McKearn Program – Ethics – Blog 3

This week, we were asked to define “ethics”. Based off of my own experiences and reflections, this is what I came up with:

Ethics – the use of personally and socially derived morals and principles as a code of conduct

During this week of the McKearn program, we spent copious amounts of time talking about ethics. This topic is one that I would like to think that I know at least a little something about, as I have to deal with ethics in my research on a regular basis. Why is this so prominent for me? Because I conduct research with animals. And, especially since I am hoping to go to veterinary school in a year, this may seem like an oxymoron to some; but, it isn’t at all to me. In my mind, there does not have to be a contradiction between using animals in research and wanting to go to veterinary school, and this is because I have used ethics to rationalize the situation.

Instead of going on a long rant about animals and research, here are just two of my personal opinions:

  • Is animal research ideal? No.
  • Is it an essential component of modern medicine and society? Yes.

I want to make a difference in the world and in the lives of people and animals. One way that I can do that is through research, as an attempt to better understand the diseases that plague us today. As I said, animal research is not ideal, but it has allowed advances that have improved human and animal lives alike. I first decided I wanted to be a veterinarian because it was a way that I could improve the lives of animals and their owners – in the long run, my research allows me to do that. And, in the meantime, it lets me give lots of animals extra cuddling and love.

I have also learned through personal experiences and an in-depth laboratory animal course (that was taught by a veterinarian) about the extensive ethics and processes involved in any form of animal research. With the numerous rules and regulations that are in place, I do think that everything possible is done to respect the animals, treat them not only humanely but kindly, prevent stress, pain, etc. and minimize the number of animals used. It is also important to remember that many animal studies do not involve pain, discomfort, or death of the animals. My Argentina research, for instance, was a purely observational study that impacted the animals in no way; yet, it is a form of animal research.

I love all of the animals that I get to work with. It is an honor and a privilege. This sense of respect and concern for the animals I work with is something that I will carry with me as I continue to do research. My ethics and morals are what keep me humble and sensitive in my work and decisions, and they will continue to do so throughout my academic and professional careers, and the rest of my life.

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McKearn Program – Etiquette – Blog 2

Wednesday of this first week of the McKearn program we spent in etiquette training, and we went all the way to Chicago for it! It was a long but good experience, as we learned a lot about the rules of etiquette. Since I had been through a similar training earlier, the experience was a refreshing review. I did not feel nervous or uncomfortable, and instead enjoyed talking to the other McKearn scholars and the donors. We even shared a meal together, during which we practiced using utensils properly and other rules of etiquette. The meal, company, and education that day were all great. Thank you to everyone for that experience!

The skills we learned at this luncheon will continue to aid us not only throughout our time in the McKearn program, but also throughout the rest of our lives. Knowing the rules of fine etiquette will allow us to interact appropriately with people from all walks of life. It is important to be able to feel comfortable in such a formal setting, since interviews, work meetings, etc. all can require these etiquette skills. This confidence in my abilities gives me a stronger sense of leadership, as I know that I can handle myself in any situation. And for that, again, I say thank you to everyone who made the training possible.

McKearn Program – Leadership

This first week in the McKearn program, we have been discussing and learning about leadership. One of our first assignments was to write about who we are as a leader, and I thought I would share my reflection and summary. So here it is!

As a leader, I am a chameleon – I blend in, or stand out when needed. I do this because my focus is the group of people that I am leading. I have the group’s best interest at heart, even if that requires putting my own preferences aside. To blend in and work with the others, I do my best to think, plan, delegate, and act along the lines of the group’s goal.  I focus myself and the group around the goal, because without that common goal, it is hard to recognize where I, as the leader, am going and where I am directing others. I take on the roles of communicator, speaker, and effective listener. And, I prepare myself to do any task that I would ask others to do, because it is important to be able to lead by example rather than a position of power. I aim to work with people, and ideally for the people, since the leader needs to be conscious of how their decisions affect others. I am understanding, cooperative, and acknowledging of diverse opinions and abilities. I lead because I care about others; and therefore, make my decisions for the good of everyone, not just myself. As a leader, I am a chameleon – I blend into my surroundings and join the people around me, leading quietly from the background, and standing out only through the successes of the group or when absolutely needed.

McKearn Program – An Introduction – Blog 1

Today was the first day of the inaugural McKearn Scholars summer program. It was just an evening, but what an evening it was!

But first, I better begin with a bit about myself. My name is Sarah Stuebing, and I am a senior biology major at Northern Illinois University. I have been conducting research here at NIU since my freshman year, so I jumped at the opportunity to be in this program and conduct my own research project.

As I already mentioned, the program just started this evening. We got to move into the dorms and have a dinner with the members of two other research programs as well as the other McKearn scholars. Having dinner definitely brought the group together. We learned everyone’s names (or at least tried), where they are from, and what project they will be working on. Next, we played “Two Truths and a Lie”, where a person says three statements about themselves (two true and one lie) and the rest of the group has to guess what the lie is. It was a lot of fun learning random facts and unique talents of the other students, and it provided a good inkling as to who one should not play poker with.

There is no doubt that there were a lot of bright and exceptional people in that room for dinner today, which is why I am honored to be one of them. I would have never gotten to this point without the help and encouragement of many people, and I’d like to take a moment to thank them now. First off, I have to include my parents. They have supported me every step of the way, and I know could not have made it without them. Next, I have to thank Dr. Julia Spears and her team at the Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning here at NIU. They too have been supportive of me and my crazy research ideas from the first time we met. Not only do I thank them for that, but I thank them whole-heartedly for not looking at me like I was crazy when I presented them with some of my research ideas. Because of your attitudes toward my ideas, I never thought of my research projects as unusual or novel for NIU. Had you done so, I probably would not have even attempted my equine and primate projects. The list of people I would like to thank would be long enough to post by itself, so instead I will just mention the mentors that have helped me throughout my past and current projects – Dr. Pamela Macfarlane, Dr. Christopher Hubbard, Dr. Moira Jenkins, Dr. Douglas Wallace, and Dr. Leila Porter. To everyone else that I have not specifically mentioned, I extend a whole-hearted “thank you” as well.

Now I have been prompted to share something inspirational, like words of advice and welcome to my fellow scholars. With that, welcome! I am very glad to have at least made your acquaintance so far, and I hope to get to know you better. DeKalb is my hometown, and I hope that you feel as comfortable in it as I do. In regards to this experience and NIU, I can only encourage you to try, think, and dream. I have learned that NIU truly is a place of endless opportunities, so I hope you have crazy ideas of your own and take the chance to try and achieve them here. If you get to experience the same NIU that I have, then I know you’ll be amazed by what you can accomplish.

Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina

At this time, one year ago, I was working at the only primate rehabilitation center in Argentina. I cannot believe the time has gone by so quickly, or how much I still miss that place.

Going to Argentina last summer to work with monkeys there was by far the greatest experience of my life. It was, in some ways, not at all what I expected but I wouldn’t change it for the world. It still amazes me with everything I learned and experienced there.

There is so much to tell that the hardest part is knowing where to begin. I guess, a good place to start would be the beginning…

After three flights, a three hour bus ride, and a thirty minute taxi ride up the side of a mountain, I finally made it to the primate rehabilitation center. It was not quite what I had been envisioning. It was in the mountains, so it was colder than I had prepared for. But, the landscape was gorgeous and I was immediately greeted by many animals and a few people, which made me (temporarily) forget the cold. I was pleasantly surprised to see that there was enough electricity for a few light bulbs, as well as enough running water for two sinks and the restroom located approximately five minutes away from our sleeping quarters. There was even a laundry facility! If you like to wash your clothes in a river that is. Throughout my stay, let’s just say that clothes were not washed as frequently as they could have been. And, when they were, the little waterfall became my “wash and tumble” cycle, my hand soap became laundry detergent, and a fallen tree trunk became my drier. This all worked surprisingly well, except for the fact that my drier required three days time, and I rarely felt that I could sacrifice the article of clothing that I was washing for that long.

Despite these unique living conditions, I loved my time there. I worked twelve to fourteen hours a day, doing anything and everything that needed to be done to take care of 150 Black Howler monkeys, 20 Capuchin monkeys, 50 dogs, 15 llamas, 7 goats, 6 chickens, 2 cats, and 2 pumas. These days consisted of washing food platters, preparing food, carrying food and water, cleaning cages, counting and observing monkeys, acting as a surrogate mother to four infant monkeys, chopping firewood, cleaning the living spaces, and giving tours to many guests.

Needless to say, these animals became my life; and, I loved almost every minute of it. I won’t deny that there were some rough spots, but the good outweighed the bad. In particular, I am so thankful for the bonds that I developed with the animals. One of the baby monkeys became particularly attached to me, and never wanted to leave my side. She would run up to me as soon as she saw me, and wanted nothing more than to sit on my shoulder wrapped up against my face and neck all day. That was my little Pakita. I am hoping to go back to Argentina this fall, and I am curious to see if she will remember me.

The stories I could tell about the animals are endless, but instead I will focus on the big picture. During my five weeks at the rehabilitation center in Argentina, I learned about much more than just animals. I learned about Argentinian culture, I improved my Spanish, I learned about the research process during a field study, I documented and interpreted primate facial expressions. I learned how to read and interpret monkeys. I now know how to feed them, take care of them, even how to administer some medications. I learned about their individual personalities, preferences, and habits. I got to rehabilitate monkeys, and reintroduce them into the wild. I protected and befriended a monkey that was brought to the rehabilitation center after years of abuse. I saw the monkeys grow and thrive. And, I was able to document and analyze their facial expressions and how the monkeys use these to communicate. I also learned about Capuchin monkeys, and experienced their incredible intelligence first-hand. It is no wonder why they are often used in movies such as Pirates of the Caribbean and Night at the Museum! They are absolutely brilliant! I will never forget how often I was in awe of the animals at the center, or how often the animals taught me a valuable lesson. From the importance of sharing, to not judging a book b y its cover, to the value of life, these animals reminded me of many of life’s important lessons.

There is no substitute for the hands-on experience I received during my time in Argentina. It was an unforgettable experience that has made me a stronger and better person. So, I would like to thank everyone who helped to make my trip possible. In particular, I would like to thank Northern Illinois University for supporting me academically, emotionally, and financially. Thank you for the Honors EYE Grant, the USOAR Grant, and the Provost’s Study Abroad Travel Grant. Without these donations, I never would have been able to go on this trip, nor would I have been able to change the lives of animals, or my own.

Monkey Kiss

Baby Monkey on Shoulder