Full name: Ellie Cutright
From: I’m from Charleston, South Carolina in the USA
Studied: Learning and Behavioural Psychology at the College of Charleston
Job: Researcher at APOPO.
How did you feel about moving to Tanzania?
Tanzania was the first place I visited outside of the US. I was terrified, I knew it was bold and I just knew that this is so unlikely to happen again so I couldn’t say no.
How did you end up working at APOPO?
I had pet rats when I was younger and worked with rats as an undergraduate so when I heard about APOPO I was naturally very interested. I followed APOPO on Facebook and saw a job advert for a researcher and I’ve now been at APOPO for a year.
It’s a unique opportunity – where else in the world are you going to work with bomb sniffing rats?! And to be somewhere that animal welfare is so important is just incredible.
What projects are you currently working on?
I’m planning an early exposure project to see whether exposure to TNT from birth has an impact on a rat’s ability to detect landmines. I’m also looking at alternative diet and treats/rewards for the rats.
What are your hobbies?
I am a nihilist and enjoy philosophy. I also like BBQs and hanging out with friends. I do a lot of DIY at home. I also like reading, hiking, swimming and playing with my pet animals.
When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A veterinarian, I’m not sure what changed but I’m still glad to work with animals. For a while I was into theatre and acting, then I got super into biology. I took biomedical sciences classes at high school and I had a great teacher who was really inspiring. We dissected a heart and I started thinking that I might want to be a pathologist and do autopsies. I decided to switch from a more biology-focussed course into psychology to learn something completely new.
What is your favourite colour?
Green, forest green, not like a bright green.
What is your favourite food?
Mexican food – I’m a big fan of tacos. I love so many types of food and I’m not picky at all. I’m very passionate about food.
Where is your favourite place?
A place in the mountains in Virginia where I used to go with my family and my grandfather when I was younger. There’s a reservoir, a creek and you can catch crawfish and salamanders.
“People who inspire me are people who ooze happiness, they just inspire me and I want to work out how to be like that.”
What is your favourite animal?
Favourite animal… There are too many, how does one choose that?! I love rats obviously. I love all the squishy things, slugs, snails, frogs. Monkeys, although it’s harder to love them when they steal all the fruit off your trees. Fish, fish are cool. I do love slugs and bugs. The only thing I don’t like is owls. I appreciate them for existing but I just don’t like them.
What was your favourite subject at school?
What languages do you speak?
English, Swahili and Spanish. Though now I often come out with a combination of Spanish and Swahili which isn’t useful for anything!
Who has been an inspirational person in your life?
So many people along the way who have changed the way I’ve thought about something or inspired me to do something different. Lots of teachers at school friends. A friend of mine started a wedding photography business. It’s inspiring how she’s just grabbing it by the reigns and just going for it. My sister is a nurse in the NICU with tiny premature babies. People who ooze happiness, they just inspire me and I want to work out how to be like that. People who travel a lot.
Is there a phrase you live by?
Here in this office we say “Nothing can ever be easy” and “It is what it is”.
My dad always used to say “if you want to get better then just suck less”!
What is your favourite book?
The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak. It’s about a girl in Nazi occupied Germany who was stealing books to save them from bring burned. I’ve probably read it eleven times.
What kind of music do you like?
I’m not picky, punk rock, indie, country (I am from South Carolina after all).
What is your coolest achievement?
The work I’ve done with rats since when I’ve been in university, I’ve done some pretty cool research.
What is an interesting fact about yourself?
I can swim backwards, feet first. I have around thirty pets at home (dogs, chickens, bunnies, pigeons, parakeets) and apparently there are guinea pigs on their way. Outside our house my boyfriend is building a half fish tank half hot tub.
What skills do you use to do your job?
I do lots of planning for experiments and working with lots of people, communicating and coordinating. I do plenty of data analysis and working with Excel spreadsheets. I also plan and write publications and notes about experiments. I also help to look after and train the rats to support experiments and develop Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for the experiments. I regularly help Iyungu prepare samples for testing.