Science Outreach

As a young graduate student, I aspired to complete a ten-month field season in the Peruvian Amazon with a team of two people (including myself). Pretty much immediately it became startlingly clear that my dreams were too big and goals too large for a pair of people, however hardworking, to achieve. A tentative enquiry on the Primate Info Net led to the first major surprise I had during my doctoral thesis (there were other not-so-fun ones later): people cared. They wanted the training. They wanted to be involved. They wanted to learn how to do fieldwork.

From that moment in early 2010, I’ve spent every summer (and most winters) training talented young wildlife biologists in the basic skill sets they need to acquire to be functional and effective in field-based research, regardless of the species they work on. Through Field Projects International, a nonprofit organisation with a focus on science education and outreach, I have trained 300 conservationists, 70% of whom were women.  As much as possible, I have worked to provide scholarships for students to attend these programs who find it difficult to afford them. I’m proud to say that 26% of all attendees of field workshops have done so tuition-free.

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Explaining bat mist-netting strategies to research interns, June 2018, Los Amigos Biological Station, Peru. Photo Credit: Ryan Peters Photography

One aspect of teaching that has always appealed to me as being both powerful and effective is the ability to bring students directly into the habitat they are learning about. The habitat itself educates them, and these immersion programs can alter their perspectives in ways that a lecture in a classroom simply cannot. A beneficial side effect of this is the ability to include students from host countries, which completely reconstructs the dynamic of a field course. No longer do course participants discuss their lives in their home countries abroad – now, there is someone who cannot relate to that life and so conversations evolve, broaden and encompass topics that are unfamiliar and yet intriguing. My favourite moment in all field courses is the final meal I have with participants, during which I watch how much their horizons have changed in just two weeks.

I balance science education efforts with outreach on a broader scale, both through social media for Field Projects International (@fieldprojectsorg) and myself (@Surroundscience), and with science reporting for environmental news outlets such as Mongabay.org. My writing has covered a broad range of topics, the including illegal wildlife trade and the impacts of gold mining on the environment in South America.

For a full list of published works, see here.