A family that samples together…

5 May

Among the finest votes of confidence I’ve received: a biologist with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources assured me I would clearly be able to accomplish grand things in my future, because I had managed to turn my sample collection into a family vacation.  That’s right, I convinced my parents and sister to leave the comfortable southern warmth of Arkansas and travel to northern Illinois (in December!) to collect bits of deer tissue from hunter check stations, so that I would have plenty of samples for the analysis of deer population genetic patterns relative to the CWD-infected zone in the Midwest.

I’ll admit it, I was nervous about mixing field work and family, not just anxious that my folks enjoy themselves, but also – come on – they might embarrass me!  I may have planned this field trip more thoroughly than any other segment of my research.  We started out with a fun-filled night in Chicago before heading out to the deer check stations for the weekend harvest.  We efficiently fanned out to cover stations in 4 counties (with 2 cars).  I made entire booklets of maps and protocols to keep my folks from getting lost and to keep my samples from being compromised.  I made an elaborate schedule moving family members from station to station over the course of the weekend so that everyone got a fair work load (and wouldn’t have time to get to any really silly childhood stories with my collaborators).

After our first long day at the check stations we reconvened for a debriefing hotel-restaurant dinner.  First thing first – out the window with my complicated schedules and neatly laid plans.  In the hustle and bustle of checking deer and sampling for CWD, the DNR staff at the check stations had their own protocol that we simply fit ourselves into.  And somehow everyone ended up at exactly the right station – no one wanted to shuffle for the next day of the hunt.  My sister (working out of a ticket booth at a county fair grounds) wouldn’t hear of trading spots once she learned that her DNR crew was the only one that thought to bring a TV with DVDs for the boring hours between rushes.  My mom (strategically placed to make a sweet impression at the headquarters operation) was thrilled to know she was in the best-appointed building with a cozy woodstove – plus she got to spend much of the day playing card games with the taxidermist’s grandson.  My dad (at a state park along a river) was eager to get back to swapping fishing stories with his new DNR buddies – besides, he declared, tomorrow was his turn to bring biscuits for the morning shift!

Mom, me, sib, dad. After a weekend of sampling harvested deer, the happy family at CWD headquarters in Rockford, IL.

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