Diving into the Next Academic Adventure

Student Austin Banks holds a boa constrictor

Austin Banks, B.S. Aquatic Biology

Austin is a senior from Central Texas who recently transferred to Texas State. We caught up with him on his study abroad trip to Ecuador, where he was getting experience in the field, making Bobcat friends and exploring the biodiversity of the rainforest.

What have your favorite classes been?

Well, I’ve only been at Texas State for one semester, but so far, I’ve really loved the genetics course that I just took. It was very reading- and work-intensive, but a lot of fun, really very interesting. I also really loved my zoology course. Again, really fun, very entertaining, and the professor, Dr. Bonner, had a very interesting teaching style — it was kind of like storytelling. It was just a very fun class to go to, and then the labs are also really fun. Dr. Bonner has been very helpful with me. I’m going to be working with him a lot in aquatic biology, taking him again next semester for ichthyology. He’s just been very helpful, very friendly, very informative.

You changed majors — what was that like?

As far as my switch to aquatic biology from history, it was not truly just a quick decision. I’d been thinking about it for quite some time, just never went and actually switched the major. And I’d kind of started taking biology courses to make sure I was suited for that, and I was really enjoying it. But I’ve also been an avid scuba diver since about 13, made my way all the way up to scuba diving instructor and then into the technical side of diving, so I really wanted to do something with aquatics, because that’s where my passion is. I haven’t done it in a little while just because before I came to Texas State, I was working and doing classes at ACC. I’m hoping now that I’ve kind of got into a groove, I can start adding back in the water time.

What advice would you give to your freshman-year self?

I had a really tough freshman year, so I would just say, I would’ve told myself not to take both summer semesters. That really, really hurt me. I guess ... take it seriously, but don’t stress as much as I did, because I stressed a whole lot and it really just hurt me mentally and made me spiral down.

When you heard about the study abroad trip to Ecuador, what made you want to do it?

I don’t really have any real, recorded fieldwork history or experience, so I really needed that. I wanted to have a chance to test it out, make sure I’m suited for fieldwork and I’m going to enjoy it. That was one of the bigger draws.

Austin Banks chats with classmates over breakfast

Now that you’re here, how does it compare to what you expected?

It’s been easier than what I was expecting. That was probably the biggest thing I was really worried about, was the strenuousness of the trip. So far it’s not so bad. It is strenuous, but it’s been very doable and very pleasant. I’m very close to my family, so I definitely miss them the most. I kind of miss technology — internet or phone access — a little bit, but not really. I’ve definitely dealt going without that for extended periods of time before.

What do you want other students to know about study abroad?

They should do it. It took me a little while to do it. I was always very interested in doing study abroad, but I was also very hesitant and scared. Partly because my older sister did study abroad and while she loved it, she had a very, very difficult time being super isolated away from family. But yeah, just kind of get over the anxiety and realize that it’s super, super worth it. It’s a life-changing experience already. We’ve been here three days and it’s pretty life-changing.

Austin Banks uses binoculars to look for birds in the rainforest

How is this trip to Ecuador impacting you?

Well, one thing I’ve been learning is how to read a scientific article, which I’ve never been very good at. I’ve been learning a lot more about plant ecology, which has been really fun. Then just most of the wildlife ecology, I don’t have a whole lot of knowledge about it and I’ve been really enjoying it. I’m really looking forward to learning more about fungal ecology. I really like fungi.

As far as what I’m going to walk away with, I’m hoping better social skills, better outdoor skills because I’m just getting into being outdoorsy and stuff. I really like it, but I don't have those natural skills, natural knowledge, so it’s taken some acclimation. And then the fieldwork ethic, getting into that groove, knowing what to do, how to be helpful.

What are your goals for after Texas State?

I’m going to try and do a master’s and then a Ph.D. program. I’m not 100% sure yet where. Maybe somewhere on the coast since it’s aquatic biology. It’d be good to be near the ocean.

What does it mean to you to be a Bobcat?

For me it is a second chance. It took me a long time to get back into school. When I left Wake Forest, I was having some mental health issues. It took me a very long time to get back into being able to do school effectively. Finally getting back on the road to finishing and being able to do it, it’s been a big blessing and a huge change in mental state. It’s been awesome. To me being a Bobcat means a second chance at life and at education and just moving forward, where I want to actually be.