I went to Los Amigos Biological Field Station on the Madre de Dios in Peru. It is a field station in the Peruvian Amazon. I was a Research Assistant on a project studying behavior and communication on two species of tamarin monkey. I spent about half my time going on follows and collecting data, and the other half decoding playback experiments and organizing data. On follow days we would leave the field station at 5:30 am, come back for lunch at noon, and then go back out until the monkeys find a sleep tree. This results in following and collecting data for 10-12 hours a day. The RA team also did playback experiments where we would play a vocalization to the monkeys and record their response. One of my responsibilities was to decode these playbacks so the data can be analyzed later. The work I did was challenging, but extremely rewarding.
This was my first experience doing field research, which I hope to make a part of my career. I want to go on and get a Ph.D. in Primate Behavior, and most likely that will involve some sort of field work with primates. My experience this summer was not only important for my post-graduation plans, but I also feel I grew as a person. It made me realize I am stronger than I thought; I can do more than I expected. I can look at a bamboo thicket filled with spikey bamboo and go through it, while most people would see it as impassible. I see this as almost a metaphor for life now. I can get through anything, even the worst spikey bamboo thickets.
I’ve spent two years reading research and learning about the research process. Now, I’ve been able to experience collecting data in a field setting and work with it, decode and organize it so it can be turned into the research articles I read. This summer has made the research process much more real to me. I talked to multiple graduate students and got advice I never expected nor thought of. For example, always think of the statistics you’re going to use before you start collecting data. Don’t collect data and try to make it fit the statistics, have a plan first. It may seem simple, but I’ve never been taught it in that way. This summer made my understanding of research and the research process more robust.
I learned many different things from this experience. Two of the biggest were that getting a PhD and field work (particularly with animals) are very difficult tasks/goals to accomplish. However, I also learned the importance of being flexible and adaptable when doing field work, but also when pursuing a PhD. Sometimes (honestly most of the time in the field) something won’t go as planned and you have to be able to adapt and keep moving forward. While I learned more about the difficulty of field work and graduate school, it has not changed my plans. I still hope to go to graduate school, get a Ph.D. and do field work. What I did realize while I was in Peru is that my personality suits field work quite well. I am a fairly go with the flow person; I can adapt without stress and tend to be good at staying calm during crisis. All of these qualities are necessary for field work and this summer just reinforced the notion that field research is something I can do and do well.