I hope you get paid for that…

Not that long ago, somebody asked me just what it was I was doing at the University of Minnesota. When I described my dissertation research to them, they paused in thoughtful silence, then asked slowly, “Did you ever think about doing something…useful?”

I’m pretty thick-skinned – so that just made me laugh. I love what I do and wouldn’t trade it for the world. But I also think that it really and truly is important. We live increasingly in a world where water comes from the tap, and food from the grocery store. I think it’s important for us to understand how the world works – how all of the puzzle pieces fit together to produce this amazingly vibrant, dynamic mosaic of life…and how our actions might affect it.

And so with that, this post is devoted to all the things that people say when I tell them what I do.  I’m curious to hear the lines that other folks get!

The things people say:

— Huh. Did you ever think about doing something…practical?

— I hope you get paid for that…

— Um…what are you going to do with that?

— So, are you going to be able to get a job?

— You’ve been in school for HOW long?

—  Really? You get to be a “doctor”?

— Oh! Kind of like the Lion King?

But my personal favorite? “You have the BEST job in the whole world!” I usually hear this from tourists while in the field.  They say this from the inside of their air-conditioned cars, on the way back to their hotels with running water and fresh food (that’s been refrigerated!).  I am usually dusty when they tell me this, I am covered in tsetse fly bites and Acacia thorn scratches, my nose is sunburned and my arms ache because my Land Rover has no power steering. Part of me wants to point out to them the fact that most of my day is spent playing with power tools or watching lion sleep, and that this in fact is rather boring.  Part of me wants to point out that I get fresh meat only every 6 weeks, and have no refrigerator to put it in. That my shower is a bucket, and ever since the spitting cobra incident, I’m a little on edge in the ‘bathroom’. That my toilet is outside and sometimes hard to get to because buffalo like to wander through the yard at night. Yes, a part of me wants to point all of these things out to them…but I don’t.  Why? Because in the end…I think they’re right.



About ali swanson

I'm an ecologist studying how large carnivores coexist. I spend way too much of my time trying to stop hyenas and elephants from munching my camera traps!

5 responses to “I hope you get paid for that…”

  1. Keith Hearn says :

    I’m glad you’re out there, and I think what you’re doing is useful. It may not contribute to the economy, which is some people’s standard for “useful”, but it’s very important. Thanks for all the hardships you put up with to do it. And thanks for allowing those of use who have never been to the Serengeti to see bits and pieces of it through your “eyes”. I’m very happy to be able to do my small part to contribute to your work.

  2. Kelsey says :

    I think advancing knowledge is always useful and I can’t wait to see some of the new animal population density maps that all our data produced. Do you have an idea when we could see those?

  3. Lifesart says :

    I can only envy your unique calling, and wish I had had such an interest, and dedication to it, when I was young. Useful? I should say so! Anyone who doesn’t get it has no imagination and lives only inside himself. Your willingness to put up with the hardship and boredom reflects your love of the ever vanishing world we live in. Thank you so much for your work and for allowing us to help in this small way.

  4. Maria says :

    I think those tourists might be right too, in spite of the hardships. Heres wishing you continued enjoyment of your “job” – beats commuting!

  5. Terry says :

    Well Ali,
    While “outsiders” may ridicule or look give strange expressions or mock you and this project

    …. All the folks helping review all these “awesome” pictures FULLY understand why you do this. No Explaination neccessary, probably because if we could go with and help install the cameras we would.

    With the addition of the internet review , you have created one “MONSTER”sized team … Everyones role is important , But yours is specifically important because of this …. without the pictures , NONE of this is possible.

    Keep up the great work and I can’t wait for you to post the next batch ,so the “review” members of your team can get going …

    Be Safe …


    ps. This citizen science project is one of the most valuable uses of the internet infrastructure ever conceived. Allows us all to help you move mountains of data.

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