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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Keeping Busy

I can't believe it's already mid-November! That means I've been up here for more than two and a half months. The time is flying by - I'm always shocked when I look at a real calendar and find out the date! Data collection has been progressing really well. We've been getting on average 85 focals a week, although this week we managed 97 - hurrah! I am hopefully going to start some preliminary data analysis soon to confirm that the data I'm collecting is what I need to answer my questions. I think that social network aspect of my project will be especially cool - I have a TON of data on play groups, proximity, and grooming interactions. It will be really neat to work up the social networks and see how the different types compare to one another. I also have a bunch of basic data about juvenile behavior that I think will be really neat to compile and publish. I have 51 individuals ranging in age from 6 months to 7 years old (though most are in the 2-4 year old range); they come from 8 family groups with really different compositions, so that will be interesting to look at also. At one extreme is the J unit - it is composed of 2 adult females, 2 adult males, and a single male juvenile. At the other end is the Z unit - 7 adult females, 3 adult males and 14 kids (10 of which are in my study group currently). Looking at differences in social relationships in these widely varied early social environments should be fascinating. I can't wait to see what my data has to say!

I'm on a science binge at the moment because on Thursday, I had the opportunity to discuss my work with Dr. Martyn Murray, a Scottish ecologist who has pretty much the best set of jobs in the world (in my opinion). In addition to being a professor at the University of Edinburgh, he also is an author (he wrote a book that combines nature and travel writing with his personal experiences studying ecology and conservation in Africa) AND an environmental consultant for the EU (which is the capacity we met him in - he is traveling around Ethiopia looking at national parks as potential conservation investments for the EU)! Despite his many hats and responsibilities, he still has the time and the inclination to sit down with three young ecologists and talk science. And he brought us six cans of green beans from Addis for our Thanksgiving dinner! We had no idea he was in Ethiopia, let alone the Simiens, but word traveled through the grapevine of our friends that we were trying to get some canned green beans and he came through for us. It was a really unexpected and fun evening. It always rewarding to see where a background in ecology can take you, particularly if you are interested in jobs outside academia. Between my talks with Martyn and Patrick, the producer of the new BBC movie who also started out in graduate school for biology/ecology, the list of possible paths I can consider after Princeton has grown substantially since I've been here!

Back in the regular world of our day-to-day life, there are only a few other things to report. Julie and I had to disinter poor Tariku, the gelada that got killed by a leopard a few weeks ago. One of the other people on the project desperately wanted some tissue samples for DNA analysis, and offered to pay us in candy if we would get the samples for him. Digging up the decomposing body was NOT fun, but we do have 9lbs of candy on its way to us as a result! In other, less distressing news, I got a package of art supplies and pipe cleaners from my Aunt Sheila last week! The local children have been away at school since I got the package on Thursday, so I haven't gotten to share the treasure trove with them, but we have been enjoying using them here in our house. I made sparkly pipe cleaner crowns for Eshete, Ambaye and Setey, and have put the pens and tissue paper to good use as well. Art projects are a fun way to pass the afternoons up here, if it happens to be a day when I'm not responsible for lab work or dishes! I've also gotten several cards from my mom and my sister, and quite a few awesome packages filled with treats. Thanks to all of you! And thanks too to everyone who has donated money to help bring Titi to America - Ali has already raised about $400 in donations in just a few weeks!

Only three and a half weeks until my family, Sam and Sam's sister Ruth come to visit - can't wait to see them all, and can't believe it's already nearly December! We are having Thanksgiving up here in a few days, so there will be another blog post about that later this week. Til then, hope you all are doing well and that November is treating you well!

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