Interested in joining Dr Margulis's Research Team?
glad you’re interested in gaining research experience. Animal
behavior can be very exciting and rewarding but also at times very
tedious and boring…that’s the reality check. It’s important to find
a research project that interests you—that will make it a good
experience for you, and for me.
order to conduct any type of research, one must acquire specific
skills. This can take time; the learning curve may be steep, but
that’s fine. Everyone learns at their own pace, and it’s important
for you to gain a certain level of confidence and proficiency in
order to succeed.
At present, most of my
data are conducted at the Buffalo Zoo. Behavioral data are collected
on Buffalo’s gorilla group using a palm-pilot data collection system
called EthoTrak. The primary purpose of these observations is to
establish a “baseline” of normal behavior for the gorilla group.
This allows us to then systematically examine the effect of
environmental or social changes on the gorilla group; for example,
the addition or removal of an individual, a diet change, or a new
type of enrichment. This also provides a rich source of data for a
variety of applied research questions.
There are several steps
to becoming part of the gorilla research team:
Learn to reliably identify all the gorillas (pretty easy,
Become familiar with the ethogram, or catalog of behaviors,
that we record.
Learn how to use EthoTrak.
Pass an “observer reliability” test.
Once you have accomplished this, you’ll be scheduled for 1-2
observation sessions a week at the zoo. Sessions last about 90
minutes, and are conducted between 9:30am and 4pm (pretty nice
hours, as long as it works with your class schedule). Only 1
observer is scheduled at a time, so you must be able to get yourself
to the zoo—but it is quite walkable from campus.
this doesn’t fit your schedule, some observations are collected on
videotape. These can be viewed on campus, so the scheduling is far
addition to these projects, other research projects may be done on
campus using one of several data sets that have already been
collected. Most of these involve data on primate behavior. Some of
this research involves using data from Studbooks—the detailed
demographic and genetic information maintained by Species Survival
Plans (SSP’s) managed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).
I oversee the white-cheeked gibbon SSP. If you like
number-crunching, looking for patterns, and doing library research,
this might be just the thing for you. You may find a behavioral data
set of interest, or perhaps join the Gibbon team.
Finally, this year I will be setting up a fecal hormone extraction
laboratory (the first step in hormone assay). Measuring hormone
concentrations is an excellent way to validate behavioral
observations and can provide valuable information for zoos:
reproductive condition of animals, measures of stress hormones, etc.
So, in the near future, more research opportunities will arise
involving hormones and behavior.
may be interested in conducting your own research project. That’s
great, and I am always happy to facilitate this. However, expect to
spend at least a year on an ongoing project before venturing off on
your own research.
Levels of involvement:
you are interested in participating, you should plan on coming to
the zoo with me or one of the experienced student researchers to get
a sense of what the observations are like. If you feel that this
research would be a good fit for you, there are several levels of
If you aren’t sure if this is right for you, volunteer for a
semester. This will help you decide if the research is a good
fit for you.
- Register for academic
credit (under Research Seminar or other suitable course title).
This is usually a 1-credit course. Once you are trained, I would
expect you to complete at least 2 observation sessions a week
some data work on campus.
Apply for a
specially funded research assistantship (under the CEEP/HHMI
programs or other applicable grant).
Even if you are volunteering, think in terms of 4-6 hours per week
as the least amount of time you will be putting into the project.
Training observers takes a considerable amount of time, and it is
not until you are trained, pass reliability tests, and “graduate” to
the research team that you are truly making a contribution to the
project. It’s likely to take you several weeks at mimimum to
learn the skills you need to collect data. Then you’ll need to
practice, on your own or with another researcher, until you are
completely comfortable with the procedure. At this point, you may
take an observer reliability test and formally begin to collect
Please keep in mind that there are many students who wish to gain
research experience. As much as I would like to accept everyone who
is interested, I just may not be able to accommodate everyone. I
will certainly help you to find other valuable research experience
at Canisius or at the zoo.