I've been back for nearly 2 weeks. I didn't realize how tired I was until I looked up and realized how long it's been since I posted. I was just too tired to fight with internet to type up a post or search for photos.
Everyone on Twitter and Facebook has asked: So, how was it?
It was awesome! I love Tanzania! And I miss my friends (mwafiki) already. But I am definitely energized - professionally. I ended my trip a week early for a professional engagement that didn't pan out, so I wondered if I was missing out on anything.
I thought long and hard about it and the answer is 'No, I got it. I got enough data.' This realization made me feel all grown-up inside. I think I've matured, scientifically.
Having one more week in the field wouldn't have changed things. Having an additional week to collect measurements wouldn't have mattered either.
What I accomplished in the 9 weeks I was there
Field Research: I clocked over 500 trap nights (21 actual nights) in two different field sites covering more that 200 sq meters each. My capture rates were low - I (re)captured 4 individual rats. At some point you have to acknowledge it is what it is. But I was able to get some additional tissue samples from rats 'volunteered' by citizens in the town. (The rats are a major pest and nuisance that raid grains, chicken coops and household pantries.) My partners at Sokoine University of Agriculture will do monthly trapping in the same grids in order to gather year round information on the rats.
Physical Development of Juvenile rats: I was able to track 30 individual juvenile rats - born and raised at APOPO for 6 consecutive weeks. I measured their weight and growth, as well as any changes in physical reproductive anatomy over the course of the observation. Animal ages varied from 6 weeks (newly weaned) to 9 months of age.
Reproductive changes in females: I was able to track 30 females, housed in the breeding facility at APOPO for 6 consecutive weeks. For consecutive weeks, I weighed females and took qualitative and quantitative notes about change in nipple and external genital anatomy such as condition of the vagina, nipples, cervix and clitoris. Plus, I was able to get some ad lib observations of mother-pup and pup interactions of newborns.
Behavioral Observations: I was also able to complete an entire behavioral observation study! I commissioned a local metal smith to construct a light-dark box apparatus and completed nearly 30 trials.
If I had the extra time, then I would have used it for administrative purposes or running errands. Maybe I could have ran 5 or 6 more behavioral observations, but the facility didn't have too many single-housed animals for me to fool with. Plus, we're doing light-dark box testing with the animals in Oklahoma. I can compare the 2 groups of animals.
In the end, I think knowing when you've got enough data or put in enough effort on a project is a very important thing. Research can feel like a treadmill, but post-doc time schedules (and pressures) are often grueling. At some point you have to be kind to yourself and pace yourself. Now, I'm back in Oklahoma and I'm ready to analyze the videos so I can write this manuscript. I'm shooting for September 30. I'll keep you all posted on my progress.
In the meantime, please make a comment at any of the #DispatchesDNLee 2013 posts (including this one) for a chance to receive a souvenir from Tanzania.