This week’s Scientist Spotlight features Caitlin Mack, a masters student studying social behavior of animals at Michigan State University. Our Scientist Spotlight series features STEM professionals who volunteer in our pen pal program, Letters to a Pre-Scientist.
More specifically, Caitlin studies the social behavior of animals, like African wild dogs, living in zoos compared to living in the wild.
What is something everyone gets wrong about your job or line of work?
One thing I think people can get wrong about studying animal behavior is that they think the whole job is just watching animals all day. Observing and watching animals is definitely my favorite part of what I study, but it involves so much more. Animal behaviorist scientists need to know about the natural history of the species, as well as what past & current scientific research says about the animal. Scientists who study animal behavior also need to be able to analyze the behaviors they observe. This can be done through statistics, so math plays an essential role.
What is the best or coolest part about your job? What keeps you excited about your work?
For me, the coolest part about my job is getting to observe animals, especially over long periods of time. I love getting to know the individual animals I am watching and learning their personalities. I also love learning about so many different species and finding out the cool adaptations or specific behaviors of a species. I also get to meet and collaborate with a lot of awesome people as well!
What motivated you to pursue a career in STEM?
I have always been interested in animals and in understanding the world, especially why animals act the way they do. I started out spending hours watching a herd of horses in their field and that developed into an interest in animal behavior and psychology. I knew I wanted to pursue a career with animals and I discovered my passion for research while in undergrad.
Why do you participate in LPS? Why is outreach important to you?
Outreach is very important to me, because STEM should be accessible to everyone. Anyone can do STEM and I think it is important to demonstrate that, whether through representation or bringing STEM to all communities. I participate in LPS in to show that anyone can be a scientist. I’m also excited that I get to connect with a pre-scientist and encourage them in their STEM journey.