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How did I end up here?

20. June, 2011
Animal Behaviour (journal)

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I usually don’t say much about myself. There are a couple of postgrad life posts, but mainly I post about science I’ve read. There’s lots of science out there, and I’m sure there is something blogworthy. I just don’t feel like it today, but I really ought to post something. So instead I’m going to give you a journey post. At the moment, I’m a second year PhD student trying to ignore the 2nd year blues as much as she can. I’m slap bang in the middle of it and as many PhD students and people with doctorates will know, there comes a time when the work seems insurmountable, you start to question yourself and you wonder if maybe you made the wrong decision, trying to get a doctorate. That’s the second year blues, although I’m sure they can hit at any time. I suppose this post is a way for me to remind myself of what I am capable of and why I’m even doing this. So here’s my journey so far:

I remember way back in the late nineties (when I was in my teens) how I wanted to become a vet. I was fascinated with animal behaviour and I was hoping to be a vet with a sideline in behaviour counselling. Instead, a few years later, I ended up doing a degree in animal behaviour and welfare. Doing that degree was a dream. There was just enough of a taste of academia to keep my mind occupied, while still having such a sense of applicability. I felt I could take what I’d learned and go out and work as a pet behaviour counsellor. With a bit of one on one training with a pet behaviourist and maybe some dog training classes, I could have gotten accredited and just done that. Instead I went and did a masters, which immediately took me further away from domestic animals and hands on practical knowledge over to the academic side of animal behaviour and behavioural ecology. This was hard science and none of the fluffy applied stuff.  I missed the fluffy applied stuff, but at the same time, the science was just so fascinating.

Then I went and worked in Uzbekistan as a field research assistant. That was fun. Some ecology, but mainly administrative stuff as well as houbara care. I was allowed to reconnect with my hands on side as I trained houbara chicks to weigh themselves using clicker training. It was hard work (because they’re incredibly stupid), but by the end of their training with me, they knew to get on the scales and stand still long enough for me to note their weight. I was so proud of them. I even taught one of the houbara keepers how to do it, but I doubt they bother with it any more seeing as it’s much quicker, short term to just catch the birds for weighing.

Now I’m back in academia doing my PhD in behavioural ecology. As much as I love research and as much as I hope to provide the world with a little bit more knowledge through my research, I miss the direct effect that more applied fields have. I sometimes wonder if I should have become a vet or pet behaviour counsellor.

But then I think of the satisfaction I gain from beating R or Excel into submission and when I hand in a piece of work, and how proud I will feel when (hopefully) my first paper is published and when I finally defend my thesis. I’m doing this because I want to prove to myself that I can. Who knows? Maybe I’ll get back into pet behaviour when I’m done with this (or when I fail miserably). Or maybe I’ll go work on crows. Or octopuses. Right now, I just don’t know. But I plan to finish what I started.

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