Monkey Forest Tales: What worked for my PhD?

In today’s post, we will talk about PhDs again, the reason for this is because I felt there is still a lot of things that I can said to help others who are doing their doctorate now or are thinking of doing it. In other post in which we mention this topic we had talk about work-life balance but are there any tips and advice you can have in mind while doing your PhD.There were several things that worked for me and others around me at that time.

When planning your PhD project for me was important to read about all the topics I was including in my thesis: landscape ecology, conservation planning and primates. But it was also important to write down the main ideas of what I was reading, kind of small abstracts as well as do conceptual maps around my research questions.

When planning my fieldwork, it was important and probably an advantage that I did it in the study area of this project and I already knew most of the logistics that was necessary for doing it. But if you don’t have that advantage, ask questions to people who had work in the area before and don’t be afraid of asking even those questions you think are silly or not important, all of them can help you at some point to deal with challenges in your fieldwork.

When writing your thesis, it is important you understand the times in which your ideas flow more fluid, when you write better: are you a morning person or do you prefer to work at night. Do you have a productive hour? Remember writing and editing is different, editing is not writing. Some of my friend used to block periods of time for just writing and others for editing and adding references. Writing time means time to put your ideas in a document without thinking on references, grammatical errors and style. Be aware of your deadlines and break down your big task in small ones, don’t be afraid of asking for help when you are stuck…

And probably the best advice someone give me was to stop when your document is around 80 – 90 % complete in your mind and send it to others for feedback. There isn’t a perfect thesis!!

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Monkey Forest Tales: Fieldwork: some additional things to have in mind

In today’s post we are going to continue talking about fieldwork. For a large part of biologist, anthropologist, and many other disciplines, fieldwork is an important part of their job and life and what to take with you on your field trips as well as how to mentally prepare for unexpended situations is an important part of that life too. So based on my own experience of over 27 years of fieldwork trips of different duration and to different ecosystems and places around the world.

For me fieldwork has been a big part of my personal and professional life, which means that I had expend a huge part of my professional life in the field, mostly working with monkeys but also volunteering in projects with other animals such as koalas and whales. Each experience had taught me different things about what to bring or not to the field. Also, it had taught me about my own skills and what my body is really able to do or not and how much I can push my own health.

As I mention in other post I have asthma, which means that there is certain thing that my body just cannot do because I can breathe properly. However, that doesn’t mean I cannot prepare myself to enjoy and do the best with my own capabilities and to choose the place where I can give the best of me to do a great job. From my early experiences during my biology studies, I noticed that cold places (mainly mountain areas in my country) I learned that cold weather was a challenge for my body and although there are interesting topics to study on those parts my body cannot function properly at high altitudes and cold weather. So, the first thing to know when you do fieldwork is to recognize your own limitations and learn to accept them.

It is also important when going to the field to know what to bring or not. This is especially important in terms of weight as you may need to carry your own bags for a few hours or several kilometers. This was a lesson that I learned a bit late in life and could have save me some back pain now, but sometimes you are stubborn on certain things. So be wise when packing, travel with clothes that are easy to wash and dry by hand. Don’t pack too many pants and t-shirts. If you are going to tropical forest with lots of mosquitos take with you a mosquito repellents and long sleeve shirts and long pants. Long pants that can be converted to short pants are practical. Always pack at least one warm clothing as even in tropical forest can be cold at night. Take enough socks and underwear. Leave your fancy underwear at home and use cotton underwear in the field. You will feel more comfortable while working. So, be aware of what you pack and its weight. Pack for the time you will expend in the field and not be afraid to wash your clothes. It is usually better than carry more than you will use.

If you love to read and want to read during your fieldtrip, take advantage of the technology we have available now, when I started 27 years ago, we need to carry printed book and sometimes humidity damage them at the end of our fieldtrip. Now we have tablets and phones that reduce some of the weight of carrying printed books. However, humidity can be an issue in some tropical forest. So use silica gel to protect your electronic devices and pack them in waterproof containers or bags.

Therefore, if you are planning a field trip have in mind your own health and skill, be aware of your bag’s weight when doing your packing. Think about the weather you will be experiencing during your field trip and pack accordingly. And finally, if you are taking your electronic devices plan your packing to reduce any adverse effects of humidity on them.

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Monkeys Forest Tales: What to know about remote fieldwork?

In today’s post we are going to talk about the challenges and opportunities that remote fieldwork can give you. The reason why I want to explore this topic in my blog is because over the years I not only had experienced different types of fieldwork but also found that this kind of different types of remote fieldwork are understood differently in different settings. This is particularly important to understand when you are applying to PhDs, Post Docs and jobs.

When we talk about remote fieldwork in this blog we mean fieldwork in areas of difficult access with very basic conditions of accommodation. Usually with intermittent or null internet connection. Usually in developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Although it can al apply to some remote areas in Australian outback where some of the same conditions apply.

When looking for positions that offers remote fieldwork it is ok to ask what the meaning is of remote as in different cultures that can mean different things. In Colombia, for example, remote means that you will be several days by bus or river in very isolated communities or forest with not potable water, letrines but not necessarily a proper toilet, usually without any internet connection or intermittent connections in certain areas.

In Australia, for example this usually means places far from towns by several hours by car, where there are few houses, probably staying in camping sites. Intermittent internet connection or sometimes none. Near to the central dessert in some cases. In Africa, this usually means areas where you need to travel by car and/ or river for several days, similar to remote areas in Colombia.

But why is important to understand this? Because if you are at different stages of your career that means you will probably accept different conditions in different ways. Usually, if you are younger, you will like some adventure and you won’t mind long travel hours to get there and out. Probably it will be ok for you to not have any internet connection for several weeks or months. This is also important when you have other responsibilities such as kids or family who depends on you.

It is also important to understand these conditions to prepare your bags and how to pack for those areas, always ask questions about what to pack, for what kind of weather, if you need to take additional medicines or food. It is always better to take medicines for stomach problems as it is a common problem when working in remote areas without potable water. Also try to not carry to much, especially if the travel you will do implies that you will have to walk carrying your own bags. Don’t pack too much, be aware of your own waste.

During your preparations ask questions about how easy it will be to get emergency attention and how fast you can be taken out of those remote areas. Prepare an emergency plan and leave instructions with family or friends about emergency plans. While working in remote areas be aware of your own skills and don’t put yourself at risk just because you want to show off. Do your work well done but having your security and others in mind…And enjoy as much as you can as it is possible that at other stages of your life that won’t be possible to do it…

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