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  • Rights: The University of Waikato
    Published 3 November 2009 Referencing Hub media

    Associate Professor Alison Cree and Dr Phil Bishop, both from the University of Otago, talk about the importance of observation in science using examples from their research into reptiles and amphibians.

    Points of interest

    • Why do you think observation is an important skill for scientists?
    • Discuss the personal qualities of a good observer.


    Observation is a critical part of being a scientist, and observation is not just about what you can see with your eyes, but for me, it’s using all your senses and letting the animal speak to you.

    I think observation is… A key element that drives you into wanting to do research is that you make an observation and you think that’s a bit strange, I didn’t notice that last time. So I would say that most research scientists are usually very observant people.

    So it’s a chance to reflect, to pause, if you like. The things we do like taking measurements and handling animals – it’s a chance to just step back a wee bit and say, well, let the animal speak to me. What can I see? What can I hear? What can I feel?

    It does become critical, particularly when you’re working with frogs. A very good example, I think, is that my student who has been working on the sex identification has become such a good observer that she can look at a frog and think, “That’s a female.” And we haven’t been able to scientifically quantify how she knows that. And she doesn’t know how she knows that. She just knows because there is something about that frog that she has picked up subconsciously because she is a very good observer that she can actually work that out.

    Jen Germano

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