Written by Ajay Yalamanchi, second year Integrative Biology major.
My URAP position this semester involved digitizing the field notes of Dr. Charles S. Thaeler, Jr. I spent the first two weeks simply scanning the material, and I’m not going to lie, it was pretty boring. Doing nothing but scanning multiple pages and hitting certain keystrokes over and over again for four hours was not very intellectually stimulating. However, the procedure of scanning the pages and hitting certain keystrokes repetitively was eventually ingrained into my muscle memory, which allowed me to set my hands on autopilot. Combined with listening to music, which helped relieve the boredom, it did not feel like I was working at all, but rather, relaxing, which was great because it provided an outlet for school-related stress. The calm and quiet atmosphere of the MVZ also added to the feeling of a stress-free environment.
The digitizing phase of my URAP, as mentioned before, lasted only the first two weeks of my internship. Afterward, I finally got down to intellectually stimulating work when I was tasked with mapping the higher geography of the places that Thaeler visited on his research tours around California. Working with his notebook collection and reading through his journal entries revealed quite a bit about Thaeler the academic. I learned that his research focused on pocket gopher species in California, and reading through his notes revealed his progression as an academic. For example, the earlier entries in the collection were not as detailed as the entries later on. The earlier entries also had food and drink stains on them whereas the later entries were kept in pristine condition. It was remarkable to see the physical evidence of Thaeler’s growth from a relatively novice (and maybe careless) note-taker to an academic who prided himself on his research. Seeing this growth progression helped to humanize Thaeler for me because accomplished academics always seem, at least to me, to have always been there, in their current positions as accomplished academics. It is rare to see the physical evidence of the journey they took to reach their current position. Thaeler’s journey from a graduate student to a professor of biology at New Mexico State University was a long one, and as a premed student, I could somewhat relate.
One of the perks of my internship was being able to get to know Thaeler not only as an academic, but also as a person. Working with his correspondence revealed much more about Thaeler the man. It was amazing to see the flip-side of the academic, an amiable man who was easygoing and who cared deeply about his family and friends. This also further helped to humanize and make Thaeler more relatable. Although I don’t know Thaeler personally, working with his collection provided that sense. Overall, I was impressed by the depth of Thaeler’s research, and felt that my investment in his collection was truly rewarding!
Ajay Yalamanchi published the Finding Aid to the Charles S. Thaeler’s papers on the Online Archive of California as part of his project with the MVZ Archives.