, right? But we would show these things, and I’d be surprised how many scientists and biologists I work with have no idea these really amazing creatures exist. Some of the posts just share that.
I’m really interested in herpetology – amphibians – but I try to cover everything.
Q. Why amphibians in particular?
I’ve always just absolutely loved frogs and salamanders. People think of frogs as really simple organisms, like they just drop eggs and leave. But there are a lot of frogs that have parental care. They’re just really beautiful. And salamanders as well because they’re kind of secretive and we don’t always see them, but they’re really underappreciated. Also at this time, there’s a massive extinction problem with amphibians. So if anything needs our attention, I think it’s that group.
Q: Your blog places a big emphasis on science field work. What field experiences stand out in your mind?
I don’t do field work for my Ph.D. at all. But I do go out a lot looking for salamanders, catching frogs to identify them, things like that. I do outreach, and this past summer was the first year I taught at this program called the Sun Foundation in rural Illinois. It’s called Art & Science in the Woods, and it takes groups of kids from urban areas. As much as I love my own field stuff, taking these kids out, kids who have never caught or held a frog, and getting them in the pond to catch a tadpole, … that probably topped any of my own research experiences.