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Briar Hunter
Guest Blogger
Fri, 11/08/2019 - 16:30

First things first...

Herpetology is the term given to the study of reptiles and amphibians: your favourite group of slimy creepy crawlers. I say this upfront so that as I furthermore refer to my experience of attending ‘Herp Conference’, you will be spared the desire to make confused and suggestive facial expressions but will rather understand the true meaning of ‘herp’ in this context.

The Canadian Herpetological Society (CHS) is a registered Canadian charity looking to advance both research and conservation of Canada’s reptiles and amphibians. The society is made up of researchers, conservation practitioners, naturalists, educators and all those with particular interest in Canada’s herptiles. I recently became a member of CHS with the intention of attending their annual conference, being held in Montreal in September 2019. This was not an entirely random or haphazard plan, but resulted as a rather logical next step from the field work I participated in at my most recent co-op placement.

Working for Canadian Wildlife Services (CWS) for the winter and summer terms of 2019, I found myself quite literally thrown into the deep end (of a pond), in desperate search of frogs; or rather, of chorus frogs in particular. The experience of standing silently and completely still for hours in swamps across southwestern Ontario, body straining for even the whisper of a frog’s song, I can honestly describe as the most frustrating experience of my life. Yet every night, even those ending long past midnight, as I trudged out of those wetlands with headlamp lighting the way, I felt satisfaction washing away my exhaustion. It was all worth it. I had found my niche, and I had found my passion.

The passion pursuit

With my sights set suddenly on a career amongst the frogs and snakes, it only made sense to pursue more opportunities within this field. So, I took my coworkers’ advice and looked into the quickly approaching annual conference of CHS: a gathering of all the turtle-lovers in Canada. Upon looking into the conference details further, I realized since it was being held in September I would no longer be working for CWS which meant I would not only be lacking their support in attending, but would likewise lack the steady income of being on co-op.

CHS Montreal 2019Yet, fear not! For my very own Waterloo Undergraduate Student Association (WUSA) came hurriedly to my rescue on a trusty salamander steed! That steed pulled through in the form of the Enterprise, Opportunity, and Innovation Fund which is set up to assist students with the costs of start-ups, development opportunities, or to attend conferences such as I hoped to do! After just a few quick emails I had applied, and before I knew it was looking at a confirmation informing me that WUSA had my back and would help to cover the majority of my registration, travel and accommodation fees! With this huge weight taken off my shoulders, I could register without worry or concern and focus on getting the most out of this opportunity rather than stressing about costs.

Allow me to confirm to you, that this truly was an impactful experience. I will be the first to admit, although I think the rest would all agree, that all those deeply involved in the ‘herp’ world certainly have their quirks. These are, after all, most of the folks across Canada who would rather be standing in a wetland holding a snake, than interacting with other humans. Yet when you put all these individuals in a room together, a comfort and confidence is instilled in each one due to being surrounded by those of a like-mind and like-passion.

The power of passion

The passion. Surely if I had one overarching take-away from the entire CHS conference, it would be the power of the passion fueling that entire group of individuals. Not a single one of the people I met at this conference were involved in this field for the money, for the fame, the job stability, or the convenience. This is not a career path that easily brings any of those features. No, what united each one of them was their appreciation for, fascination in and love of those critters which the world so often scorns as unwanted or unlovable. Now, most people out there love a cute turtle face; it’s difficult not to! What I’m talking about is that old grumpy-man toad face; the lithe dexterity of snake scales; the blatant differences between limber lizards and slimy salamanders… these are characteristics which bring joy and awe solely to a true herp-lover.

Now don’t get me wrong, the science, studies and experiments presented at the CHS conference were mind-blowing, exciting, astounding and so informative. Each day was absolutely packed with facts, figures and knowledge to be gained from some of the leading experts in herp research. Yet still, it was sitting down and just hearing the stories and experiences of the veterans in the field that truly stuck with me, and I was able to do this without constantly checking the bill because of WUSA’s support.

So, I would suggest to you all, if you have even the slightest interest in herptiles, checkout the Canadian Herpetological Society and consider attending their next conference. If you have no such desire, then search out what makes you passionate; the topic at which your tone rises in excitement at all times, and take a step out in that field. Look for ways to get involved, and look for those who will support your involvement, because they are there, just waiting to help out.

Briar's experience, and similar ones like this from students and student groups, are made possible through support from the Enterprise, Opportunity, and Innovation (EOI) Endowment Fund. If you, your student team or group, or start-up are interested in financial support, we're waiting to help out. Apply online today!