Meet Your New ECE Chair!
This month’s blog post is an introduction to your new Chair for 2022-2023! Kathleen is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at UW-Madison in the SILVIS Lab.
Introduction – tell us about yourself!
I want to start by mentioning how grateful I am to be the new chair! I answered these questions just a couple weeks after the annual meeting in Montreal, where I had a fantastic time meeting many ECE members. Regarding my work and education, I’m currently a postdoc at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the SILVIS Lab. I have two bachelor’s degrees, one in wildlife ecology and one in marine biology cum laude from the University of Maine, a Master’s from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in Environmental Sciences, and a Ph.D. from Montana State University. I also have certificates in College Teaching and in Applied Statistics from Montana State. In my personal time, I hang out with my two dogs, Winston (bulldog) and George (corgi), who are my best buddies (check out their insta for pictures @twobritishgentlemen). I enjoy most outdoor activities, including running, climbing, swimming, backpacking, and paddling. I have a second job as a PADI SCUBA instructor on the weekends with a local Madison company, Breezeway Bubbles. I have also been binge-watching Alone, improving my embroidery skills, baking a lot of focaccia, and growing house plants (including Joshua trees I grew from seedlings, check out my PLS here).
Why did you decide to become an ecologist?
In 7th grade, I began reading about human-wildlife conflict and decided I wanted to pursue conservation ecology. I applied to only one school (UMaine) for college to study wildlife ecology and never deviated from my broader path. I went right from my undergrad to my master’s and only took a few months between my master’s and Ph.D. Overall, it was a linear path, and even when I doubted if I had made the right decision, ecology always pulled me back in.
What does a typical work day look like for you?
As a landscape ecologist with no field work, my days are pretty simple. I started my postdoc during covid and still work from home. I typically get up early (around 0415) to go to the gym, walk my dogs, and sit at my work computer around 0630. I spend the first bit of time writing manuscripts (morning writing goals are a must for me) and then focus on writing R code, bash scripts, other manuscripts, etc. I take several daily breaks to rest, eat, or exercise my dogs. On the weekends, I typically do something outside or teach scuba.
Have there been any key turning points in your career? Good or bad surprises?
After my master’s, I took a position as a lab manager that, without sharing too many details, was not a good fit. The position was supposed to become my Ph.D., but by the end of my time in that lab, I was unsure if I was talented or driven enough to make it into a Ph.D. program anywhere. After that blow to my resolve, I quit my job, put all my belongings in storage, asked my dad to watch my dog (I only had one at the time), and started hiking the Appalachian Trail. The AT was just what I needed – I built myself back up while on the trail. I left the trail when I was offered a Ph.D. position at Montana State (I had applied while still at the previous institution and had forgotten about it). While that year was incredibly challenging, I learned how to take breaks from work, enjoy aspects of my identity beyond my career, and be a supportive advisor.
What projects (research or not) are you most excited about now?
I have a couple really cool projects in the pipeline at work, but I am most excited about being on the job market – which I will call a project since the applications are so time-consuming. The job market can be brutal in our field, I won’t lie, but I have found camaraderie and support from peers, colleagues, mentors, and strangers. I have appreciated the resources people are willing to share, especially those who have shared their successful applications and everyone on Twitter commiserating with shared experiences. It is easy to feel isolated during transitional periods, but I have found that early career ecologists are an incredibly supportive group!
What is the most fulfilling part of your job?
Easily teaching and mentoring. Don’t get me wrong, I love conducting research and spend most of my time doing that, but there is nothing quite as fulfilling as having the time and energy to support others. For instance, I gave two talks at ESA in Montreal, and my career central talk was far more fulfilling (and likely benefited far more people) than my research talk (even though it was also super cool).
What is one challenge you’ve dealt with, and what success are you most proud of?
I think these are two sides of the same coin, so my answer is the same for both. One challenge I’ve dealt with is saying “yes” to too many things during my Ph.D., and I am proud that I have now learned to say “no” to opportunities. We are often presented with opportunities we worry we might never have again, especially early on in our careers, and many people feel like they can’t say no when asked to do things. This is how I ended up teaching two lectures, giving a TEDx talk, being an NSF STEM Communications Fellow, taking coursework for two certificates, etc., during my Ph.D. Now I have limited what I allow myself to say “yes” to and have noticed a huge improvement in my personal and professional life!
What has most surprised you about being an early career ecologist?
I have been amazed by the breadth of work people are doing. Early career encompasses a broad range of people and professional stages, so I am constantly fascinated by everyone’s work. I am also not just amazed but proud of the drive all the early career ecologists I have met have for their work and for increasing equity and inclusion in this field.
What advice would you give to other early career ecologists?
Find your people and help them find you. Some of the biggest struggles in our field, especially early on, are isolation and imposter syndrome. It is easy to feel alone, especially if you come from an underrepresented group, but I promise that there are people out there with the same identity, and there are also plenty of allies. I was more reserved about my identity early on in my Ph.D., was worried about backlash, and struggled to feel like I fit in. Once I started to open up to my peers, I found a lifelong network of friendship and support. I understand if it all feels too overwhelming, but conferences are a great place to start if your institution is not.
Any other thoughts you would like to touch on?
I want to emphasize that the ECE section is so welcoming and supportive! I was nervous about meeting the other officers in Montreal (covid prevented us from meeting in person before), but I can now say that we have the warmest and most supportive group of officers and board members you could ask for. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us!
You can find Kathleen online in any of these places!
Personal Website: https://connectivityandconservation.com/
Lab Website: http://silvis.forest.wisc.edu/staff/carroll-kathleen/