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Volunteer/Internship Experience

My name is Ambar Rodriguez, a senior BS Biology student at the University of Puerto Rico- Mayaguez Campus. My time at the Caribbean Primate Research Center (CPRC) was my first research experience outside of the classroom lab. I had the opportunity of collaborating with Ms. Carla Escabi on her thesis investigation on Gastrointestinal Parasitology.

This experience allowed me to work with minimum supervision in a laboratory work environment, where I developed my laboratory skills and techniques. As an undergraduate, I am grateful for the opportunity to learn how research with nonhuman primates are conducted at CPRC. I helped in the laboratory in all aspects--including assisting in routine vaccinations, health checkups, and other veterinary procedures. The veterinary care and procedure in the Center reinforced my conviction to study medicine. Even if a medical degree pertains to humans, the clinical methods used with NHPs is similar to that in the medical field. For example, clinical trials with NHPs are essential for the development of human medical treatments.

I also visited Cayo Santiago Island before the devastation of hurricane Maria and did fieldwork. It was interesting to observe macaque interaction set in an environment almost similar to that in the wild. I am impressed at the impact of this small island of monkeys on the field of behavioral research within the sciences.

The year I spent as a volunteer student strengthened my student portfolio. The experience allowed me to participate in an exchange program for a semester at Cornell University and a summer research program at the Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute. I advice any student to volunteer and help with their researches. You will not regret the knowledge and skills that the Center is willing to impart. This will help you understand better how real science works and will be a useful guide to your future academic and career choices.

--Ambar Rodriguez, University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez Campus

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Mi experiencia trabajando en Cayo Santiago

Todos los días nos reuníamos en el puerto de Punta Santiago a la 5:00 am . A esa hora salía la lancha para la hermosa islita de Cayo Santiago, o como algunos la conocen ‘La isla de los monos’. Para mi, esta experiencia fue inolvidable. Yo y dos estudiantes más, fuimos ayudantes de la doctora Angelina Ruiz Lambides.

El objetivo de nuestro trabajo se centró en observar a ciertos grupos de macacos. Teníamos que estudiar el comportamiento de ellos durante su etapa de reproducción y cómo sus interacciones podían afectar o beneficiar su status dominante.

A mi me tocó dos grupos, los cuales se movían de lugar constantemente. Las primeras semanas fueron frustrantes. Parecía un juego de "hide-seek". Al principio todos los monos se parecían y era difícil poder distinguirlos.

Sin embargo, con el tiempo y la ayuda de los otros investigadores en el área, se logró. Recuerdo la felicidad que sentí. El miedo de que algún macaco me mordiera se fue, caminar toda la isla varias veces en un mismo día se hacía cada vez más fácil y placentero, y hasta mi grupo de macacos ya se familiarizaba conmigo. Como si yo formara parte de su grupo también. Fue muy gracioso y divertido. Al segundo mes, ya sabíamos distinguir a los macacos desde lejos.

Con esta experiencia no solo gané conocimiento, sino también amistades.

--Licia R. Garcia Vergara, University of Puerto Rico

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To sum up my placement year, I thoroughly enjoyed my year working for the Caribbean Primate Research Center (CPRC). I feel extremely privileged to have acquired valuable experience at such a unique and prestigious primate research centre, where many groundbreaking studies have taken place. Not a single day of work was the same, which was very motivating and kept the job exciting.

Furthermore, I was able to experience every aspect of work at the research centre: caretaking by assisting with general maintenance of the island; collecting census data on populations, social groups, mortality and births; and conducting research on the field and assisting in the laboratory. I also had the chance to experience all the different seasons that the island has to offer and interact with the macaques first hand in a semi-natural environment. I assisted in trapping monkeys for tattooing and the gathering of genetic and morphological data. I also observed the macaques during the mating season while collecting dominance and behavioural data.

I was fascinated and intrigued by the changes in macaque behaviour in various phases of their reproductive cycle. Additionally, the experience of being able to learn and recognise individual macaques by their unique features is very satisfying, since every macaque looked identical when I first arrived on the island. By telling the macaques apart, I could really get to know the behaviours of individual monkeys and get acquainted with every macaques’ unique personalities, making my focal follows very engaging.

I believe that I was able to perform all that was asked for on my learning agreement as well as my own personal goals. Taking a placement has enabled me to apply my own knowledge and what I have learned in university on field work and real life scenarios. Equally, I have learned in terms of knowledge in general, especially on behaviour and field techniques, which I have been able to apply and has benefited me over my final year as an undergraduate. I was also very fortunate to have permission in using behavioural and dominance data that I observed and collected for the CPRC to be used for my final year research project. 

One of the most important reasons for me in taking a year out of education to do a placement year, apart from the experience, was the chance to meet likeminded people, researchers, and scientists alike in a zoological field of work, therefore allowing me to build friendships and contacts. Having close friends and a wide range of contacts in what may be my chosen career path could be very beneficial to me in the future. This also gave me knowledge and good personal insight into what jobs are available. I have become friends with many researchers and CPRC employees. All the employees at the CPRC were very welcoming when I first arrived in Puerto Rico and started working for the CPRC. They have been very helpful throughout my time in Puerto Rico. I am grateful for all the help I have received working at the CPRC and to be part of the team. The placement has helped me develop my own teamwork and interpersonal skills, which hopefully have made me a more rounded and attractive candidate for a future job. I have also been able to learn a bit of Spanish during my time in Puerto Rico with the help of the employees as well as the friends I have made, which was one of my goals I set for myself prior to the placement. 

My current career plan is to pursue a job as a professional field assistant at different field sites around the world. I believe that I have strengthened my CV and improved my job opportunities tremendously after having done a placement at the Caribbean Primate Research Center.

--Glenn Pritchard, Liverpool John Moores University

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My name is Adrianna Rivera, a University of Puerto Rico undergraduate student, currently completing a Bachelor’s Degree in Cellular and Molecular Science. On my third year in college, I volunteered at the Caribbean Primate Research Center (CPRC) to participate in researches involving animals.

While at CPRC, I was able to explore my interest in physiology and veterinary medicine. I participated in various activities involving the collection and preparation of tissue samples; learned about the proper management and handling of primates; shadowed anthropologists and veterinarians during daily procedures; visited Cayo Santiago; and provided assistance in food and treatment preparations for housed primates.        

All of these experiences were essential in my formation as an undergraduate student. My time at CPRC helped me understand the behavior of other primate species, how their bodies function, and how this knowledge is applicable to the understanding of our own social interactions, physiology, and anatomy. It also helped me engage in practical and interactive activities that resonate with the theory learned in academic classes—a process I deem necessary to develop critical thinking skills and professional and personal growth.

I also learned about parasites that can potentially affect human and nonhuman primates, while working on an ongoing research project at CPRC. With this experience, I hope to pursue a graduate degree and become an expert in immunology.

--Adrianna Rivera, University of Puerto Rico

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