Wildlife Vocalizations: Travis Booms

Travis Booms extending the wing of a golden eagle to assess the progression of molt as a means to age the bird before release as part of a satellite telemetry study of Golden Eagles in southcentral Alaska.
Credit: Caitlin Davis

Wildlife Vocalizations is a collection of short personal perspectives from people in the field of wildlife sciences.

“Don’t be reasonable” is guidance I was not expecting to receive from my graduate advisor as I sat down to think-up my master’s research proposal. Figuring this was my first formal foray into the scientific endeavor that would hopefully become my career, I was prepared to think carefully, cautiously and in a measured way like any good scientist. Sample sizes, power analyses, feasibility assessments, risk assessments, literature searches, objectiveness and outlines that flow through the scientific process should be the way I figure out how to draft my first research proposal, right? I sat down with a sharp pencil and blank piece of paper at my office desk and failed miserably to write anything useful. And that’s when my advisor stepped in.

Travis Booms collecting morphometric data on an interior Alaska grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) before collaring it as part of a movement ecology project. Credit: Alaska Department of Fish and Game

Little did I know that at least for this right-brained, straight-A nerd of a student who was raised to follow the rules, what I needed most was to allow my creative inner child who didn’t care about failing and thinking up stupid ideas to take control of my brain and release the floodgates of imaginative brainstorming. My graduate advisor saw in me what I see in many young scientists: the results of cultural normativity in science that we are supposed to be serious and measured and emotionless professionals who sit down in a blank office and think of ingenious ideas. Sure, some of us can do such things, and if you can, I have huge respect for you. But I cannot and what my advisor saw in me is that I had to unlearn, or at least let-go of, these expectations and rules that formal education had beat into my brain to provide some space for imagination, ingenuity, and let’s be honest, fun.  To be sure, there are plenty of times in our profession when rule-following and seriousness is required, but we need to remember that occasionally, it’s best to throw out the rule book and break out of the boxes to which we unconsciously confine ourselves. And not be so darn serious all the time.

Travis Booms poses with a gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus) nestling in western Alaska. Credit: Alaska Department of Fish and Game

I’m happy to report that I took his guidance to heart, succeeded in my master’s research, and have continued to follow and share his advice to this day. It remains among the most powerful and useful pieces of guidance I have received to date and is responsible for many of my successes and all of my best ideas.

Find a creative space for yourself, let the inner child supersede your serious scientific self and start spewing questions, ideas and solutions no matter how far-fetched, illogical or unrealistic they may appear.  Occasionally, a crazy idea pops up that isn’t so crazy after all …

Learn more about Wildlife Vocalizations, and read other contributions.

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For questions, please contact Jamila Blake.


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