A Scientist I Admire by Swetha Tummala
Jane Goodall is a primatologist, ethologist, anthropologist, UN Messenger of Peace, and arguably the world’s leading expert on chimpanzees. While her titles and awards are more than impressive, they are not the reasons why I admire Goodall. Throughout history, there has always been an intangible divide between the scientist and the commoner. The scientist worked in a lab, made discoveries in secret, and sat on a higher pedestal than the average commoner. This divide hindered transparency and created tension between the two groups of people. Goodall bridged that divide. She rose from humble beginnings and ended up not only conducting groundbreaking research on chimpanzees but also starting nonprofit organizations and heeding her own advice on animal and environmental rights. I admire Goodall because she artfully plays the roles of both a researcher and a commoner.
Goodall was born on April 3, 1934 in London and ever since she was a child, she loved animals. When Goodall was only a few years old, her father gave her a lifelike chimpanzee stuffed animal, which Goodall named Jubilee. The stuffed animal still sits on Goodall’s dresser in her house in London today, a symbol of her humble beginnings and of her lifelong passion for animals. In pursuit of her passion, Goodall moved to one of her friends’ farms in the Kenya highlands in Africa in 1957. There, Goodall worked under Louis Leakey, a Kenyan archaeologist and paleontologist, who promptly sent her to Tanzania to continue his study on great apes, hoping they would provide insight on the behavior of early hominids. Goodall began analyzing the Kasakela chimpanzee community in Gombe Stream National Park. She made some of her first breakthroughs there. Instead of simply numbering the chimpanzees she observed, Goodall named then and learned that each chimpanzee had a unique personality just like humans. This breakthrough was possible because Goodall did not restrict herself to the mindset of a researcher, one that is more logical and objective. Rather, Goodall stepped off her pedestal and empathized with the chimpanzees. She recognized that chimpanzees and humans were related not just through genes but also through emotion, intelligence, and social relationships.
Goodall’s down-to-earth quality, her empathy towards animals, and her open-minded view towards research persisted even after she became widely recognized for her work and won awards, such as the Hubbard Medal and the John & Alice Tyler Prizefor Environmental Achievement. She wanted to share her work with the public, not restrict it to the science community. Subsequently, Goodall established the Jane Goodall Institute that works to protect chimpanzees and their habitats. Soon after, a group of teenagers came up to Goodall eager to discuss problems they saw with habitat loss. To involve these teenagers, Goodall started Roots and Shoots, a now global youth program. Goodall is also a patron at several animal and environment related charities, such as Population Matters. Her actions even reflect in her personal life, showing how genuine she is. She is a vegetarian and explains to family and friends that it is a choice related to ethics and the environmental.
Goodall was a miraculous scientist. She took risks, she challenged long-standing beliefs, and she was persistent. But what makes Goodall stand out to me among all of the other scientists is that she was not just a scientist. She was also a commoner by using her views on animal and environmental right to guide her personal life and by opening herself up to the public, adding a humanistic side to research. From a giddy toddler with a stuffed chimpanzee to a world renowned scientist, Goodall always played two roles and I admire her for how well she did that.