By Jamie Sherman
I'm currently a 4th year PhD student in the Animal Biology grad group, expecting to graduate in June of 2015. My research focuses on black bear population health in California, with a specific focus on bear population size and the zoonotic parasite, Trichinella.
I did my undergraduate studies at Syracuse University in New York and fell in love with wildlife research during a study abroad trip in South Africa. While there, I approached some veterinarians at the Kruger National Park and asked if I could come back the following summer to do a research project. They said yes, and from there we designed a project looking at babesia infections in lions in the park.
As soon as I got back to Syracuse I applied for funding and returned to South Africa a few months later. After a summer of working with the vets in the park and a wide variety of animals, I decided I wanted to make a career out of wildlife research.
For my graduate degree, I wanted to try something new, so I reached out to Dr. Holly Ernest and asked about joining her lab and working with wildlife in California. Once Holly and I got to know each other, we decided I would be a good fit for the lab, so I moved out to Davis.
During my first year I considered working with many species - mountain lions, hummingbirds, bighorn sheep, but ultimately decided on bears. California’s black bear population is growing rapidly in size and distribution, and there is a need for research to better understand and plan for future management (and there was funding to back this need).
I work very closely with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Two of my projects are funded by them, and I work part time as a scientific aide with the Wildlife Investigations Laboratory. As a sci-aide I primarily work weekends taking care of the orphan animals that come to lab. So far I have worked with about 10 bear cubs, five mountain lion cubs, a bobcat, two deer and two red foxes.
For three of the mountain lion cubs, I was primary caretaker which involved hand-rearing them for a few weeks. It was awesome! I also help out with some of their big field projects — 3 bighorn sheep captures and one deer capture.
I got my position at Fish and Wildlife in a way similar to my other experiences: I asked if I could work with them. I started off as a volunteer for six months and then when a position opened up, I was rewarded for my time.
The main thing I've learned as I continue on my journey through the research world is the power of asking to get involved. I asked the vets to do research in South Africa, I asked Holly about joining her lab, and I asked Fish and Wildlife if I could volunteer.
Often times people are afraid to approach superiors and ask to get involved, but in my mind, the worst that can happen is they say no. I have gained a great set of mentors that I would never have gotten to know if I was afraid to approach them.