Jane Goodall, pioneering English primatologist, became the eighth person to ever receive a PhD from Cambridge University without having an undergraduate degree.
Jane Goodall’s First Opportunities
Goodall received her school certificate in 1950 and a higher certificate in 1952, but did not attend university following her school years. After some time working as a secretary at Oxford University and spending free time working at a London-based documentary film company, she took a trip to South Kinangop, Kenya. There, Goodall met anthropologist Louis Leaky during the time that he was serving as curator at the Coryndon Museum in Nairobi. Leaky hired her as a secretary and Goodall started becoming involved in anthropological expeditions at Olduvai Gorge and Lake Victoria.
The long-term study of higher primates such as chimpanzees was a difficult and often unsuccessful endeavor, but Leaky believed that a study of that kind would yield important results. Believing in Goodall’s skills, he invited her to perform a long-term study of the chimpanzees that would require a longstanding isolation with the purpose of observing and studying the primates in their natural habitat. With no formal education on primates or even science, and against the objection of many experts, Goodall agreed to attempt the challenging study.
In 1960 Goodall established a camp on the shore of Lake Tanganyika in the Gombe Stream Reserve, where her initial pursuits to closely examine a group of chimpanzees, failed. Following a number of unsuccessful attempts she found a different group of chimpanzees to follow. With this new group Goodall managed to establish a pattern of observation that appeared nonthreatening to the chimpanzees, which allowed her to closely observe them every morning in their feeding area along the Kakaombe Stream valley. In one-year time, the chimpanzees grew so comfortable with Goodall’s presence that they would even approach her voluntarily in search of bananas.
Jane Goodall’s Cambridge University Career
In 1962, Leaky arranged for Goodall to work on a doctorate’s degree in ethology at Cambridge University, which she received in 1965. Her doctoral thesis, “Behavior of the Free-Ranging Chimpanzee” depicted the first 5 years of her studies at the Gombe Reserve. With an official title in her name and a successful career at Cambridge University, Goodall’s research was given more scientific validity.
Jane Goodall became an American and English icon for her work with chimpanzees, and reports of her in the form of National Geographic magazines and films such as ‘Ms. Goodall and the Wild Chimpanzees’ brought her discoveries to new light.
Goodall was the first to make recorded observations of chimpanzees making and using tools, and eating meat—which discredited a previous belief that these primates were vegetarians. Among many other things, Goodall was also the first to detect communication patterns amongst chimpanzees, family bonds between them, and the complex social structure by which they live.
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