Linda S. Berris
lberri1 at uic.edu
Sun Jun 9 16:50:41 EST 1996
I am a 43 year old doctoral candidate in ecology at UIC who has also
had a lot of earlier incarnations (careers/jobs) including going to
veterinary school (which I started when I was 34) as well as being
a secretary (A LOT!). When I get my PhD I hope to continue my current
research, which involves using foraging theory to examine aspects
of raccoon ecology as it relates to conservation questions. This
would likely (hopefully!) entail either working at a research
institution or for an agency (e.g. FWS, DNR, etc.). Either way, I
will be doing a lot of field work, which can sometimes be difficult
for women. I think there is still a great deal of old-boys-club
attitude amongst male ecologists and wildlife biologists though
most of them would deny it. You almost have to prove to them that
you don't mind sloshing around in ankle deep mud while being eaten
alive by mosquitoes just so you can collect animal scat (often a
bit on the loose side)--I mean, there is a gross-out/macho factor you have
to show them that you can bypass. Interestingly enough, whenever
I have had a question about the contents of some raccoon scat and
go off to show it to one of several males with whom I work, they
always look a little green around the gills, while I can easily go
off and have lunch immediately after. I've found this to be the
case with several other women who collect scat.
More important than getting past the old-boy attitude, you need to
be sure that wildlife biology and field work is what you think it is.
I say this because early on I was dazzled by National Geographic
specials on Jane Goodall, and saw "Gorillas in the Mist" countless
times. It's not at all as easy as it looks on TV (and I don't mean
this to sound condescending!!); observing animals is generally very
tedious and/or annoying: many just lie about for hours at a time
while others (like primates) take off at breakneck speed and it's
all you can do to keep up with them. All the while you are either
sweating like a pig and being attacked by mosquitoes, deer flies and
the like in the summer (but mind, you have to wear long sleeves and
long pants), or you're freezing your butt off in winter, etc etc.
Also, studying animals often means studying their habitats, so you
spend a lot of time censusing vegetation, etc., not to mention of course
collecting so much scat that you rarely get the smell out of your
On the other hand, just when you think you've "had it", they go
and do something so incredible, so remarkable that it just knocks
you out. And it makes it all worthwhile.
It's a good idea to get some field experience before you commit
yourself; continue to check the sci.bio.ecology newsgroup for job
and volunteer opps (right now there is an opp in southeastern
Alaska that sounds great!!). Also, some good books to read that
give some insight into the realities of field work are "Into
Africa" by Craig Packer, and "Faces in the Forest" by Karen Strier.
Both scientists manage to present the correct blend of magic and
pragmatism that is the reality of working in the field.
But don't give up!! It's all worth it in the end!!
PS: Packer talks about taking his kids to the field as well.
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