jeudi 13 septembre 2012

Field Assistant for Doctoral Research on Wild Gelada Monkeys in the Ethiopian Highlands

Hiring Organization:
University of Michigan
Date Posted:

Position Description:

The University of Michigan Gelada Research Project studies the behavior, communication, endocrinology, and conservations of wild geladas (Theropithecus gelada) in the highlands of Ethiopia. Gelada monkeys, often referred to as the “bleeding heart baboon” (although not baboons!), are fairly unique primates. Gelada’s are terrestrial cliff-dwelling monkeys which have a diet that consists almost entirely on grass. In addition, gelada’s live in one the largest naturally occurring social groups of any primate species with numbers that can exceed over 1000 individuals. Given the size and complexity of the gelada social system, gelada’s are an ideal species for studying social relationships, reproductive strategies, and cognitive abilities.

I am looking for one field assistant to assist with my PhD data collection at the University of Michigan field station in the Simien Mountain National Park in the highlands of Ethiopia from mid-January to mid-November 2013 (10 months). My research is an interdisciplinary study on the role of sexually-selected signals – specifically a loud call vocalization given during male displays- in rival male assessment. My research has four main components: behavioral data collection, steroid hormone collection, vocalization recordings and acoustic analysis, and controlled cognitive playback experiments. My field assistant will assist in (a) conducting focal animal samples and all occurrence data on vocal displays, (b) collecting fecal samples from all target males, (c) extracting fecal hormones on site (for later laboratory steroid hormone analysis in the USA), (d) recording loud call vocalizations, and (e) performing playback experiments.

The field assistant is expected to live onsite in the Simien Mountains National Park during the entire 10 month period. While the Simien Mountains National Park has been hailed as one of the most beautiful places on earth, it is not without it’s challenges. Good physical fitness is essential- the terrain is hilly, the air is thin (due to high elevation), and the temperature can get quite cold during the rainy season (nights are sometimes below freezing and days can be cold). While in the Simiens, the field assistant will live in a stone hut located inside the national park with myself, 2 field managers, and 0-3 other graduate students (depending on the time of year). The camp is across the road from scout village where the park scouts, their families, and 2 of our Ethiopian assistants reside. Apart from that, the camp is very remote with the closest town (Debark) approximately a 45-minute drive. Applicants must be fluent in English and eager to learn Amharic (the national language of Ethiopia). Applicants must also be eager and willing to learn about Ethiopian customs and culture as coffee ceremonies, dinners, and celebrations are common.

Our camp includes one stone house with 3 bedrooms with sleeping cots, a full kitchen set-up (including a propane-powered stove and oven), a living/lab room, two wood burning fireplaces (great for heat and drying clothes in the rainy season), solar panels to power computers and batteries, gas lanterns for lighting, a generator (for electricity during the rainy season), a shower tent (hot shower requires heating up water on the stove). A four-person tent is also available if the house gets too crowded and can be quite lovely in the dry season. There is no running water at the fieldsite, but fresh water is fetched daily from a nearby stream and filtered for drinking. Also, there is no refrigerator at the fieldsite, but we have a project freezer at a nearby eco-lodge (about a 30-minute drive away) where we can store things. Communication is limited but we do have a satellite modem that allows for sending and receiving short emails on a regular basis, a CDMA card that can be used for internet access while we are in town (about once a month), and a cell phone that can be used at the eco-lodge and in town (no cell service at the camp site). For more information about my research, the University of Michigan Gelada Research Project, the project publications, and some photos of the fieldsite, please see the following websites:

The field assistant is expected to work 6 days a week working 8-12 hrs per day. A typical field day consists of waking up early and heading out (either by hiking or driving) to the gelada sleeping sites. We aim to be at the cliffs as the gelada’s are waking up and beginning their slow ascent (6:30-7am). Data collection takes place during the morning and early afternoon. The field assistant must recognize and follow known individuals, which can be difficult in groups of over 1000 monkeys. In addition, the monkeys often forage and move quite easily and rapidly though the mountainous terrain- a trek that may be easy for these natural mountaineers but proves a bit more challenging for the non-acclimated American researcher. We often head back to the house for lunch around 1-1:30 pm and weather permitting will head back for a shorter afternoon of data collection.


All applicants must have:
1. A B.S. or B.A. in Biology, Zoology, Biological Anthropology, Biopsychology, Animal Behavior, or a relate field is required.
2. Some experience with data collection and working on a scientific research project preferably an observational/behavioral project.
3. Prior travel and/or field experience. Travel/living experience in Africa or mountainous regions of Asia of South America preferred.
4. Applicants must be able to work well with others and know how to be part of a team and be highly motivated to work independently.

Qualities: Fieldwork is not for everyone. Our schedule is unconventional (6 days work, 1 day off), the weather in the Simiens is unpredictable, and there are days where everything seems to go wrong (monkeys get up late, you lost your subject, equipment gives out, it starts hailing, etc etc.) The difference between someone who loves and someone who hates fieldwork comes down to how you handle and overcome these unexpected challenges. Successfully applicants will be adventurous, energetic, passionate, open, patient, flexible, and in good physical condition. A good sense of humor and a cheerful demeanor come in handy when everything seems to go wrong. The position is not ideal for someone who needs a lot of personal time, for someone who is easily discourages, or for someone who easily feels lonely. With that said, for the right person- someone who is passionate about research, adventurous and always looking to try new things, inquisitive about local customs and beliefs, and resilient to physical, social, and psychological stressors- this can be an incredible experience. If this sounds like you, I look forward to your application!

This is an internship position so there is no salary. However, support will be given to the successful applicant (see below).

Support provided for internship/volunteer positions (travel, meals, lodging):
Round-trip airfare and living support will be provided for the successfully applicant (visa expenses, travel, meals, lodging). Additionally, the field assistant will be provided with basic accommodation, food, and other basic supplies while at the field site. The assistant is responsible for having a valid passport, travel health insurance, necessary vaccinations, a sleeping bag, and all personal gear. In addition, any additional expenses incurred while travelling in Ethiopia including any vacation time will also be the responsibility of the assistant.

Term of Appointment:
Because training and monkey identification often requires 2-3 months, a 10-month commitment is required from January- November 2013. The successful applicant will be given 2 weeks off (unpaid) every 4 months to have the opportunity to travel, visit family (or have family visit) etc. Additional time off will need to be discussed.

Application Deadline:

Deadline for submission is October 19th or until filled. Earlier applications will receive priority. Please email the following materials to Marcela Benitez at (1) a letter of interest stating how and why this position satisfies your interest and future career goals, explaining your suitability for this project, plus confirmation that you can work during the above time frame (or any known commitment issues during that time), and (2) a CV or resume detailing relevant experience, (3) an unofficial college transcript or a summary of college course taken and grades to be received, and (4) contact information for at least one reference, preferably at least one academic reference or someone who has worked close to you. The subject heading of the email message should read: “Application for field assistant position.” Qualified candidates will be contacted via email to set up an in person or phone interview.

Contact Information:
Marcela Benitez
Ann Arbor, Michigan


E-mail Address: