Life Up Close
from It's A Living! Career News for Girls
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Luke came home from her fifth-grade class one
day and asked her mother,
"What do you call a person who studies
animals?" They looked it up in the
dictionary and found zoologist.
Claudia is a zoologist and co-director of the
Sweeney Granite Mountains Desert Research Center
in California's Mojave Desert. She studies
rare desert tortoises and other animals. Claudia
is also a university professor. Her specialty
is herpetology—the branch of zoology
that studies reptiles and amphibians such as
snakes, lizards, turtles, frogs, and salamanders.
Claudia was a girl, her family liked to go
backpacking. Claudia always wanted to learn
about the mysterious lives of animals. "I thought
if I was just sat still enough, I could be
part of the animals around me," she says.
mother helped her find a course on how to identify
birds. Her mother always believed in Claudia's
dream to study animals. But getting her education
wasn't always fun for Claudia. High school
biology class turned out to be "boring, dry,
and flat," says Claudia. So she decided to
get some experience with people who were already
studying animals. She studied one year in junior
college and worked as a laboratory researcher.
That's one job a zoologist or biologist might
have, but Claudia didn't like lab work. She
wanted to study animals in their natural environment.
Claudia went to the University of California
at Berkeley. She paid her own way to spend
a month in Kenya, Africa, to study the black
and white colobus monkey. Claudia loved it.
next summer she went to western Texas to work
with a professor who studies a special kind
of lizard. Claudia found lizards and then shot
crickets through a straw to feed them. The
professor wanted to find out if those lizards
that got extra food lived longer.
professor at Berkeley asked her to work with
him as a graduate student and study herpetology.
She spent six years in graduate school- the
average time for students in her field - making
her living by teaching part time. Teaching
made her nervous at first. But when she stopped
worrying so much about what students thought
of her, she got good at it.
earn her doctorate (PhD) degree, Claudia decided
to do research on lizards in the desert. She
found the desert really is the place for her. "I
like the extremes in temperature, the exposed
honesty of the landscape. I like the feeling
of being small, of being a part of something
graduation, Claudia worked as a consultant
in the San Francisco area. Companies that wanted
to develop land and needed to know about rare
animals that lived there hired Claudia to look
for these protected animals and write reports.
It paid well, but Claudia wasn't satisfied,
because she would write a report and never
hear about the project again.
about four years, she and Jim Andre, who is
her partner in work and in life, got the chance
to be co-directors of the Desert Research Center
in the Mojave. The center is one of 32 reserves
managed by the University of California Natural
Reserve System. Claudia, Jim, and two other
people live in the desert, where the wild,
undisturbed natural habitat is protected for
education and scientific study.
loves every part of her job. "Everything I
do - whether it is administrative, research,
scheduling, or fundraising - all relates back
to protecting the area for research and education.
I like to see the results of my efforts." As
a field station director, she doesn't have
a daily or weekly schedule; her job changes
as new research projects begin. Claudia says
the biggest reward about a career in research
is knowing that "once you get the answer to
something, you've got it for the first time
Desert Research Center is in such a remote
area that the nearest grocery store is more
than 75 miles away. In the summer, Claudia
says, she misses ice cream. She also misses
going to restaurants and having friends drop
by. But people do travel that far - friends,
scientists, students - and they usually stay
awhile. In her spare time, Claudia writes songs
and paints. She and Jim like to run with their
your study of nature near home with a place
that is relatively wild - it could be the nearest
park or your back yard. Read field guides and
join outdoor groups. Observe and keep notes
in a journal describing what you see.
- This career is for you if you...
the outdoors, even when it's hot or cold
to be the first person to find out something
willing to do the same thing over and over
to be sure the experiment is right.
determined to keep studying to get a master's
degree or even a PhD.
pay PhD: $13.37 per hour, $27,800 per year
Source: Encyclopedia of Career and Vocational
a Living! Career News for Girls