How DANTA introduced me to new friends, fieldwork, and professionalism
I participated in the DANTA primate field course during the summer of 2011 following my sophomore year at the University of Michigan. Growing up with Dr. Jane Goodall as my role model and the popularized image of her work, I always dreamt of observing wild primates. After two years of college, I became engrossed in theoretical topics in behavioral ecology and I was even more eager to try out fieldwork. My professor told me about the DANTA field course and I was eager to participate.
DANTA’s field course in the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica was a phenomenal adventure. As someone who had never travelled outside of the U.S. or Canada, the trip was full of new and exciting experiences. The field site was located in a beautiful, secluded area full of primates and other cool creatures. It was also a great introduction to the difficulties of planning in the field (especially since Kim and the other instructors did the problem solving!). For instance, it was common for people to be late for appointments and sometimes, unexpected rivers blocked the only road! There were many great bonding moments throughout the course and I am still in contact with friends I made while in Costa Rica.
In addition to making new friends and exploring a different part of the world, DANTA was critical for my professional development. Through this course, students learn the basics of behavioral data collection – one of the most important skills to learn. While I received a thorough education at U of M, it focused on theoretical and empirical work but was limited with regard to field methodology. Exposure to data collection methods in a course like DANTA prepares you for future research opportunities and makes you a more appealing applicant.
The best part of my trip was watching wild monkeys in the forest! Hiking through the forest and observing the animals was amazing. Conducting a pilot study further improved the experience. I collaborated on a squirrel monkey study with Lisa and Ginny, and one of the instructors urged us to present our project at a small conference. This was a great opportunity to learn all that goes into applying for a conference, presenting research, and interacting with other researchers.
Since my summer in Costa Rica, I have not been able to stay away from the field for long. The summer after DANTA, I studied spotted hyenas in Kenya. And one year after that, I lived in Ethiopia and Kenya for a year studying baboons. Now, three years after the DANTA course, I am beginning my first year of graduate school at Arizona State University. For my dissertation, I will study a wild troop of anubis baboons in Kenya. Areas of interest for my research project include female aggression, female reproductive strategies, sexual signaling, and sexual conflict.
The experiences I gained in Costa Rica not only solidified my desire to conduct fieldwork and pursue a career in academia, but also prepared me to do so. Prior to college, my dream of going to the field was related to my love for animals, climbing trees, and getting dirty. All of which still hold true! But once I became engrossed in theoretical topics, I realized my need to seek answers. And this has become the driving force as I begin graduate school and aim to dedicate my life to behavioral research. My passion for primate research is inspired by a desire to understand why we do what we do. Furthermore, I hope that with a better understanding of the evolution of human behavior, we will be better equipped to improve the way we interact with one another.