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The Power of Asking

By Jamie Sherman

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'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.