Research Assistantship Programs
Field Projects International offers students the unique opportunity to receive hands-on training in the Peruvian Amazon. We partner with several universities to carry out a number of long-term research programs. Our primary subjects are the primates at the Los Amigos field site in the Madre de Dios region of Peru, with research topics including growth and development, life history, health and parasitology, reproduction, space use, and communication.
All of our research programs contribute to the student training opportunities that we offer, especially as platforms for learning for our long-term research assistants. We specialize in teaching field research methodologies applicable to small mammal capture-and-release, parasitology and health monitoring, behavioral observation, tracking and space-use, and communication. Research assistants come from a variety of backgrounds — pre-vet, anthropology, biology, and young professionals — and may participate in one or more of the research programs we offer. If you are interested in joining a field research team, you’ve come to the right place.
We are an equal opportunity organization; we do not exclude candidates who lack previous field experience. Joining our team is a competitive process, but extends generous support for participants in pursuit of further opportunities to conduct research or join graduate programs.
Read below about ways you can get involved!
Active Year-Round Program: Community Disease Ecology
1. Community Disease Ecology
This program was launched in 2012 and is now one of the most comprehensive studies of gastrointestinal parasites in South America. We use microscopic and genetic tools to evaluate parasite infections in non-invasively collected fecal samples. With baseline data on parasites from 11 primate species at CICRA, we can monitor community interactions, health, and population stability, animal behavior, and whether climate change may be altering parasite-host relationships.
You’ll help us maintain important longitudinal data collection on the local primate assemblage, and usher in data from new taxonomic groups. Among the many questions we hope to tackle with these data, our foremost goal is to expose new ecological linkages between Neotropical animals.
Program dates: September 1, 2017 and ongoing.
Application deadline: Rolling, open now.
Program fee: $1800 for 4 weeks; $450 each additional week.
Appeals to majors: Anthropology, Evolutionary Biology, Veterinary Science.
Training areas: Sample collection and preservation, off-trail navigation, telemetry, land-use mapping, census data collection.
3. Wildlife Handling
This is a training program targeting students with an interest in wildlife handling, zoology, or veterinary science. Students will participate in an annual capture and release program mainly focused on tamarins in southeastern Peru. As part of our ongoing long-term monitoring project begun in 2008, each participant will handle upwards of 25 animals, gain valuable knowledge of their biology, learn to record morphometrics, collect and process a variety of samples, and become competent in several roles that are vital to a successful health screening program. Our work in this project is sanctioned by the Amazon Conservation Association, the Animal Care Committee of the University of Missouri, St. Louis, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry in Perú.
Program dates: May 27 – June 30, 2018
Start dates: May 27, 2018
Minimum stay required: 4 weeks
Application deadline: April 15th, 2018
Program fee: $1800 for 4 weeks; $450 each additional week
Appeals to majors:Vertebrate Physiology, Anthropology, Veterinary Science, Zoology
Training areas:Wild primate mark-recapture and handling, health assessments, TPR monitoring, morphological measurement.
5. Titi Monkey Project
This was a scholarship opportunity that was offered in 2017 in conjunction with the Alliance for a Sustainable Amazon (ASA) that will support project proposals to investigate the demography, spatial ecology, and/or feeding ecology of brown titi monkeys (Callicebus brunneus). Information on our 2018 scholarship will be made available from December 1, 2017.
The exact nature of the proposed research project is open, but should be in line with the ASA’s mission of promoting conservation. Please note that at this stage the trapping or handling of vertebrate species at our field site is not authorized; proposals, therefore, should be for observational research only.
The successful applicant will have the support of the ASA’s academic faculty and staff, resident naturalists, and a number of volunteers and internship program participants that may serve as field assistants. The scholarship will cover food and lodging for a period of up to four months at Finca Las Piedras, the ASA’s field site in the southeastern Peruvian Amazon. The scholarship does not cover the cost of travel to Puerto Maldonado, or the cost of medical/travel insurance.
2. Primate Communication
Tamarin vocalizations encode information on the producer’s age, sex, and reproductive status, and may be integral to identifying mates and guiding dispersal. We aim to catalog the vocalizations of emperor and saddleback tamarins, and test whether calls can identify potential mates.
We also collect data on adult scent gland morphology and scent-marking behavior, another main form of communication among tamarins. Participants will conduct full- and half-day follows of individually tagged primate troops, recording context-specific vocalizations alongside non-vocal forms of communication. Research Assistants will also learn to perform playback experiments, during which different vocalizations are played over a speaker to certain individuals and their responses are recorded.
Program dates: June 1 – August 10 2018
Start dates: June 1, June 15, June 29
Minimum stay required: 6 weeks
Application deadline: May 1st, 2018
Program fee: $2700 for 6 weeks; $450 each additional week
Appeals to majors:Anthropology, Biology, Wildlife Management, Psychology
Training areas:Off-trail navigation, wildlife tracking, telemetry, focal behavioral sampling, vocal repertoire, audio analyses.
4. Primate Sensory Ecology
Primates are often heralded as a group of mammals that rely more on their vision than their olfactory senses. Tamarins are a particularly special subset in which to examine the role of vision because they display a sex-biased variation in trichromatic, or color, vision. In this project, we use feeding experiments to test the reliance of tamarins on vision, olfaction, and taste in the wild. We also explore sensory ecology in relation to a variety of stimuli, such as familiar/unfamiliar alarm calls, urine, or scent-gland compounds. Participants will learn how to conduct the experiments, record behavioral data, and perform basic data analysis in the field.
Program dates: June 11 – July 31 2018
Start dates: June 11, June 25, July 9
Minimum stay required: 3 weeks
Application deadline: May 1st, 2018
Program fee: $1350 for 3 weeks; $450 each additional week
Appeals to majors: Animal Behavior, Anthropology, Captive Zoo Management, Psychology
Training areas: Foraging behavior, ecological experiment design and analysis, focal behavior sampling, video analyses
6. Goeldi’s Monkey Project
Callimico goeldii is the only recognized species of its genus and differs from other callitrichids in its anatomy, reproduction, behavior and ecology. Where other tamarins have twins, it raises only single infants. While others roam high into the rainforest canopy, callimicos remain safe in the undergrowth. Most importantly, only two long-term study sites in Brazil and Bolivia, both disturbed by nearby human settlements, tell us all that we know about this distinctive creature, listed by the IUCN as vulnerable to extinction. In 2010 we chanced upon a group of three Callimico roaming with other, more common, tamarin species at Los Amigos. In the last four years we have only seen them a handful of times in the presence of other tamarin species. Today, we are working towards discovering it’s whereabouts throughout Peru with the aid of scat-detection dogs.
Please note: this project is currently in its early stages of acquiring permitting and funding; we are not yet accepting research assistants. More information to come soon!LEARN MORE
The Application Process
- Want credit for independent research? Please contact us at info(at)fieldprojects.org AFTER submitting a research application.
- Feel a little under-prepared? Consider taking one of our field courses before beginning your assistantship.
- Have questions? Explore our FAQ section below and/or complete our message form at the bottom of this page.”
Research Assistantship FAQs
There are pretty firm minimum requirements for each program (3- to 6-week commitments). These are firm because each research assistant must be trained, during which time the data they collect cannot be relied upon entirely. Anything less than the minimum time is deemed insufficient for the research assistant to contribute real data to the project. However, for most programs, you are welcome to apply for stays that are longer than the minimum period – in fact, we really do recommend and love it when you do!
In order to train our research teams, it is necessary that everyone arrives on specific start dates. However, for some programs we are able to provide multiple start dates in order to accommodate the varying schedules of our research assistants. Note: this is not offered for all of our programs, so please pay attention to the specific start times for each program. If you REALLY cannot make a particular start date, don’t abandon hope – email us and we can do our best to accommodate you!
You absolutely can apply to both a field course and an RAship program if the dates will line up! In fact, if you are accepted into the research assistantship, you can attend a field course for a lower fee (typically a $400 discount)
Our courses have fewer enrollment requirements, and we strongly encourage anyone to apply. The research assistantships are more competitive, and there are fewer positions available.
No, you do not need previous research experience. We value enthusiasm and determination, and we will be proud to be your first foray into the world of field research.
The cost to participate includes lodging and all meals at the field station, transportation between Puerto Maldonado and the field station, specialized training for candidates accepted into the program, and the provision of equipment and supplies necessary to conduct this research.
A large portion of the fees paid to our training programs supports our host field stations. For example, at the Los Amigos Biological Station (El Centro de Investigación y Capacitación Río Los Amigos, CICRA), you are not just supporting the cost of running and maintaining a remote field site, but also funding the larger mission of the their parent NGO, the Association for the Conservation of the Amazon Basin (ACCA).
We are now able to offer a peer-to-peer fundraising program for research assistants. Once accepted, you would be able to create a shareable profile on our platform. This is a team-based initiative, so half of your raised funds will go toward your own program fees, while the other half will go into pool to be split evenly among all program participants who had at least 5 donors. More details will be available during (and after) your interview.
If you require help with the cost of the program, there are other options that you might pursue as well.
You could start by contacting the Office of Undergraduate Research at your school. Here you can explore what is available through your college, as well as through external funding sources. Many universities have SURF (Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship) programs, which may provide stipends for students to pursue independent research.
Please note that if you do find any kind of research-related funding — as many RAs have in the past — it will need to be applied for in conjunction with us, on research projects that we approve. In this case, one of our principal investigators will consult with you about developing a project that is feasible.
Question cont’d: I have an opportunity to win a grant that will fund my research assistantship site fees and travel. However, the grant needs me to submit a research proposal. Is there any way I can work with you to generate a proposal?
Sure, contact us at info(at)fieldprojects.org and we can help you structure one. We cannot accommodate independent projects, but we can assist you with finding a compatible section of research to work on with us.
Yes, you can sign up for credit through Washington University in St. Louis for research you conduct with us. This will involve paying additional fees for the 3 credits to the university, a separate application form, and approval by the anthropology department at the university. You will then work on a section of our research data collected this summer, possibly along with previous data collected at the site, to present your results in a research paper after you return from the site. We will consider each person’s case independently from another, so please indicate your interest on your research application form AND by emailing us at info(at)fieldprojects.org AFTER you submit an application. We’d be happy to discuss project options with you at that time. You will work under Dr. Mrinalini Erkenswick Watsa, through the Anthropology Department at Washington University in St. Louis
Yes, you can. We do not give co-authorship for collecting data alone, but we offer interested students the opportunity to work on data analyses after the summer research program, that could lead to co-authorship in the future.
First, they graduate! They have subsequently gone on to graduate schools in primatology, conservation, and biology. Some have interned as assistants in other programs all over the world. Some are training to be veterinary surgeons now, and one even runs an amazing animal rescue center. We are proud to support their futures and careers. Learn more about them on this page.
Once you make your payment towards the RAship, we will go ahead and book your stay at the field station, which requires us to pay in advance and provides no refunds. We also block your spot and reject other applicants based on your being on the team; thus cancellations can affect team recruitment quite strongly. Nevertheless, we do recognize that circumstances sometimes demand cancellations – so we do the best that we can, given the restrictions we are under. Here is our cancellation policy:
4 weeks before your start date: 80% refunded
Less than 4 weeks from your start date: no refund is possible
If you have extenuating circumstances, or applied closer than 4 weeks to your start date, please contact us to confirm your specific cancellation policy.
1. Apply online here.
2. Send in letters of recommendation electronically; your references will be contacted by us (within 10 days of application)
3. We will schedule an interview with the principal investigator of your desired project
4. If accepted, you will be notified within 1 week
5. Upon acceptance, gain student access to online training modules to get prepared before you arrive.
6. Turn in medical info, vaccination record, liability waivers, etc.
7. Get featured on our website
8. See you in the field!
The Zika virus outbreak is of acute concern in much of Latin America, although a great deal is still not known about this virus. It is spread by the Aedes aegypti mosquito and there is a possible link to a condition called microcephaly in children born to infected women (although it does appear that Zika-caused microcephaly in Brazilian infants has been over-diagnosed. While mosquitoes are the primary vector of the virus, a recent case in Dallas has also confirmed that the virus can be sexually transmitted.
Presently the CDC’s travel advisories for pregnant women do extend to areas below 6,500 feet in Peru, which includes the Amazon basin and any field station in it. Our recommendation is that participants who are pregnant — or likely to be pregnant during their time at the field station — use caution and avoid traveling at this time. If you are not pregnant but are thinking of having a child in the near future, the CDC recommends waiting 8 weeks post potential exposure for women, and 6 months for men. All participants can protect themselves by taking precautions against being bitten by mosquitoes.
The Peruvian government is taking numerous proactive measures to prevent the spread of Zika within the country. The most recent update (March 2, 2017) from the Pan American Health Organisation can be found here. Here are a few excerpts of note from the report, keeping in mind that the field station we work at is in the Madre de Dios Department of Peru:
- Between 2016 and 2017 (Epidemiological Week 5), confirmed autochthonous cases have been reported in six of Peru’s 25 departments: Cajamarca, Lima, Loreto, San Martin, Tumbes, and Ucayali.
- Three of these six departments, have reported autochthonous confirmed cases only in 2016: Cajamarca, Lima, and Tumbes.
- As of EW 5 of 2017, no cases of Zika-virus-associated Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) or other
neurological syndromes have been reported by Peru health authorities.
- As of EW 5 of 2017, no cases of congenital syndrome associated with Zika virus infection have been
reported by Peru health authorities.
- As of EW 5 of 2017, no deaths among Zika cases have been reported by Peru health authorities.
This is a developing story, and much is still unknown regarding the transmission and health risks of this virus. We recommend that each prospective student and researcher determine their own comfort levels by weighing the available data against their own relative risk. At this point, FPI’s non-pregnant investigators and other staff remain confident about safely returning to the field station given that Zika has not been detected in the entire Department.