From an early age I loved animals and watching animals (much to my parent’s chagrin because they were not big pet fans). I grew up in the US and went through the US public (equivalent to UK state) school program through the end of high school. I was able to choose maths and science classes during high school that interested me, developed my STEM skills, and prepared me for an undergraduate degree. I was interested in research from early on because of those science classes and the lab projects we completed in them. Because I lived in a town with a university, I was lucky enough that one of my science teachers put me in touch with a university professor looking for interns to help her with a research project. While the research was on cucumbers and bees (not at all related to my current research interests) it was lots of fun and taught me more about how science works.
I started university at Emory University (Atlanta, GA) in 2011 and found my love for anthropology. Being at an American university, I had the opportunity to also do a minor in theatre studies and take many courses across other disciplines, which helped me meet people from different subjects. I contacted senior researchers to find internship opportunities and was lucky enough to gain research experience at the Yerkes National Primate Research Center (associated with Emory) and with Prof Dietrich Stout in the anthropology department, who works with stone tool technologies. During my last year of undergrad, I applied for the MPhil in Archaeological Science at the University of Cambridge and for the Koobi Fora Field School (KFFS), which is a 6 week palaeoanthropology field school that takes place in Kenya over the summer. KFFS gave me an opportunity to experience field work and narrow down my interests. It was an amazing experience and would highly recommend that any undergraduate students interested in palaeoanthropology, archaeology, or primatology look into what field schools might be offered by their own (and other) universities. Often there may be funding options available for students, both merit and need-based. After my summer with KFFS, I started my MPhil at Cambridge and moved to the UK for the first time. Moving to a new country for graduate school definitely had its challenges, but was well worth it. I found myself drawn to zooarchaeology and the study of domestication, which is what I completed my MPhil dissertation on.
After my masters I felt quite burnt out. I knew that I wanted to continue with my graduate education, but wasn’t sure what specific area of research I wanted to go into. I decided to take some time out of academia and returned to the US to work at a pet rehoming centre/humane society. This was a really important decision for me because it let me take the time to decide what the best path for me was. Many people take time out between their undergraduate/masters and further graduate education and this is totally ok! Especially in anthropology it is actually quite common. While working, I had the time to develop my interests further, look into PhD programs, and apply based on my interests (animal behaviour with a human-evolution twist). This led me to Susana’s lab at Oxford where I now study behavioural variation and social learning in baboons. Since starting my PhD, I have realized how interesting, fun, and useful coding is, and have been wishing I got into it earlier. There are lots of great free code-learning programs and tools out there that I would recommend checking out.
If you have any questions about my path into primatology or specifically transferring to the UK system from the US system, please feel free to get in touch! Contact details: firstname.lastname@example.org.