Noonanís Marine Mammal Research Team?
I'm glad you
might be interested in assisting in the research I am conducting.
As you discuss this with me over the next few days, please keep in
mind the following considerations.
The process of
aligning yourself with a research team is a lot like matchmaking.
The goal on both sides is to find the best possible fit between the
interests, skills and abilities of the student with the
opportunities, techniques, and demands of the chosen research
project. It is also important to make a good personal match as
well. You may find the atmospheres of some research teams to be
more or less formal than you prefer, more or less stressful, and so
on. Interestingly, one student may experience the atmosphere of the
same team differently than another. The idea is to find the best
match for you.
this, I want you to learn as much as possible about my research, my
existing team of student research assistants, and about me. This
means we should both expect the process to take a little time.
speaking, my research activities are of two types: Marineland-based
we conduct both passive observations (using data-collection
protocols programmed into laptop computers) and experimental testing
(probing the animal's ability to solve problems presented to them on
stimulus cards). These activities are almost always team-based
efforts where we work together toward a common goal.
At Canisius, we
analyze video and hydrophone recordings of the whale's behavior. We
are trying to learn more about how they are coping with captivity
and how they communicate with each other. In this setting, it is
often the case that smaller groups of students or individuals work
on different projects.
Which of these
two types of work is right for you? That depends. Here are some
work tends to be very early in the morning and it takes place
outdoors in all sorts of weather. It also involves the handling of
large quantities of raw fish. If you are not a weather-hearty,
morning person, who can tolerate fish smells, this type of work may
not be right for you.
On the other
hand, the lab-based work tends to be lengthy. One needs to approach
it with a long view and a great deal of diligence and patience. If
the idea of listening to whale recordings for many hours seems too
slow paced for you, then this might be a poor match.
I know that
some students mostly are seeking live animal experience and are
therefore mostly seeking time with me at Marineland. Thatís OK. If
that is your main interest, be sure to tell me this clearly. I know
that some students want to try everything. Thatís OK. If that is
you, be sure to tell me clearly. I know that some students would
really like a project of their own Ė something that could lead to a
conference presentation and/or a publication with their name on it.
Of course, thatís OK too. If that is you, be sure to let me know
this. Sometimes the level of involvement changes. Thatís also OK.
Just be sure to keep me updated.
It is normal to
begin the process by "shadowing". If you are interested, you should
arrange with me to tag along at Marineland and/or sit in during data
collection in the laboratory. This will test your ability to handle
the early hours, the cold, the tedium, etc. After that, you will be
more informed and our subsequent conversations will be based upon
clear expectations. At that point, the amount of time that you want
to put in to the effort and the kinds of contributions you'll be
able to make will be easier for us to discuss.
there are four general ways students get involved in research:
- As a
- In pursuit
of academic credit (under Research Seminar or other suitable
- As a paid
- On a
specially funded research assistantship (under the CEEP/HHMI
programs or other applicable grant)
is a progression in the roles that you play. If you are a beginner
at the study of animal behavior, at working around large animals, at
computer programming, at audio file manipulation, you will have to
start with the simplest tasks. (And don't worry. Everyone starts
out as a beginner.) Over months, as you acquire experience and
skills, you are likely to move on to more and more complex and
Even if you are
volunteering, think in terms of 6-9 hours per week as the least
amount of time you will be putting into the project. The reasons
for this has to do with the amount of time needed for training you,
and the amount of time needed to reasonably expect you to make a
beneficial contribution to the effort. Just to learn to distinguish
the individual whales and to learn our most basic data collections
protocols takes a few sessions. Then, quite a few hours of
carefully supervised practice are necessary where you will gradually
get better and better at recognizing and recording behavioral
codes. You will have to practice until the point where you match a
standard of inter-rater reliability.
Maybe this will
take you 20 hours of practice; maybe it will take 40. How long it
takes doesn't matter too much. What does matter is that you don't
spend all of your time with my team just practicing. For your sake
and mine, we want you to eventually get on to something meaningful.
We do not want to invest 20 to 40 hours in training you if that is
where it will end. A research assistantship takes on the form of
something like an exchange of benefits. You get experience and
training. I get useable and useful data. This way it is beneficial
and worthwhile on both sides of the equation. In order for this to
happen, you will need to minimally invest one hour per day or two
hours every other day.
Please keep in
mind that there are almost always more students who are seeking
research assistantships than there are places to put them. The
process is sometimes quite competitive and not everyone gets
accepted. When this happens, I will do my best to guide you toward
other equally good opportunities.