Q & A with our new interns

Every season, two volunteer interns will be assisting the vampire bat food-sharing project at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Gamboa, Panama. These are our first two interns for Spring 2016.


A month ago, eighteen-year-old whiz kid Jana Nowatzki (left) joined our project from Konstanz, Germany. Jana is a surprisingly self-motivated, bright, positive, and precocious student. Armed with an infectious enthusiasm and a curious mind, Jana has undertaken a project that involves focal sampling of bats to construct a social grooming network. While learning how to read scientific papers, she is also helping to translate some of the German literature on vampire bat research into English.


What are your interests?

I finished high school in June this year. Of course, I am happy with new possibilities for life experiences. That is why I really enjoy traveling, which allows me a closer look at the way of life in my country compared to other countries. I am really interested in the interface of human beings with their natural environment, the different attitudes of dealing with nature, what influences them, and how they arise. I am absolutely impressed by nature, ecosystems, and evolution.

What do you hope to gain from working on the vampire bat project?

I think my main idea is getting an impression of “the real working life” of research, which is hard to miss in Gamboa. Also, I wish to gain a basic understanding of how animal social structures work, why and how individuals act differently. Finally, I want to learn more about these strange little flying fur balls, and their amazing psychology and physiology.

What are your plans for the future?

I want to study biology. I’ve learned that plans change constantly, and at the moment it is hard to separate plans from dreams.


photoNext month, Yesenia Valverde (left) will be join our project from Brown University, where she is pursuing a degree in Conservation Science & Policy with a focus on tropical rainforests. After her volunteer work with vampire bats in Panama, she will serve as a research assistant at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve in Costa Rica studying the ecology of epiphytes in order to predict their vulnerability to climate change.


What are your interests?

My entire life, I’ve grown up visiting family in Costa Rica and have always felt myself attracted to tropical rainforests. As I began to learn about current environmental issues, my admiration of nature evolved into a passion as I dedicated myself to learning more in order to join the effort to protect it. I’m especially intrigued by wildlife ecology and love to learn about and see new animals out in the field. When I’m not trying to save the rainforest, I really enjoy spending time with family and am currently really into improving my cooking skills!

What do you hope to gain from working on the vampire bat project?

I’m hoping to walk away from this experience with a lot of new knowledge about bats in general. Despite their bad reputation, bats are incredible animals that are vital to, among other things, the proper ecosystem functioning of tropical systems. I hope to gain valuable research experience during this time, especially learning how to mist net. I plan to mist net birds in Costa Rica for my senior thesis project later this year. I’m excited to further my development as a scientist as well by designing and carrying out behavioral experiments in order to answer fundamental questions.

What are your plans for the future?

After graduation, I plan on seeking field positions in wildlife research as part of my never-ending quest to gain more research experience. I want to explore different opportunities so that I can be sure of what it is that I want for the rest of my career. After that, I plan to go to grad school and pursue a PhD in Conservation Biology.


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