Carolyn Mary Kurle

From a “Focus on Ecologists” maintained by the ESA Education Office about 2009-2011.

Full Name Carolyn Mary Kurle
Degree PhD
Job Position Post Doctoral Fellow
Organization University of California Santa Barbara
Department Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology
Professional Affiliation Academic
Research Discipline Community Ecology
Research Habitat Marine
Research Organism Animals in general
Describe what you do and briefly describe the activities that your job encompasses I have worked on many aspects of community ecology – from the foraging ecology of pinnipeds to how introduced rats on islands transform marine intertidal communities via a trophic cascade. My fieldwork has included many activities including capturing seals and sea lions on remote islands in Alaska, surveying marine mammals and fish in the Bering Sea, conducting intertidal surveys in the Aleutian Islands, and observing rat foraging behavior with night vision binoculars. In the office part of my work, I analyze my field data, plan new studies, write grant proposals, and write up my data for publication.
What do you love most about your job? I am fortunate in that I love most aspects of my job. The fieldwork is the most fun and exciting, but there is also great satisfaction in analyzing data and writing papers for publication. Teaching and presenting my research at meetings are also extremely rewarding aspects of my job.
For each degree you’ve obtained, list the degree, field, and institution. BSc., Zoology, University of Washington
BA, German Language and Literature, University of Washington
MSc, Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences, Texas A&M University
PhD Candidate, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California Santa Cruz, projected finish Spring 2008
Briefly describe your job path. I was an intern in a NMFS salmon genetics laboratory in my last quarter of college. From there, I met Tom Loughlin, my future boss, who hired me as a lab technician for the NMFS National Marine Mammal Laboratory in Seattle. I worked there for 2 years and then went back to school for a Master’s degree at Texas A&M University. I was then hired again by the NMML as a Research Biologist and worked for 3 years conducting research on pinniped community ecology and foraging ecology using stable isotope and fatty acid signature analyses. I then returned to school for my PhD at the University of California Santa Cruz. My current research has uncovered a trophic cascade whereby the historic introduction of Norway rats to islands across the Aleutian archipelago significantly altered community structure in the marine intertidal via an indirect pathway. Rats prey on marine birds that forage in the rocky intertidal which releases grazing invertebrates and reduces fleshy algal abundance, transforming the intertidal from an algal to an invertebrate dominated system. My work also focuses on determining the foraging ecology of introduced rats through stable isotope analyses and through a captive rat study designed to determine the best parameters for use in studying wild rats.
I am currently in the second year of a post-doctoral position studying the effects of biodiversity on trophic cascades and I will be starting as an assistant professor in the Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution section of the Division of Biological Sciences at UC San Diego in 2010.
What challenges did you need to overcome? I find it challenging to find the time to pursue all of the questions and do all of the projects that are out there to explore. Learning to write faster and to create compelling grant proposals has also served me well.
What’s one thing you hope to do in the future? Bring my family into the field with me!
How do you describe your job when you meet people at a party? It depends upon who it is. Sometimes I say I’m an ecologist, sometimes a marine ecologist or biologist. Then I describe what it’s like to sit for many nights in a row on an island in the Bering Sea that is infested with rats using night vision binoculars to watch their foraging behavior. That is usually a good conversation starter!
What is your family background and what did they think of your career choice? I grew up in a white, middle class, college educated family that did a lot of activities in the outdoors in the Pacific Northwest. These activities inspired me and my parents have always encouraged and supported my choices along my career path.
Who or what inspired you to become a scientist (or other profession)? I was inspired by my parents who took my brothers and me camping, fishing, hiking, boating, and beach combing all over the western United States. They taught me about the natural world and encouraged my curiosity at an early age. I was also greatly influenced by my first marine invertebrate research project conducted with Alan Kohn, a marine invertebrate biologist at the University of Washington, by the UW’s marine invertebrate and algae classes at their field station on San Juan Island, and by Tom Loughlin, my former boss and a great scientist at the National Marine Mammal Laboratory.
Who currently inspires you? As a field ecologist with a family, I’m currently completely inspired by women in academia who do incredible science and are excellent teachers while also prioritizing rich family lives. These include Drs. Ingrid Parker, Erika Zavaleta, and Diana Steller.
What is the most valuable advice a mentor gave you or that you would offer to someone who’d like to do the same job as you? It’s really important to get as much experience in the field and/or laboratory as possible and as early as possible so that you know what aspects of ecology are right for you. Having a lot of experience also greatly increases one’s chances of working with exceptional people in grad school. It is also important to learn to write and communicate your ideas well. And above all, choose work that you LOVE and that continues to inspire questions worth pursuing.
What would you like people to remember about your life as a scientist (or other profession)? I would like to be remembered as someone who found out some really interesting things about how the natural world works, who communicated scientific ideas well in a classroom, and who lived a very rewarding family life. I would also like to be remembered as someone who made difficult and remote field work in crazy weather and physical conditions a lot more fun, interesting, and less challenging by my positive attitude and genuine love of the job.
Award Name Buell Award, 2006
Year originally profiled. 2009