Alumni Spotlight: Kaitlyn Murphy


Kaitlyn is in her third year at Iowa State University studying Biology with a minor in Animal Ecology. She is currently involved in multiple research labs and hopes to attend graduate school to eventually teach and perform research at the collegiate level.

Why did you choose this program?

I chose this program because it directly supported what I'd like my career path to involve after college -- wildlife field research. The School for Field Studies (SFS) is designed to assist students in preparing them for their future careers while offering a global perspective not available in many other programs.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

My program provider directed me to a partnered company that booked all of my flights and offered assistance in following my itinerary in the case of emergencies.

My university organized payment methods and directed all costs to our online system. SFS provided a detailed packing list far in advance and explained almost every aspect of the program in their field manual and handbook.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

When you are packing, leave a little extra space or bring things like clothing, towels, toilettes, etc. that you will not use on return to donate to the local community. This will free space on your way home for souvenirs or other things you might acquire while abroad.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

Summer Session II involved many field exercises and opportunities to actively perform techniques learned while in the classroom. Breakfast was offered early in the morning (usually 7 am or 7:30 am) and class (if we had in-class time that day) was at 8 am.

If we were leaving the camp for the day, often the entire morning and afternoon were dedicated to our field activity and game-drives to observe wildlife. We spent a few days on cultural excursions, where we spent time with native people learning about their way of life.

The highlight of the trip was camping in the Serengeti for 3 nights -- it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

I think my biggest fear was traveling on my own that far from home; I had never flown on a plane for that long or by myself. SFS offered a group flight where we would travel with a group of our peers so that we were not alone the entire traveling period.

This was a huge relief and allowed me to start making connections with people I would spend the next month with. I feel prepared to go on another adventure with confidence that I will get there and return safely.

What is your favorite memory from your time abroad?

I would highly recommend the School for Field Studies program to anyone interested in learning more about different global environments and people.

I traveled with SFS to gain research experience but left with a greater understanding and respect for the individuals living on the other side of the world.

The wildlife was absolutely beautiful (lions, elephants, cheetahs, wildebeest, etc.), but the people were just as amazing.

One of my favorite memories from the trip occurred while we were staying in the Serengeti. It was dark and the stars were just starting to glow brighter in the sky. We were standing in line around our food tent waiting for dinner, headlamps on to see the ground and people around us.

I remember hearing people in the camp start talking loudly and looking over to the brush near the side of our camp and seeing flashlights scan the trees. In that moment, a large bull elephant appeared and I remember seeing how its eyes reflected our flashlights. It proceeded to walk through the camp between tents, not more than 100 feet from where I was standing.

It was one of those moments where everything seems to freeze and the world is silent for a few minutes. The elephant walked, almost in slow motion, into the trees on the other side of our camp. I will never forget how it felt to be in the presence of such a large animal, it was like standing at the foot of a god. I owe that experience to SFS and the staff members with us throughout the entire trip.