A couple months ago, I took a part time job dog walking and cat sitting for a local company. There’s a few reasons for this. One, sitting around the house all day reading the job boards and watching TV is really, really boring after a while. It was fine for a couple of weeks, but then I started getting antsy. Two, I like dogs and cats. Three, this type of job gives me the flexibility to look for full time work in science and go on interviews. Though I’m not at a bench or a desk, I’m still applying what I’ve learned to my new daily routine. These traits of course, aren’t unique to a scientific career, but still valuable.
1. Working independently. Although my boss comes with me on the first visit with a new client, I’m usually working by myself. If I have questions or am not sure about something, I have to figure it out and use my best judgment. In the lab, I had several group members that were working on projects related to my own, and I found it helpful to talk to them about my progress and toss around ideas. Much of the time, I was working on my own experiments. And of course, thesis writing and defending is a solo task!
2. Creative problem solving. How do I give medicine to a cat that’s hiding under the bed? Or convince a pup to go back in her crate when she won’t move, not even for a treat?
The keys to problem solving are knowledge and preparation. General knowledge of dogs and specific knowledge of the pet go a long way. Last week I had a new doggie client that wouldn’t let me put a leash on her. She barked and jumped out of arm’s length every time I approached her. I sat down on the floor to get down on her level. She walked around me a few times and sniffed, and eventually was convinced to let me take her for a walk. When I first started, I was assigned a deaf dog. I’d never been around a deaf dog, so I Googled for some information on how to best handle her.
Preparation: I always come to a doggie’s home prepared. In my backpack, I carry extra plastic bags, a leash, paper towels, a flashlight, and treats.
In science of course, there’s plenty of problems to solve, from methodology to equipment. Time, money, and manpower are limited, and your superiors can’t hold your hand every step of the way.
3. Attention to detail. Are paws wiped? Dishes cleaned? Crates secure? Doors locked? These tasks may be small, but are essential to the client’s wishes and the pet’s well-being. Of course, attention to detail is important at the bench to ensure protocols are being followed correctly and experiments are being replicated accurately. When I worked in the lab, I would meet with my PI periodically to discuss what I was working on. I’m under closer scrutiny now; my clients are evaluating my work every day.
4. Good communication skills. I rarely see my clients in person, but I communicate with them every day through notes. I have to be clear and concise while giving a full picture of what occurred during my visit. In the long run, writing that we saw a squirrel during our walk isn’t that important. But if there’s a change in eating habits or behavior, the owners need to know. One of the clients has a young puppy being housebroken, so it was important to keep them updated on her progress.
Likewise, communication is essential in science, whether updating a lab notework or writing a publication. In writing a protocol, you’re writing for future employees or grad students that will be reading it after you’ve left that position.
5. Having fun. I try to enjoy each visit with a pet, whether it’s a cat chasing after a toy or a dog walk in the sunshine. Even though I take my work seriously, I do want to have fun relaxing with colleagues after a long day.
I hope dog walking will keep me busy until I can get the research job I’m looking for. Until then, I’ll keep a steady supply of doggie treats on hand.