Studying Scientists Who Study Primates
At Madagascar’s Ranomafana National Park, scientists study a dozen varieties of lemurs, part of the endearing, big-eyed, prosimian branch of the primate family. Thanks to a 2014 National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, Rebecca DelliCarpini will be there as well – studying the scientists.
“I’m interested in the way knowledge is produced in the context of conservation science,” says DelliCarpini (Macaulay Honors College at Hunter College, 2013), who is now a doctoral student at the University of Texas at San Antonio. “Science studies look at the way people produce knowledge and follows facts as they produce them. For me, that means going into the forest with primatologists and observing them observing primates, seeing how they come up with their end product, what is published in journals and accepted as fact.”
She also will observe how scientists and local people interact, how scientific knowledge is affected by local knowledge and the impact of the interaction after the scientists complete their work.
DelliCarpini spent a semester in Madagascar, making connections with conservation scientists and park officials and getting to know the local culture. She foresees conducting pilot research in the summer of 2015 and, after finishing doctoral coursework and qualifying exams, spending all of 2017 conducting research.
She says she chose Macaulay and Hunter over Smith, Mt. Holyoke and Clark - “great schools and scholarships” - because “the academic environment was incredible, very enriching,” with Hunter’s place in the history of women’s education and financial considerations. “At a private college, I still would have had $100,000 in debt, and now I’ll graduate with a Ph.D. and have no debt whatsoever.” In addition, her mother, Margo, “a champion of public education,” until recently was a professor of secondary education at Lehman College and the CUNY Graduate Center.
DelliCarpini adds that the training she received from Hunter assistant anthropology professor and primate ecologist Jessica Rothman prepared her for graduate study and for writing a solid application for the NSF fellowship. “She helped me understand the context of being involved with conservation and turning an analytic eye on it,” she says.
The National Science foundation Graduate Research Fellowship is the most prestigious for graduate studies in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. This federal grant provides $132,000 over three years for doctoral-level research.