I just finished what has turned out to be a 2-month process of writing a 6-page application for an NSF graduate research fellowship. I have never spent so much time on so few pages! But I think what I was able to produce in the end is something that I can be proud of, no matter what the outcome. The fellowships are very competitive, but very rewarding if you get one (3 years of full funding!). I spent a lot of time going back and forth over what I wanted to propose...at first I wanted to focus on theoretical movement ecology, but I made the decision (the right one I think) to propose a project based on my longtime interest of how plants and animals interact to create communities. While on Pinta, I became very interested in the interaction between the tortoises and the giant cacti, and I want to see if the non-native tortoises create a seed dispersal pattern that is similar to that created by Pinta tortoises in the past. Using the current cactus distribution pattern on Pinta and on islands that have extant native tortoises, I hope to be able to determine how much the loss of tortoises on Pinta has disturbed the seed dispersal and cactus distribution patterns, and then model how long it will take for the introduced tortoises to restore those patterns.
Anyway, I felt quite happy and relieved to have it all done with this morning, but now I'm actually feeling a bit of a loss. The writing process for this application was quite difficult (it's actually harder to cram everything into fewer pages than to be allowed to expand on every detail), but I really enjoyed thinking about these ideas so intensely. I have to assume that I won't get the fellowship, and if I don't, I probably won't be able to pursue the research that I proposed. I suppose it's a good sign that I'm still so interested in the questions that surround Pinta that I don't want to stop thinking about them!