How does one get more opportunities to study/ research herpetology in the field

I’ve done some field work, namely tagging and monitoring northern diamondback terrapin populations, however i’m looking for opportunities to work with snakes more, do I just email researchers until someone lets me help? I heard of a couple opportunities through Texas A&M from a wildlife biologist but I don’t know if i’m qualified enough

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I think answers will depend largely on your “life-stage” (e.g., are you in high school, college, or post college?). But here are some ideas that are relatively applicable regardless:

  1. See if your state has a herpetological society. Often they will have volunteer events and/or job boards posted on their website. And in general, they can be a good way to meet and network with other herp-minded people in your area.
  2. Check job boards. Job boards like the Texas A&M Natural Resources Job Board can be filtered relative to your experience (e.g., see “Volunteer / Training” category under “job type”). This job board will include postings from across the country (not just in Texas), but if you can find local job boards, there may be less competition for those positions relative to the ones on a larger, well-known board.
  3. While I wouldn’t aggressively email researchers, it is totally acceptable to find researchers/professors working with snakes, read up on their research, find what aspects of it you are most interested in, and send out feelers. Something like “I came across your research and I found [aspect] really fascinating. If you ever need volunteers or research assistants, please let me know. I’d be interested in gaining some experience.”
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Some high proportion of researchers are not people-friendly in general. I’d count myself in that, I don’t want to babysit some kid tagging along, or worse some birdwatcher. No offense meant, though I’m sure it’ll be taken.

Some are VERY not people friendly, even with other researchers. They’re just loners who are fanatic about their work. Also, professional researchers have concern for taking hobbyists out with them, lest it turn into a later pillaging- I’ve seen it happen.

But nothing tried, nothing gained. Write a nice offer, explaining why you want to help, and email it off. Also, go to any local herp meetings and/or institution meetings, open houses, etc. EVENTUALLY you’ll find someone who takes a liking to you and will let you get involved.

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Are you looking for paid research opportunities? If not you don’t need anyone else. Most of the first naturalists were just people trying to answer their own questions about the world around them.

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Yeah, but that was before a permit was needed for everything.

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no offense taken lol, I myself prefer herping alone, however i’m just looking for an opportunity to learn more about what I love doing!

are there any possibilities for high-school students?

(not a herper, an ecologist)

I am generally people friendly in that i love a good infodump, mentoring, and showing people things ,but i’ve had people literally follow me around like a puppy when i was supposed to be working, completely disrupting my schedule (harder for me cuz i’m autistic but many other field ecologists also are), or demanding attention in a way i couldn’t do it. I think people are often happy to do mentoring or share knowledge with others, but when it becomes an obligation, like if their supervisor gives them a little buddy to follow them around when they are stressed about doing a task, it can be really jarring. Ultimately the truth is if herpetology is like other ecology fields, long term jobs are hard to come by, people are very defensive of them even if subconsciously, and entry level ‘internships’ and ‘volunteering’ are often very exploitive even if not intentionally so, and won’t get you the experience you want. Honestly i think most people are better off using iNat or similar groups to connect with others with interest and just have fun with it. It can be nice to make money doing this stuff, but many people find that just takes away the fun. So ask yourself why you want to get paid to do your hobby if it may ruin your hobby, and if the answer is still yes (or if it isn’t just a hobby it’s a hyperfocus you have to anchor on to survive in capitalism), then you have to move forward in a way that protects yourself from exploitation.

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I’m in the process of retraining myself to try and get an environment-related job (not necessarily a field one) and that’s been a concern of mine for a while. Would you say you’d be better off getting related skills (like DB management or GIS), or are those jobs so sought after that you’re unlikely to get in without a subject-appropriate degree and the networking it brings? Also, if you do get in as data manager or some admin position, are there opportunities to pivot to the field if you want to, or is the skill overlap simply not enough?

I’m in this photo and I don’t like it.

I think getting involved with your state’s herpetological society is great idea. Even if their meetings are in a different part of the state, they likely will have state bioblitzes or field herping trips at various locations throughout the state.

Statists, Coding, and GIS are absolutely the best skills you can have going into the natural resources field. Some of my best coworkers/colleagues have little to no background in NR but are fantastic at one or more of these, and these skill sets are always in high demand.

There are some opportunities, but there really is no substitute for field experience for higher-level field jobs. But honestly, the highest-paying/level jobs in the NR field are typically not the field jobs. And field jobs tend to be much more competitive.

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i’d say those are more sought after by employers than employees so if you are good at and can learn database management, GIS, being a good manager, report writing, and grant writing that puts you in a better position to get a job without as relevant of experience. But is grant writing for someone else to look at herps more fulfilling than just doing some other similar desk job? I guess that is up to you. I do not think it’s easy to pivot from management to the field, the expectation is it moves the other way. Which is also a problem because you get people like me who are great field ecologists but would make an awful middle manager so i don’t advance in the system. Not that i’m complaining about my job i am very lucky to have but just the progression they have set up doesn’t make sense. If you become the best plumber in your town they don’t declare you an airplane pilot with not training, and those jobs have about the same amount of skill overlap between doing field work on lizards and managing an upper level state NHI program or whatever. So you get things like, the best turtle expert in so and so state is now the head of the Heritage program which they are awful at, and the new field techs don’t have anyone who can teach them to monitor turtles. Etc.

yeah this is a whole other thing that i grapple with myself and i think one of my biggest realizations is that working from home is able to accommodate a lot of what made it hard to work in the office, so i am able to do more office work like data management when i can work from home. Something to consider in employment if you decide to not go the field route but have a home environment that is conductive to working (which i didn’t have until i was in my 30s but that’s a whole other thing). I have no idea if you’re similar to me but i am autistic with sensory issues galore as well as some adhd-esque traits and a typical office environment is very difficult for me to survive in but i’m really good in the field and pretty good at doing data and mapping stuff in my own home.

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I joined my states’s herpetological society as a teenager which gave me lots of experience in herping and I made connections with the local herpetologists. That led to a work-study job in college in a herp collection. Which led to volunteer and paid field jobs in herpetology and mammalogy during and after I left college. Which led to the rest of my career in wildlife biology.

So start with making connections with your local herpers and see where it leads.

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I should add that while I was an undergrad museum technician I got to hang out occasionally with some of the big names in herpetology: Roger Conant, Hobart Smith, Chuck Bogert, among others. Quite an honor and an inspiration for a young herp nerd. Especially with Conant — I got my start learning about herps reading his eastern field guide as a little kid, years before I met him.

Edit: my point being, if you can make those connections with people in your field of interest, that can open doors for you. Some of my jobs were made available based on those early contacts I made.

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