MadSci Network: Zoology

Re: What is it like to be a zoologist?

Area: Zoology
Posted By: Tim Susman, Staff Zoology, U. Minnesota, St. Paul, MN
Date: Thu Nov 14 12:14:36 1996
Message ID: 847866722.Zo

I'm a rather non-traditional zoologist. I don't work directly with animals; instead, my job is to check and maintain a database of records of animal behavior. I'm working on the computerization and organization of over thirty years of data collected from the study of wild chimpanzees at Gombe National Park in Tanzania. This study was begun by Dr. Jane Goodall in 1960 and is still going on under her direction.

When I enrolled in college, I wasn't even thinking about Zoology. I started in Engineering, but the more I studied, the drier it seemed. Animals, on the other hand, are more complex than anything I was studying in Engineering, and they were much more interesting to me. Unlike the other things I'd studied, the more I learned about animals, the more fascinating they seemed to me. Just to give you an example: in one of my engineering classes, the textbook was literally unchanged since 1960. Zoology, and Biology in general, are constantly being changed by new insights and discoveries.

I was fortunate enough to enroll in a Zoology program with a lot of flexibility. I chose to do my graduate research on the differences between foxes that live in cities or suburbs and the foxes that live out in the countryside. Any zoology project will involve a lot of learning and a lot of reading, to find out what people have done before you and what people are doing now. In my case, a few people in England had already studied foxes in cities, so I was able to get some ideas from their papers.

Most zoology projects will also involve a lot of work either in a laboratory or out in the field (anywhere outside a lab is "the field" for zoologists; it doesn't mean a literal field). I spent a lot of time outdoors looking for fox dens, and even more time sitting near the dens waiting for them to show up. If you want to get a feel for what it's like to be a zoologist observing an animal, you could try this: go to the zoo, pick one animal, and write down everything it does for half an hour. You might think that animals are exciting to watch, but the truth is that animals spend most of their time eating or sleeping. Over the course of weeks or even months, a zoologist might be able to see some patterns of behavior, but it takes a lot of work.

For me, the work is worth it. I am fascinated by animals, and I feel very privileged to have gotten the chance to work with them. One other area that I really enjoy is trying to communicate that interest to others. Many people are interested in animals, but haven't had the chance to learn as much as they would like. I like to share my work with them and hopefully help them understand animals a little bit better.

- Tim Susman

Re: What is it like to be a zoologist (1)?
Re: What is it like to be a zoologist (2)?
Re: What is it like to be a zoologist (vet's perspective)?

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