Note: This article originally appeared in Vol. 1(3) of Behavior Analysis Quarterly.
By Daniel Reimer, M.A.
What is your current occupation and job title?
I work at Disney’s Animal Kingdom as a Behavioral Scientist. I am a member of the Science Operations team, where I work with an interdisciplinary group of scientists and animal care professionals. Among other things, I work directly with our Behavioral Husbandry Managers to integrate the science of operant learning into our animal training and environmental enrichment programs. I am also an assistant professor at FIT; I teach behavior analysis master’s students in Orlando, but in my answers below I will focus on my work at Disney.
What does a typical day look like for you?
A typical day for me might include some meetings (sometimes in offices and sometimes at animal care areas), some writing and other project work (including instructional design, manuscript and grant reviews, data analyses, etc.), and sometimes some staff training (including animal care staff and interns).
What aspects of your job do you find most interesting?
This is a tough question because one of the reasons I love my job is that there are so many interesting parts! One interesting aspect is translating the operant learning principles gleaned from other settings into applications for the zoo setting. I get to do this in multiple ways, including, for example, problem solving, planning, data collection, and decision making with animal care teams as well as developing content for staff training. One of the most gratifying aspects so far is that I am able to work in an area that is relatively untapped by behavior analysis while staying active in the behavior analysis community.
Are there any additional skills you had to learn or develop after graduate school? What were they?
Yes, there have been many! For example, when I first came to Disney I worked on a captive-breeding and reintroduction program for an endangered species. I did a lot of field work and learned about population monitoring, radio tracking, and many other things that were entirely new to me. I’ve also really developed and refined my collaboration skills in the years since graduate school. Those skills are tremendously important for achieving success in an unfamiliar environment with colleagues from different backgrounds.
Was there anything that surprised you when you first started your career?
One thing that has been interesting to me is the many parallels between zoo work and other settings where behavior analysis is practiced, such as schools. Like teachers, animal keepers are very passionate about their jobs and work very hard to produce great outcomes for those in their care. This makes them great partners in behavioral problem solving.
What is the biggest benefit to working in an occupation that is “non-traditional” for a behavior analyst?
I think it’s very exciting to be involved in a “newer” area of application because it affords lots of opportunities to support other behavior analysts who are interested in that area. I enjoy interacting with students and interns and trying to assist them as they explore careers in this area.
Are there difficulties working with non-behavior analysts? If so, what are they and what have you done to adapt?
I feel very fortunate to work with scientists and professionals with a variety of different backgrounds and specializations. We each bring a particular set of skills and expertise to the table, and apply them collaboratively to common goals. A newer or nontraditional area of application is probably not the best fit for those who have difficulty working with colleagues who are not behavior analysts.
Do you think it is important for behavior analysts to work in non-traditional areas? If so, why?
Yes. As others have noted, diversification is critical to our survival as a discipline. I also think it’s important for behavior analysts working in different areas of interest to talk with and support each other.
Do you have any suggestions or tips for people who are interested in starting a career like yours?
Yes. My advice varies considerably depending on individual goals and contexts, but here are few general suggestions:
1. When trying to establish yourself in a new area, your first jobs are to learn all you can and to pair yourself with reinforcers. Hold off on sharing your suggestions until you’ve made some progress in those two areas.
2. Make yourself useful. You will build credibility if you are known as someone who pitches in and works hard on things that people in the organization already value (as opposed to telling them what their priorities should be). While you’re doing this, look for opportunities to demonstrate some of your behavior-analytic skills.
3. Show it, then tell it. As you come across opportunities to use your skills, resist the urge to label and explain behavior-analytic practices a priori. Instead, wait until your colleagues have seen good results from a strategy; then you can give them a name for it.
4. If you want to work in zoos, get some animal-care experience. The job listings at aza.org often have internship and entry-level openings posted.