Let’s call this like it is: the Beginning of the End of my dissertation time in the field. Ten more weeks until I have to wrap this shoot and get down to the nitty gritty: finishing data entry and clean-up, coding video, lab work, running more stats then you can shake a stick at, and so much science writing!!
…I see an uptick in non-vocal displays at my laptop over the next months.
But I also see an uptick in hurrah moments when things are finally coming together into a real, whole picture. Speaking of which, I recently experienced such a moment before coming back to the forest to start the end.
Gola giving her best impression of "Kris versus the Computer" for the next few years...
I took an American break from the field during the rainy season this year to take care of some home things, crunch a few numbers, march for science, and present some preliminary results from my dissertation work at an annual big fancy science meeting in New Orleans.
It’s the meetings- for the American Association of Physical Anthropologists- that I want to tell you about.
Mostly, I’m just so excited about this set of preliminary results. For this talk, I analyzed a subset of my 2015 video data and it seems like my predictions about social attention- namely that the more time a little chimp spends watching and the more closely it watches, the more likely it is to engage in the behavior it’s been watching AND that males are somehow more responsive to social exposure than females- might pan out! Like I said, the results are preliminary, but it still feels really hopeful- which is fantastic! I promise I’ll will share the results with anyone and everyone interested just as soon as the paper comes out over the next year.
This year I also entered in a student contest…and that ALSO panned out! I’ve been a little bit nervous writing about it because I don’t want to come off as bragging or arrogant- but its true that I’ve worked my hardest to plan this project, get that funding, collect and analyze that data, and write that talk as best I could! So here I go…
Every year at this conference there are several awards granted to the top student talks and posters. A few of them are specific to separate disciplines like, best talk in dental morphology, and some of them are across all sub-fields. This year, I won the Ales Hrdlicka Prize for “excellence in student research.” I know it this might “just” be a student award, but science communication and dissemination is so important to me! What’s the point of taking the data if you can’t explain it to everyone? To win a prize for giving a talk in any capacity- I cannot describe what an honor it was to receive. I’m still in a state of slight disbelief.
Every time I remember it, I get all filled up with warm and happy satisfaction. It makes me feel like maybe I really am doing to right thing with my life. At this point in the dissertation process I cannot overstate the importance of such a rooting reminder. We all know that graduate school is hard. And, let’s be honest, there are too few of these sort of victory moments. I think we should celebrate and be proud of all of the little victories- and let them steel us against too many academic struggles, and grant rejections, and all-out data failures. The project certainly isn’t at it’s end yet, but I am so excited about how far it’s come along. So I am taking this win and celebrating it! I am proud. And inspired. And happily steeled against the inevitable future failures!
And now I’m back here! Back in my house at the edge of the forest. Back with my Ugandan friends- human and non-human alike. Ready, and rarin’ to go. I’ve finally got my eyes on the first of so many incremental finish lines between me and my dissertation defense, and I’m ready.
So here we go.
Once upon a time, a forest-loving field researcher and her partner went to the great savanna at Queen Elizabeth National Park. Though less green than her normal environs the savanna was beautiful and full of wildlife!
This is what they found….
From the moment they crossed the equator, herding ungulates, or animals with hooves, dotted the landscape. Though May in Uganda is the low season for tourism, it’s the calving season for kobs, small antelope that range in the park. The babies can be very difficult to see as their mothers hide them in tall kob-colored grass, but the males with their antlers are quite easy to spot. Earthen-red topi are much bigger than kob, and apparently they have one of the most flexible and diverse social systems among the antelopes.
Waterbuck are even bigger still and resemble a sort of deer-donkey hybrid. According to the wildlife guides, their flesh is very unpalatable to local predators who avoid eating them in favor of smaller game.
Cape buffalo were also abundant throughout the park both on the savannah and wading in the channel. Though they look a bit lazy, chewing their cud and staring into space, the brute force behind those huge horns can be quite dangerous. In fact, buffalo are among the most deadly savannah animals across Africa.
One of Queen’s most famous attractions is the UWA-led boat safari of the Kazinga channel. The channel links two of the great lakes of Africa: George and Albert. Boats launch from the Mweya peninsula and creep slowly along the shores highlighting the water-loving hippos, crocodiles and dozens of species of birds.
Every day, the cormorants commute from their roosting spots in the mountains down to the shores of the channel to feast on small fish. Then at sunset, the head back together, flying low over the water until finally pulling up and gaining altitude at the opposite shore.
It seems that every acacia was full to the brim with weaver birds. These birds live in vast colonies of little spherical nests that they enter from below like this one. Here, a male shows off his building talent, padding his nearly-finished abode with the hopes of impressing and enticing one of his colony’s females.
Finally, the crown jewels of the Queen’s park: the famous tree-climbing lions of Ishasha. Toward the southern tip of the park, there is a species of fig tree that grows up out of the scrub. Those trees are so big, with limbs so thick and at the right angles, that they can support the weight of full-grown lions. These lions apparently come from all over the park to rest among the branches enjoying the breezy shade above the flies and the heat of the sun-baked earth.
This blog is a forum share my personal experiences as a field researcher and traveler.