What's happening Wednesday

What’s Happening Wednesday: training the interns

Luke Ward, Senior Primate Scientist, gives us an insight into the process of training that interns receive when they first arrive at OuTrop, something our new interns Claire, Sam, Hélène, Emma and Marina are halfway through right now.
Here at OuTrop we aim for the highest possible standards in our field research. As such we offer thorough and in depth training and development programmes to all our personnel. One of the most important groups who go through these training processes is our interns. In one sense our interns are trainee field scientists, therefore the guidance and teaching we provide is of vital importance, not only so they can properly contribute to our ongoing research, but also for their own futures in field science and conservation. 
The intern training programme has a duration of five or six weeks, at which point our interns become fully fledged, independent members of our research team. Therefore the program is designed to address all essential areas a field scientist requires competency in, beginning with the basics and ending with more complex aspects of field ethology.
The first week of training revolves around introductions and acclimatisation. Adapting to a new job can be difficult, especially when that job is in a tropical peat swamp forest. Therefore we like to ease our new members into life in the forest and a research camp. During this first week our interns will receive a number of induction talks and discussions on the various projects we conduct at OuTrop. These are coupled with daily walks in the forest and a chance to experience the other research we do, which doesn’t focus on primates. The primary goal of the first week is for the interns to become comfortable with their surroundings. Therefore forest safety, orientation, and navigation training feature heavily during this early stage.

OuTrop primate scientists and interns training in the principles of map, compass, and GPS navigation
Going into week two our interns begin their theory and practical training. Week two comprises of morning theory and teaching sessions in camp followed by practical application in the forest during the afternoon. Our focus at this early stage is on the principles of observation, searching, identification, and following techniques within the field of primatology. We finish the second week with an introduction to some of the more basic data we collect in the field, mainly GPS and feeding data.

Training in observation and identification techniques

Theory and teaching on follow technique
At the three week stage the interns turn their efforts towards the forest. Theory and teaching in camp take a temporary back seat while each intern repeatedly practices what they have learnt so far while also developing their ‘forest legs’ through full days spent following primates. This stage is vitally important for young scientists to master, as it requires developing such attributes as stamina, focus, and resilience, all of which are prerequisites for a career in field science.

Week 5 interns with OuTrop staff, from left: Orangutan intern Marina Mulligan, Gibbon intern Samantha Tesoriero, Senior Primate Scientist Luke Ward, Red langur intern Claire Neale, and Assistant Primate Scientist Aimee Oxley
As the interns’ first months draws to a close they enter the final stages of their training – collecting main data and leading follows of primates for themselves. These are the more complex areas and require an individual to already possess competency in all other areas. Their main data training bring the interns up to a standard where they can accurately identify and systematically record a wide variety of behaviours, while simultaneously leading the follow and exercising  all aspects of the follow protocol. Also during this period the interns learn about our databases and how to enter and store the data they collect. Typically by week six our trainee interns graduate to fully fledged, independent members of a field research team!