Summer Centered: Claire Burdick ’19 Studies Animal Behavior at the St. Louis Zoo
Funded by the Center for Career and Professional Advising (CCPA), the psychology major is interning at the St. Louis Zoo this summer.
For Claire Burdick '19, an internship at the St. Louis Zoo is a dream come true. A psychology major concentrating in peace, justice, and human rights, she sees connections between her academic interests and her love of animals that she’s looking forward to exploring.
"I have always loved animals and learning about behavior and the brain so animal behavior and cognition have always been something I have really wanted to do,” she says.
She’s thrilled to have earned one of Haverford’s Center for Career and Professional Advising’s Liberal Arts in the Workplace grants to live out that dream—if only for a summer. “The fact that this internship was at such a great zoo that does so much research and conservation work to help captive and wild animals made it really appealing to me,” she says, “and it seemed right up my alley since it is totally focused on animal behavior.”
Burdick’s day-to-day work involves a mixture of lab work and fieldwork. She currently spends her mornings in training to collect and analyze data from videos of antelope mothers with their calves, part of a project that will examine how mother-infant interactions might predict the infants’ outcomes. Later in the day, she heads out into the zoo to help with one of two projects: either a human health study that examines how visitors’ stress levels change after they go through one of the zoo’s main exhibits or a live observation study that is focused on the two resident grizzly bears’ use of their available space.
"I record their location, behavior, and proximity to the other bear every minute for one hour,” Burdick says. This information will be used to optimize the bears’ habitat.
Through this internship, Burdick hopes to make connections in the zoology community. While she knows that she wants to work with animals in the future, she hasn’t yet settled on any definitive career track, so she’s particularly keen to meet people who can tell her more about what it’s like to conduct research in a zoo setting.
"[I want to learn more about] the different ways data [is] collected, the different types of projects that are conducted, and the specialized types of software that are used to collect and analyze behavior data,” she says.
Most of all, she’s just excited to be in close proximity to the animals she loves.
"This internship will help me achieve my future goals because it is giving me a taste of what doing animal behavior research for a job is really like,” Burdick says, “and is going to help me build the foundation of skills I'll need if I end up working in the animal-behavior field.”
"Summer Centered” is a series exploring our students’ Center-funded summer work.