What does a wildlife biologist need to do to get ready to go out into the field and collect data? How does she know what data to collect and what tools she will need?
I finally finished my exams which are a part of the requirements of my Ph.D. program and can now focus on my research project. The exams are a big part of my doctorate program and I have spent a long time preparing for them. I am glad they are behind me.
I am in the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and also the Marine Mammal Research Program of Texas A&M University. I did my master's here as well, studying river dolphins in Venezuela. I have been in the Ph.D. program since January of 1996.
For my first year of the Ph.D. program I took classes in ecology, statistics, aquatic biology, geography and GIS mapping. I work to pay for my classes and support myself, and have taught an outdoor field ecology lab to undergraduate students, helped the secretaries in the school office, worked on a web page for the school, and worked at a natural history museum. I have also been studying Spanish on my own and with help from friends.
Now that I have taken my exams, I do not have to take any more classes. Instead I can concentrate on my research. I probably have at least one more year of data-collection in Peru, then another 9-12 months to organize my data and write my final paper, called a dissertation.
I have an advisory committee of 5 professors who help me develop my proposal, and who help me decide how to analyze and understand my findings. They will decide when my work is complete. Next year I will receive a Fulbright Fellowship, which will let me live and study in Peru for one year.
I am really happy that I was able to have my research permit renewed for 1999/2000. A Peruvian colleague who works with a conservation organization in Lima helped me since a lot of this had to take place in person.
To prepare these research journeys, I read as much as I can about the subject and talk to people who have experience in this type of work to get their ideas and advice. Sometimes this means I am writing to people on email that live in other parts of the world, and sometimes we write in English or Spanish, and sometimes a mixture of both.
I keep notes of what I am doing on the river and I try to improve my work by changing things when they do not work and trying new things. It is really important to keep in contact with other researchers with the same interests so we can help each other out. Often we can save ourselves from making the same mistakes this way and sometimes as a team we can come up with ideas that I couldn't have thought up by myself.
There is a new head of the Pacaya-Samiria Reserve--a woman--and I am working on a letter of presentation to give to her. I want to set up an appointment to meet her in person when I get to Iquitos later this month.
I am a vegetarian and don't eat fish, so I am stocking up on dehydrated vegetable protein to take with me. Definitely not gourmet but easy to prepare without bothering the cook.
I showed the website to my grandparents and they were impressed by their first experience with the Internet. My grandfather, 81, says now he's not sure if he was born too early or too late, but the technology is amazing to him. They will follow the trip on line and will even try to send us a message while we are on the river.