When she was seven years old, Jennifer Fourroux discovered her passion. Actually, it came to her in a vision – a television that is.
One afternoon, a program about monkeys came on TV and caught Fourroux’s eye. The program featured a woman whose sole job was to interact with and take care of monkeys in a sanctuary. After watching for about five minutes – a lifetime in a child’s mind – Fourroux had formed her opinion. She turned to her her mother and said what would set her on her life path. “Working with monkeys would be the coolest job in the world!”
Today, the honors senior psychology major has managed to achieve just that. Fourroux is well on her way to becoming a primatologist – a scientist who studies primates. However, the road has been nothing close to smooth. To start, primatology is a field of study that is difficult to find in graduate studies programs and it is one that requires years of experience to crack an entry level job.
In order to make her childhood dream a reality, Fourroux had to get creative. She chose to major in psychology and minor in anthropology and biology after attempting several variations of the three fields her freshman and sophomore year. In addition to carefully crafting her degree, she has also pursued several opportunities outside of the classroom. Fourroux has traveled from Canada to Mississippi and Bali all just to learn more about primatology. She also held a long-term internship-turned job at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo, joined a research lab, and worked with her professor and mentor, UA’s Dr. Christopher Lynn, to create a teacher’s assistant position in his primate class.
Of these experiences, Fourroux says that Bali was her favorite. “Bali made me more interested in ethnoprimatology, the interactions between humans and nonhuman primates. It also gave me a taste of what real field work is like, but barely. It was a fairly pampered taste. One-fourth of a teaspoon really.”
Her professor Christopher Lynn said that the work Fourroux has done will help her stand out in the primatology field and felt that Bali was a significant step for her.
“She was working with professional primatologists in that context. She needs to continue to groom those contacts,” Dr. Lynn said. “For instance, Dr. Loudon and Dr. Howells, who ran the Bali field school, are close personal friends of mine. So I know they know everybody and are highly respected.”
Part of Fourroux’s success can be traced to her passion for primates. A passion which has been furthered by the work of her professional hero, Jane Goodall. As a an early Christmas gift in 2015, Fourroux and her father traveled to a small town in Canada to see Goodall speak. They even sprung for the VIP experience before her public appearance. As Fourroux detailed all that she learned on the trip and what it was like to meet Goodall, she lit up. When asked what Goodall was to her, she did not hold back.
“She’s a model,” said Fourroux. “Not a supermodel – even though she is pretty – “Jane Goodall is a model. Not a supermodel – even though she is pretty – but she just models how to be a peacemaker and a trailblazer. She’s a badass model. Can you say badass? Because that’s what she is. She’s just a badass.”
Even though it seems she’s narrowed down her career path, there is still so much for Fourroux to decide in the near future. In order to work in primatology as a researcher, she would need at least a Master’s degree. However, this is not something Fourroux said she’s willing to jump straight into. Instead, her experience has sparked a desire to be a zookeeper. Fourroux explained that although she loved her experience in Bali, it made her better appreciate what she already had at the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo. Her favorite part about working at the zoo is all the time spent with the animals. However, she shared that a big part of zoo jobs is also to educate the public, and she wasn’t quick to hide which part of the job she preferred.
“I don’t want to say that I don’t like people…but I’m in it for the animals, not the people,” Fourroux said. “I just enjoy actually being there with them and working with them and taking care of them.”
One downside to following such a specific childhood dream is that it may not be a dream that can provide the lifestyle that one might envision for themselves. Fourroux frequently expressed that she’s thought about focusing more on teaching and research over zoo-keeping simply because of the small financial boost it would provide her. Despite the questionable financial security, Fourroux’s family seems more than happy to embrace her unorthodox career choice. Her father encourages her to look into jobs in South Africa or another exciting country and emphasizes his enthusiasm by insisting he would love an excuse to move to a more adventurous location as well.
However, moving is not at the top of Fourroux’s priority list at this point in time. Instead, she is just beginning a new research project in the Human Behavioral Ecology Research group. Her research project was, in part, inspired by her work in Bali where she studied the relationship between the Macaques and the guards that worked at the monkey forests there. Her new focus is the relationship between caregivers and primates in parks, sanctuaries, zoos and labs. Dr. Lynn is assisting with this research and their plan is to go to at least one of each of the various facilities and study how the relationship differs.
“Jennifer’s primatology project is where all young projects start – in the throes of development stumbling around like a toddler,” Dr. Lynn said. “It’s very exciting to guide and watch.”