Monkeys Forest Tales: Considering career changes? What to ask yourself?

Lately I had a lot of thoughts about career changes and how to decide when you want or need a change in your career. A topic that is not easy and it doesn’t have only one answer. So, in today’s post we will explore this topic and some considerations you should have in mind before deciding.

Usually when you think about a career change, it is because there is something in your work you are not enjoying, or you are not feeling happy with your job and/or career. Deciding to change your career is not an easy decision because it also means life changes.

Some years ago, a friend told me that sometimes after your 40’s you evaluate your life and even think about changing your career. Because I make my decision of studying biology and never though about changing it, in my case it has not been about changing my career, but about changing my job or at some points changing my study object.

But what do you need to ponder if you are thinking about changing your career or even your job? First ask yourself the current reason why you are thinking about making that change. Second, for how long you want a change, it is a long-term change, or you are just tired of a specific routine and want to change specific situations. Both considerations are important to decide if you just talk with your boss and make some arrangements in your goals and routines. Or if what you need to do is to start a job search towards something that make you happier.

In today’s job market there are many options and with the increase of remote jobs, there is a more flexible environment to make those career changes as well as changing your job conditions, even when your job is a traditional job.

Therefore, when you are deciding about career changes, don’t forget to ask yourself about the true reasons why you want a change and what exactly is making you unhappy with your current job/ career.

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Monkey Forest Tales: What to do before choosing a PhD, Post Doc and even a new job?

In today’s post we are going to talk about some of things I learned of what is best to do before choosing a PhD, Post Doc and even a new job. Of course, I’m talking from my own experience mainly, and from the experiences of people around me.

Choosing a PhD is an important part of an academic career and usually you don’t know where to start and how to look for it. You see opportunities promoted by others and some others have an ideal of what kind of project or university they want. For me was a search that started by looking with who I want to work with. In my undergrad and master, I have two very good researchers with different teaching styles. For my doctorate I also want it a good supervisor and especially I wanted to work in a topic I liked, preferably in my own country… and with monkeys of course!!!

My other requirement was that I want to have a fellowship to do my doctorate. I did my master at the same time I was working, and it took me double of time because of that. So, this time I didn’t want to be worried about money. I was lucky enough to get both an excellent supervisor that was not only worried about my work but also about me as a person. And I got my doctorate funded.

So, my first piece of advice is to look for a supervisor who not only is interested in your work and give you the opportunities to growth as a professional but also someone who ask about your work-life balance and who is a good person and give you time to solve questions. Also, if you are doing a doctorate, especially if it is outside of your own country, it is important that your supervisor understand that and know about the difficulties that living in a foreign country implies. Additionally, I recommend doing a doctorate completely funded, it will reduce your stress and you will enjoy more the whole process.

When choosing a Post Doc and even a new job, my recommendations follow a similar patter in terms of choosing a good supervisor for your Post Doc and a good boss. Sometimes that is not so easy to know before hand, but it is important for your own professional development and for your mental health. Both are professional positions and in both you should be able to develop your professional skills and increase your experiences in a healthy environment. I wasn’t that lucky with my post doc position but get better after that with some of my job positions…

Although it is not always easy to decide to end a post doc or a job, especially if you have responsibilities and the economic part is restricted. No job or post doc position will give you back your mental health once you lose it because of a toxic job environment. This is especially true when you are living in a foreign country and work in your second or third language.

So, my second piece of advice is to choose carefully and if you are in a toxic job environment prioritize your mental health first. Plan carefully and keep as much as possible a good saving fund that give you the freedom to change jobs if you choose a wrong job or post doc position…

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Forest Monkey Tales: How I make the decision to dedicate my life to monkeys?

In today’s post I want to talk about my decision to dedicate my life to monkeys. This question was asked in a twitter feed a couple of weeks ago. For some people the decision to dedicate their lives to a specific group of organisms was one they make early in life. For others has been a search after working with different groups.

In my case, I decide about my career in my childhood. However, my decision to dedicate my life to study monkeys came later, when I was at university. When I decide to study biology, I was thinking to dedicate my life to marine mammals, especially dolphins and whales. However, studying these animals in Colombia means a few opportunities and high costs.

During my career I was fortunate enough to spent time on different groups and to take advantages of different experiences, one of which take me to Tinigua National Park to study monkey’s behavior. It was there in the middle of the forest, observing a group of red howler monkeys, that I make my decision of dedicate my life to study monkeys. It wasn’t always easy, especially in a country like Colombia in which dedicate your life to research outside a university is full of challenges.

So, in my case it was a process, that take several years and some experiences with different groups, as well as taking advantage of the opportunities that life give me. Probably the best way to answer this question is a combination of luck, experiences, take advantage of opportunities and persistence to follow your dreams…

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Monkey Forest Tales: Why is so important to reduce and control plastics use in natural areas?

On today’s post we want to reinforce the importance to control and reduce plastics use in natural areas. We all have heard about world campaigns to reduce and control plastic use, especially in national parks, forested areas, rivers and oceans.

But why is so important to reduce this type of waste? Because plastics, like plastic bottles, plastic plates and plastics glasses are garbage that last too long to decompose and remains in the forest, rivers, lakes, and oceans for several thousand years.

Additionally, this kind of waste usually damage the fauna that live in these areas. For example, plastic bags in the water looks like jellyfish swimming and sea turtles eat them by mistake, causing them to die drowned. Several species of birds have been found dead because they eat plastic pieces instead of food and died of hunger.

In the study area of Zocay Project, during different months of the year we found plastic waste in different areas of the forest. Most of this plastic waste came from other farms and from people passing through roads and farms and not taking their garbage with them.

During rainy season, streams and rivers increase their levels and the water drags all these plastics inside the forest, and it accumulates on stream curves. During dry season, streams reduce its levels and some of the plastics that went down to the bottom, become visible.

So, if you visit natural areas such as farms, national parks, rivers, and ocean, before going back to your homes, take with you all those plastics and recycle them in your city to reduce the effect of this kind of waste in our environment.

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Monkey Forest Tales: Celebrating Our Forest and Water

This week on March 22nd we celebrate the International Day of Water and on March 21st we celebrate the International Forest Day, two important days to raise awareness about two of the main resources that make possible life in our planet. So let’s talk about this two topics in today’s post: Water and Forest…

Forest is an important part of our lives, even if we don’t live close to it. Why? Because is thanks to forest that we have clear air and water. Trees and other plants are like filter that purify the water around them and produce the oxygen we breath every second. Without that we can’t live. Also, we are mostly water, our bodies are around 70 % of water therefore without water we can’t exist.

But why is important to celebrate those days, mostly because is a strategy to make forest and water more visible for all of us, even if we are not aware of how much we depend on forest and water to live, as many people in cities are used to believe.

Forest is also important to conserve water and specially to conserve water courses such as streams, rivers, lakes and in the case of mangroves that is a type of forest to regulate sea level and reduce storm risk and its impacts.

In the study area forest is reduced and the climate dynamics (dry and rainy season) have been changing even more in the last 5 years, with dry season stronger and in some years longer than before and therefore a water scarcity in the are that was not common when this project started. This impact the pattern of fruit and flower production in those forest and that changes in fruit production also impact our monkey species. Monkeys change the use of space according to fruit production patterns and it becomes more challenging when the forest fragments in which they live are smaller and more isolated because of pastures, palm oil plantations and other human activities. So, if you protect forest, you are also protecting the water inside those forest and all the animals, including monkeys, that live within.

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Monkey Forest Tales: News from the field: babies season again

In today’s post we are going to talk about the last news we have from the field. In our last visit to the study forest in February, we have the opportunity to see babies again.

As usual at this time of the year, Colombian squirrel monkeys have babies and a big surprise this year, our Chela had a baby this year, since 2017 we hadn’t been able to see Chela’s babies. But this year we saw her carrying a baby of at least one month. An interesting observation at this time was also that she was followed closely by a subadult, probably a female that in some moment was observed carrying the baby, but as soon as Chela saw us, she takes her baby and carried it. This sharing of parental care is common in other monkeys’ species in the study area, including squirrel monkeys in which juveniles also carry babies although usually older than three months of age.

Another surprise from this visit is the observation of at least two young females of squirrel monkeys with babies in neighboring groups, probably their first babies. So, this is an indication that at least some of the juveniles are reaching the adult age and are reproducing, a good sign for the monkeys in these fragmented areas.

We also, saw babies of red howler monkeys and black capped capuchins between 2 – 6 months, probably from the females we saw pregnant at the end of last year, which is a good sign for now of the population in our study area.

Same as in previous years, we saw a strong dry season. Streams and even some natural and human-made lakes are almost completely dry. Rain just started in March, but not enough for streams and lakes to start filling their reservoirs. Hopefully wild and domestic animal are still using cattle water reservoirs, although we still don-t know with what frequency and if all wild animals in the area used or not. A question we hope we can answer by this time next year if we get funds…

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Monkey Forest Tales: Women and Girls in Science Day Celebration

On February 11th, we celebrate the roles and importance of women and girls in science day. A day to promote the interest of girls in science and to celebrate the achievements and participation of women in different fields of science. Although this celebration should be all year and we should promote girls’ interest on science every day, this celebration is also a good opportunity to recognize all women that were and are a role model to me.

Some of these women are famous and others are not. All of them have contributed to science advance in different fields of science and at the same time seems to have balanced their personal lives too. Something that I still need to work more on. To all of them thank you for sharing you experiences with me in different ways.

Most of these women work with monkeys and communities living around monkey’s habitats and had dedicated their lives to conservation of monkeys and to preserve habitat where monkeys live and of which people living around depends on. Others work on forest conservation, in which monkeys live, but are more focused on the forest dynamics and threats around those forest.

To all women and girls coming behind me, known and unknown, my best advice is to follow your dreams. Sometimes those dreams change a little bit over time but there are still your dreams. Believe in yourselves and persist in what you want to achieve for your live. Plan your goals but also be aware that to achieve those dreams sometimes you need to deviate from your path for a while to go back and achieve those goals. Be realistic about your goals and sometimes divide them in small goals so you can achieve the big ones. Be persistent if those dreams really make you happy. And don’t stop from dreaming…

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Monkey Forest Tales: Why we are worried about fires?

First, we want to apologize for our inconsistency this year with our blog. Our workload as well as Covid had impacted us even more this year, so we will be posting every fortnight for now. In today’s post we are going to talk about fire and why we are so worried about its implications.

Past week and this one, we had heard some news in Colombia about the increase on fires in Orinoquia and Amazonian regions, including National Parks. In the Orinoquia region, this is the dry season and usually a time when most cattle ranchers use fire to open new pastures, a dangerous and traditional practice that seems to be increased in the past decade. This is aggravated by a land grabbing mafia that had increased in the deforestation arc of Orinoquia and Amazonian regions.

How is this affecting our monkey species? Zocay Project work with five species that are distributed on the deforestation arc of Orionoquia and Amazonian regions. With exception of red howler monkeys and black-capped capuchins which have a wider distribution, the other three species (dusky titi monkeys, Brumback night monkeys and Colombian squirrel monkeys) had restricted distributions mostly located in the Orinoquian deforestation arc.

Especially for dusky titi monkeys who lives mainly in Meta department, fires had become an increased threat, mainly because is affecting the only two National Parks in which you can found them, Tinigua and Macarena National Parks. Fires reported last and this week are located in those two parks which are having an extreme conversion from forest to pastures and have complicated social and security issues due to illegal crops and social unrest in those areas, combined with land grabbing mafias.

So, we see this fire problem as a major threat to all species in which we focus our work. Unfortunately, this means that at least for dusky titi monkeys their conservation status (how threatened they are to disappear) need to be reevaluated this year. As well as an urgency to work on the ground to continue its conservation in private lands such as the ones in which Zocay project is working currently.

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Monkey Forest Tales: Celebrating Environmental Education Day

Yesterday, Jan 26 was Environmental Education Day a day to celebrate all the people who work-s education kids and adults about the importance of biodiversity and our relationship with the environment in which we live. Today’s post is to talk about the importance of environmental education on research projects.

Although not always easy, education activities and programs are an important part of doing fieldwork in many places where we study monkeys. Especially in areas where monkeys and people are living in the same areas. Most of us who study biology didn’t get proper training in education tools and started many education activities without thinking to much or planning to much each of those activities.

With time and after talking with many people and learning from many experienced educators, I learned that each education activity needs an evaluation at the beginning and end of each activity or workshop. Why? Because you need to see with data that your participants (audience) learned and understand the information you gave them. This is also important to show your sponsors that your activities are having an impact in the people that you work with.

An additional lesson we learned over the years was to be creative and adaptable while giving your education activities. Not all the audiences are the same and some are more challenging than others, especially when in the same group you have people from different backgrounds and education levels. So sometimes you need to be flexible and incorporate new methodologies during your activities.

Something that had worked for us in many contexts are the implementation of oral evaluations (oral questions with multiple answers, where participants doesn’t need to write in a piece of paper their answers). This is especially useful with small kids and adults who doesn’t write or who are too shy.

Interactive activities as well as activities of short duration involving different short and clear messages also have worked for us in many contexts and people had a better perception of the whole activity than just one long talk full of slides.

So, today let’s celebrate the great job of so many educators around the world that dedicate their lives to teach other about our important relationship with nature. Thank you for all your efforts!!!

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Monkey Forest Tales: What do we want for Zocay Project in 2022

First I want to apologize with you for not writing last week, as for all of us pandemic and life also make things complicated for me for a few days. However, I want to talk about more positive things in today’s post such as Zocay Project plans for this new year.

As every year since the last 17 years we are planning to continue with monkeys population monitoring as we still have questions about how abundance and density change over time in a fragmented landscape. We also still need to monitor if Chela, the squirrel monkey female who seems to stop reproducing, have a baby this year or not and how many new babies we have for this year.

Also we want to measure the frequency of wildlife use of cattle water sources of different types in our study are to see if there is any other way in which we can help wildlife to overcome water scarcity during dry season in cattle ranching areas. This year we will try to get data on road killings and at least some information on feral dog’s impact on wildlife in the area. 

Hopefully our collaborations with local people and organizations in Villavicencio and Cumaral will continue and we gather more information about monkeys in these areas. As well as expand our search for distribution limits for the endemic dusky titi monkey. Let’s just hope this pandemic let’s us do all the work we want to do.

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