Photo:

Louise de Raad

On a wildlife parasitology field course at Kindrogan Field Station this week!

Favourite Thing: My favourite thing to do is to “collect data” (information on what ever it is you are studying), because in my case this often means I can get away from my desk and go out in the field to actually observe animals. I go out joining my baboon troop from sunrise to sunset. It is amazing to spend so much time looking at animals and trying to understand what it is they are saying to each other. Being accepted in a monkey group (= being ignored) really made me feel as part of their group.

My CV

Education:

I am Dutch (do you know which country I am from?) and went to primary & secondary school (1984-1992) and to highschool (1992-1996) in a place called Emmeloord. I then went to University in Wageningen (1996-2005) where I did what is now called a bachelor and master degree in Tropical Nature Conservation. Then I did a phd (doctor in philosophy) at Durham university (2006-2011) at the department of Anthropology (do you know what that means?).

Qualifications:

BSc (bachelor of science), MSc (master of science) and PhD (doctor of philosophy)

Work History:

I have worked in many short and part-time job during my studies. When I was still in highschool I worked as a wind surfing instructor (already enjoying teaching other people stuff) and in a clothing shop. During university I worked as a tour guide in Southern Africa during the summers and at a market research company where I was looking at what farmers thought of medication for their animals or what they thought of new legislation.

Current Job:

Teaching Fellow.

Employer:

Aberdeen University

Me and my work

I studied baboons and created a so-called social network (as is for example facebook), figuring out who is friends with who and how strong their relationships are with one another.

Now that my science project (my phd) is finished, I work at Aberdeen University where I teach. This means I spent a lot of time preparing my classes, thinking of exciting ways to teach (sometimes boring) theory and come up with new and interesting methods of teaching. I also have to make exams and mark all the work that I give to my students! I teach students about animal behaviour, about animal ecology and wildlife management. This means I also have to read a lot myself, to keep up to date with what is going on, especially in the area that I live in. So I spent time reading journals with articles especially on these topics and I also spent a lot of time on internet finding information about these things.

I have always enjoyed teaching. When I was still in high school I taught wind surfing to young children. During university I was already helping out with some courses and after I finished my phd I’ve taken time off to go to Cambodia where I taught English to young school children. It is very challenging and rewarding to teach and trying to engage students, because, as you’ll all know, this is not always easy!

My Typical Day

When I am in the office I spent most of my day preparing classes that I am going to teach on wildlife management, animal behaviour and animal ecology. I give lectures and practicals to students and I have to mark the work the do.

When I was in the field to study monkeys, I spent the whole day following a troop (a group) of baboons in South Africa. I lived in a little house up a mountain, so I was close to the baboons. The house had a gas stove in it and the shower was outside. If I wanted hot water, I first had to light a fire in what was called “a donkey” .. not the animal, but a fire hole under a water tank!

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I would use a little handheld computer to collect information on their behaviour. I looked for example, at who was grooming who. Grooming means they are cleaning eachothers (or their own) fur and taking out all little bugs and insects that live there! To do so, I had to be able to recognize all the different individual troop members and so I gave every baboon a name. They can look just like a little family unit!

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Before I started doing my own research, I worked as a volunteer research assistant in Namibia. In this project, baboons were trapped in cages and a vet would sedate the animals and we would take measurements. We also cut little pieces out of either of their ears at different heights (low, middle and high) to be able to recognise them all and to obtain DNA samples. With DNA samples (the tissue from their ears) we could figure out who was related to who. I put some photos from the trapping up and will try also to upload a video about this as it is very special occasion (not very typical at all)!

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Working outside the whole day is very exciting, but it can also be very hard. I had to go out every day, also if it rained and I had to get to where ever the troop was sleeping that night before the sun came up (and sometimes this could mean a 2 hour walk in the dark!). When I would loose the baboon troop, it ment I would just be walking around the whole day trying to find them. Luckily there were volunteers (field assistants) helping me. On some days things would go all wrong and I didn’t feel so lucky. One day I fell off a rock and hurt my ankle and my head pretty bad and I couldn’t work for a few weeks after that. Also, in the area where I was working there are many snakes, so I always had to be careful and watch out not to get bitten. For exampe, below you see a young spitting cobra and these snakes don’t bite, but “spit” their poison at you (aiming at your eyes). Thankfully this happened to me only once and because it was just a young snake it wasn’t so harmful.

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Once I collected all the information in the field that I needed, I travelled back to the UK. I did my research at Durham University in England. Here I had an office that I shared with other students. My days were made up mostly of sitting behind the computer (thinking back to those nice days with the baboons!). When you do research, you have to do a lot of reading. You read about what other scientist have done and how they have done it, to make sure that you are not just copying their research (it’s no point if somebody else has already done it). Sometimes reading about how other people did their research, this gives you ideas of how to do yours and you can use the same methods. You also need to read a lot because once you have put all your information into a computer and analysed this, then you need to interpret your results. To do this, it is good to know what other people have already found out about the topic your studying.

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What I'd do with the money

I would like to set up a research introduction learning centre at the Highland Wildlife Park (and if possible other zoos) at the snow monkey enclosure.

Instead of visiting schools and telling others about my research, I would like to set up something where there are monkeys. In the highland wildlife park in Kincraig (Scotland) near where I live, a group of snow monkeys is being kept.

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I would like to set up a small research centre, where visitors (young and old) can learn about the monkeys and their behaviours in more detail and also, I want to give people the opportunity to interact and give them the opportunity to collect data themselves! To do this, I would like teach people how to identify individuals (how do you see the difference between males and females, how do you estimate the age from looking at a monkey, how can you tell which individual you are looking at) by using information cards and big boards. I want to show people what sort of information is collected (what behaviours do I look at) to create a social network (a network which shows the relationships bewteen all the monkeys in the group). I would love to invite the class that has given me most votes to the wildlife park, to be able to teach the students how to be an ethologist (this means somebody that studies animal behaviour)!!

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

adventurous, spontaneous and honest

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Dolly Parton

What is the most fun thing you've done?

white water rafting

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

1) that my family and I live happy and healthy lives, 2) buy a lovely old stone-build cottage in a beautiful quiet area and have a big old 4×4 car, and 3) win the lottery!!

What did you want to be after you left school?

I wanted to be Jane Goodall (do you know who she is?) – I wanted to be able to talk to animals! Or have an animal shelter to take in all those unwanted and mistreated animals.

Were you ever in trouble in at school?

Yes (but not so much …) I was often too late for class, because I had to go home during lunch to feed our puppies or kittens. So when I graduated they read out one of my excuses for being late (again): “The puppies had poo-ed everywhere and I had to clean it up!”

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

I have employed field assistants for my research that I helped with their own little research projects. In this way, I try to help other people to become very smart and teach them how to do things (or sometimes rather how not to do things).

Tell us a joke.

A young monkey had an accident and needed a brain transplant. The veterinarian told the monkey’s human family, “Brains are very expensive”, “Well, how much does a brain cost?” asked the family. “For a male brain £500,000 and for a female brain £200,000” replied the vet. All the men in the family nodded because they thought they understood. But the mother was unsatisfied and asked, “Why the difference in price between male and female brains?” “Standard pricing practice,” said the vet. “The female brains have to be marked down because they’ve actually been used!”.

Other stuff

Work photos:

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