Cynthia Hays

From an “Ecologist Directory” maintained by the ESA Education Office about 2004-2005. Profile circa 2004.
Degree                                            Ph.D. 2006
Position                                          Graduate Student at UCSC
Organization                                  University of California, Santa Cruz
Murray F. Buell Award for 2004
When did you get interested in ecology? Who was most influential in guiding you into ecology?
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in biology. I grew up in rural Ohio, exploring the woods and streams near my house, so my interest in ecology came very naturally. I didn’t really think about ecology as a possible career, though, until my junior year in college.

Cynthia Hayes

Until then, I was pretty convinced that I wanted to be a veterinarian. Then two things happened in relatively quick succession that changed my career. I was co-advised in my MS work at Florida State University (by Tom Miller and Mary Ruckelshaus), and co-advised again in my PhD at UC-Santa Cruz (by Ingrid Parker and Pete Raimondi). All four have been incredible mentors to me, and have profoundly influenced the way I do science, the way I think about science, and the way that I (try to) balance my work with family and personal life.

Describe your route to a career in (or using) ecology. What challenges did you need to overcome? What was your training, and what positions have you held?
I received my B.S. from Duke University, my M.S. from Florida State, and then came to California to work on my Ph.D. Between each step, I took a year or so off to work as a field or lab technician in different capacities (e.g.diving in British Columbia to study sea urchins with Don Levitan, to culturing corn pathogens at OARDC, Ohio State’s agricultural station). I thought I needed that time to narrow my focus, to figure out the direction I wanted my own research to go; instead, I just found myself interested in more new things. I am learning to see breadth of interests and experiences as a blessing instead of a personal flaw; the most innovative work often happens at the interface between disciplines.

How did you learn about ecological careers -what is your position title now?
I’m still a graduate student at UCSC, working to finish writing up my dissertation and find a post-doctoral position.

What key advice would you offer a student today?
If you aren’t excited about the questions you are working on, at least most of the time, find something else to do.

What advice do you have for communicating ecology to diverse audiences?
Think about the audience you are trying to reach, and use appropriate language. You can convey the main point of even the most complicated ecological ideas without resorting to jargon. Let your enthusiasm for the topic show.