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ESA continues to serve its members and the ecological community even with the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. What this means ...

Career Journeys

ESA is pleased to  present the career journeys of professionals in our field across multiple sectors. How did they get into that sector? What do they do day-to-day?  What challenges do they face? All these and more –  in the virtual interviews below. 

Hint: many of them are involved in the ESA Career Fair at the 2018 ESA Annual Meeting. Come meet them in person!!

 


 

 

Anjali Kumar

Current Position/Job Title: Democracy Fellow in Biodiversity Research

Organization: Institute of International Education/U.S. Agency for International Development

Highest Degree Earned: PhD

Specialization: Behavioral Ecology & Conservation Biology Policy

Sector: Government

Work Website:

Personal Website: N/A

 

What was the most useful skill you learned in grad school that you use now?

Reading an analyzing scientific information quickly, then being able to distill it down to a few sentences. Now I read projects and results from scientists all over the world in variable scientific fields, and need to turn that information into something short and usable for non-scientists. In grad school we read so many different articles that it was necessary to learn that skill of understanding and distilling information quickly and easily.

 

How did you learn about your career options? Did you intend to end in your current position?

After finishing grad school I knew I wanted to teach field courses in the tropics, so that is what I did. I also knew I did not want to be a professor in an academic institution, but my university didn’t have professional development courses and my adviser didn’t know anything but a traditional academic career. I had connections with a few study abroad companies in Ecuador and Costa Rica so I went to work with them. Eventually, I decided I missed research so I went back to do a postdoc that was half teaching and half research. I did my field work in Peru on mercury accumulation in bat fur, with excess mercury occurring due to gold mining in the rivers of the Amazon basin. While I was doing this research, I realized my research would turn into a paper that would be read by a few people, but nothing would be impactful. I wanted to see research used to make the lives of people and the ecosystems they lived in better. One of my friends had previously done the AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowship and recommended I look into it after I told him how I didn’t feel like my research had enough reach. That is how I ended up where I am today. I got the AAAS fellowship and have stayed in my same office for 3 years now.

 

What are the favorite parts of your job? Major challenges?

The major challenge was transitioning from a field biologist, spending all my time outdoors being active, into someone that works in a cubicle in front of a computer most of the time. That is still a major challenge for me. The Government is also slow and a bureaucracy, meaning you have to fill out a lot of paperwork to do anything and most tasks seem archaic. I find that challenging also. I enjoy traveling around the world, meeting scientists and visiting different universities. I have seen the insides and talked to presidents of universities in many regions around the world and that is very interesting. I also get to meet with science funding agencies in different countries and learn how other countries set science priorities, and what those priorities are. I have also enjoyed leaning about how the US Government works from the inside and now realize that before I worked in a Government agency, I had no clue how the USA worked! My current office has a very entrepreneurial spirit and I have been able to test and  implement ideas about how to work with scientists and strengthen higher education institutions around the world.

 

What do you spend most of your work days doing?

Emailing people about various things; meeting people inter and intra-agency to set up partnerships; managing a program.

 

What challenges have you faced in your career path and what resources have you used to overcome them?

I have often felt like I am not doing enough, or not being impactful enough in my career. Most of the time that has come from a position not being exactly as I had thought it would be, and I didn’t know how to navigate within the borders of the position to make it more my own. My main resource in my career has been my network of people that I draw from. I have worked to maintain working relationships and friendships with people in all the positions I have worked, all over the world and in various sectors. Since I left grad school I have also participated in a couple of different leadership programs which have given me new skills and a new network to be able to navigate difficult situations when they come up. The strength of my network and the ability I have to lean on those people has been essential in my career.

 

What is the best advice you could give a student interested in following your career path?

The skills you learn as a Ph.D. student are setting you up for so many different types of careers. If you find yourself passionate about science and how science can be used for policy or to help people, this fellowship could be great for you to pursue.

 


 

 

Colleen M. Iversen

Current Position/Job Title: Senior Staff Scientist

Organization: Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Highest Degree Earned: PhD

Specialization: Ecosystem ecology

Sector: Government

Work Website: http://www.colleeniversen.com/

Personal Website: http://www.colleeniversen.com/

 

What was the most useful skill you learned in grad school that you use now?

I think it was the willingness to contact experts in my field for advice. No one is born knowing how to do everything, and the science is vastly improved when you can develop relationships with other scientists. I’ve made some good friends and good collaborators in this way.

 

How did you learn about your career options? Did you intend to end in your current position?

I never really had a plan for my career. I didn’t ‘intend’ anything. I came to graduate school and developed a relationship with a scientist at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. He invited me to develop ecosystem questions at a CO2-enrichment experiment based on my previous skill set. I did my PhD work there, and stayed on for a post-doc (so that I could participate in the experimental shut-down and destructive harvests!). I then was hired as a staff scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory to work on the next generation of climate change experiments funded by the Department of Energy.

 

What are the favorite parts of your job? Major challenges?

My favorite parts of the job are chasing answers to questions and working with some amazing people. The challenges are now becoming finding the time to do everything I want to do, and dealing with the (necessary) administrative work (proposals, hiring, reports) that keep me out of the lab or field and away from writing papers.

 

What do you spend most of your work days doing?

Every day is different. I work at my desk to write papers, analyze data, write annual reports and new proposals. I work in the lab to sort roots from soil and perform soil analyses. I work in the field in remote Alaska and Minnesota to sample plants and soil.

 

What challenges have you faced in your career path and what resources have you used to overcome them?

It is sometimes difficult to be a woman in science. Good mentors help, as well as good networks (e.g., local colleagues, the Earth Science Women’s Network).

 

What is the best advice you could give a student interested in following your career path?

Apply for the DOE Office of Science Graduate Fellowship (https://science.energy.gov/wdts/scgf/)–it supports you to come to a national laboratory and work with a scientist there for a period of several months. It’ll help you to get to know the national laboratory system, and also develop new scientific collaborations at premier research institutions!


 

Kirsten S. Hofmockel

Current Position/Job Title: Lead Scientist for Integrative Research

Organization: Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory

Highest Degree Earned: PhD

Specialization: Ecology, Biogeochemistry

Sector: Government

Work Website: https://www.pnnl.gov/science/staff/staff_info.asp?staff_num=8492

Personal Website: kirstenhofmockel.org

 

What was the most useful skill you learned in grad school that you use now?

How to run a collaborative research program

 

How did you learn about your career options? Did you intend to end in your current position?

I was open to opportunity, my current position found me. It was not the “plan”, and it is a great fit, Scientific meetings can be a great way to learn about different career options.

 

What are the favorite parts of your job? Major challenges?

Integrating ideas across disciplines  major challenge is juggling many projects.

 

What do you spend most of your work days doing?

Mentoring, writing, developing scientific strategies for my group, department and funding agencies.

 

What challenges have you faced in your career path and what resources have you used to overcome them?

Many barriers to being a woman in science, lack of mentors; Some colleagues and my family have provided insights and strategies for advocating for the best science despite cultural challenges.

 

What is the best advice you could give a student interested in following your career path?

Follow your passion. Be open to opportunities. Develop positive relationships – it’s a long career.

 


 

Holly Lynn Walker

Current Position/Job Title: Plant Health Specialist/IPM Specialist

Organization: Smithsonian Gardens

Highest Degree Earned: PhD

Specialization: Entomology

Sector: Government

Work Website: www.gardens.si.edu

Personal Website: N/A

 

What was the most useful skill you learned in grad school that you use now?

Time management and how to prioritize tasks.

 

How did you learn about your career options? Did you intend to end in your current position?

I learned about my career options both by talking to other professionals and by researching online. No I did not intend to end up in my current position though it was similar to the type of work I expected to do and is in my field.

 

What are the favorite parts of your job? Major challenges?

My favorite parts of my current job include being able to work with the public, the ability to still teach and educate a wider audience, being able to use my skill set to solve real world problems, and being able to establish my own management plan. The only real challenges are just the pest challenges we face throughout the season and having to implement environmental management plans where there are hundreds of thousands of visitors year round.

 

What do you spend most of your work days doing?

Scouting for environmental and plant pests, and working with staff to create sustainable management plans.

 

What challenges have you faced in your career path and what resources have you used to overcome them?

I personally to not have a strong background in identifying fungal pathogens. So I have created a great working relationship with local extension offices and staff who I can call  on readily for help.

 

What is the best advice you could give a student interested in following your career path?

Don’t just look at research and Academia. There are many other jobs outside of those two that can be rewarding and allow you to still participate and be active in both.

 

 


 

Jeramie Strickland

Current Position/Job Title: Wildlife Biologist

Organization: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Highest Degree Earned: Masters

Specialization: Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Conservation Biology, Wildlife Management

Sector: Government

Work Website: www.fws.gov

Personal Website: https://youngzine.org/expert/jeramie-strickland

What was the most useful skill you learned in grad school that you use now?

Learning how to communicate to broad and diverse audiences; the importance of networking; community engagement; citizen science project management; presentation skills.

 

How did you learn about your career options? Did you intend to end in your current position?

Through research conducted on a National Wildlife Refuge while in graduate school; which landed me an intern and then a permanent position with this great agency.

 

What are the favorite parts of your job? Major challenges?

Favorite: get to travel, network, and work with diverse audiences. Seeing the local and broader implications of our work in conservation  Challenges: learning to say no to projects, and feeling overwhelmed at times

 

What do you spend most of your work days doing?

Field research, data collection, and supervising research projects, environmental education program coordination.

 

What challenges have you faced in your career path and what resources have you used to overcome them?

Challenges: growing up poor with limited resources, and lack of exposure  Resources: mentors, internships, great teachers and counselor; professional society involvement like ESA and SEEDS.

 

What is the best advice you could give a student interested in following your career path?

Volunteer, find a mentor, seek internships, and diversify your skill set. Also get involved with a professional society.

 


 

Susan Teel

Current Position/Job Title: Chief of Resource Education

Organization: National Park Service

Highest Degree Earned: Masters

Specialization: Marine Biology and Coastal Zone Management

Sector: Government

Work Website: www.nps.gov/guis

Personal Website: N/A

What was the most useful skill you learned in grad school that you use now?

How to write a proposal and justify why the project, program, or work is important and needed.

 

How did you learn about your career options? Did you intend to end in your current position?

I stumbled into working in the area of education during an internship which I took just to make ends meet while in graduate school.  This internship led to my next couple of jobs and influenced my career path.  I did not intend to end in my current position, but I am very happy I followed this path.

 

What are the favorite parts of your job? Major challenges?

My favorite parts of the job is sharing the wonder and excitement people experience when they discover something new about nature or history . The major challenges are keeping up with changing priorities.

 

What do you spend most of your work days doing?

Most of my time is spent coordinating to provide for visitor enjoyment, understanding and appreciation of park natural and cultural resources.

 

What challenges have you faced in your career path and what resources have you used to overcome them?

There was a time when I was between jobs and I learned to write grants to secure funding sufficient to support my salary and to implement cool environmental programs and projects.

 

What is the best advice you could give a student interested in following your career path?

Always do your best work and dress for success – you never know who will be impressed with your work. Always be professional.

 


 

Daniel Stover

Current Position/Job Title: Program Manager, Terrestrial Ecosystem Sciences

Organization: U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science

Highest Degree Earned: PhD

Specialization: Ecological Sciences

Sector: Government

Work Website: http://tes.science.energy.gov/

Personal Website: N/A

 

What was the most useful skill you learned in grad school that you use now?

Working in teams.

 

How did you learn about your career options? Did you intend to end in your current position?

I had a very encouraging Ph.D. program and advisor that encouraged us to explore different aspects of our future careers.  This could include teaching, federal service, Non-profits, research, management, consulting, etc.  Unlike other labs in our department, we weren’t forced to only consider a research career.  Another mentor once told me that we all contribute to science in different ways.  Some teach, so are field researchers, some are lab scientists, some engage with the public, some enable science.  My Ph.D. advisor was a great mentor that would engage us in every aspect of our lab’s research, including interacting with the DOE program managers that sponsored.  After a difficult post-doc experience, I was thrust into a very challenging job market and I ended up taking a position with the Non-profit Earthwatch Institute.  Here I led an international field research center with an emphasis on citizen science.  This opportunity provided me with significant management experience.  After a few years, the former DOE program manager that supported our labs work attended a research symposium supported by my office.  He had just retired and suggested I apply for his job given my background and management experience.  I was honored to be selected to fill that role, one that I hoped I would have in my career (although I suspected it would be more toward the terminal end of my career, not as early as it turned out).

 

What are the favorite parts of your job? Major challenges?

There are a number of exciting aspects to my job.  First I really enjoy the strategic planning opportunities provided in my day to day activities.  I get to place a fingerprint on the direction for the nation’s research agenda to address short and long-term research needs for the U.S.  Regular engagement with early career scientists, through review panels and building collaborative research teams is also a major highlight of my job.  As in every job, there are a number of challenges.  In mine, I regret that I am often limited in the amounts of research I would like to support (but even if I had a billion dollar budget, I would still be limited.  Also, the work is quite exciting and I’m often challenged to balance my work and personal life!

 

What do you spend most of your work days doing?

My job entails a lot of email! (but who’s doesn’t these days?)  In general, I spend a lot of time requesting and evaluating research proposal, as well as assembling and running research review panels.  I split my time between university/academic research proposals and proposals from the DOE National Laboratories.  The remainder of time is spent managing the supported research (e.g., tracking progress, etc.) planning annual PI meetings and working on budget and strategy documents.  I also spend a fair amount of time working on federal interagency research coordination committees.

 

What challenges have you faced in your career path and what resources have you used to overcome them?

I feel very lucky that I’ve received some outstanding mentoring that help me see multiple opportunities and be prepared for change.  Additionally, I’ve built an amazing network of friends and colleges that consistently help me with most any challenge I’ve faced personally and professionally.  In terms of challenges, I’ve found the culture of “do more with less” to becoming the new norm.

 

What is the best advice you could give a student interested in following your career path?

Remember we all contribute to science in many different ways.  Some scientists teach, some are field researchers, some are lab scientists, some engage with the public, some are writers, some are consultants, some are policy advocates and some enable scientific enterprise.  Regardless of which path, just remember you are making an important contribution!   Also, remember to network, network, network!

 

 

 


 

Molly McCormick

Current Position/Job Title: Restoration Coordinator and Ecologist

Organization: U.S. Geological Survey

Highest Degree Earned: Masters

Specialization: Plant, Pollinator and Restoration Ecology

Sector: Government

Work Website: www.usgs.gov/sbsc/ramps

Personal Website: N/A

 

What was the most useful skill you learned in grad school that you use now?

Learning to work as a member of an interdisciplinary team, and collaboration and communication skills.

 

How did you learn about your career options? Did you intend to end in your current position?

I sought out and worked or volunteered for any organization that interested me. I created relationships in the place where I wanted to build a career, and that eventually led to my current job.

 

What are the favorite parts of your job? Major challenges?

I enjoy working to make science relevant to land managers, asking people where they are succeeding and where they struggle.I get to create creative solutions with people to address challenges to effective and innovative land management. Creating a new program can be challenging because there is no guide book.

 

What do you spend most of your work days doing?

Writing emails.

 

What challenges have you faced in your career path and what resources have you used to overcome them?

I have overcome challenges by seeking people that inspire me.

 

What is the best advice you could give a student interested in following your career path?

Find the people and projects that inspire you, and pick up the phone!

 


 

Jayne Belnap

Current Position/Job Title: Research Ecologist US Geological Survey

Organization: US Geological Survey

Highest Degree Earned: PhD

Specialization: Ecology

Sector: Government

Work Website: USGS, Southwest Biological Science Center

Personal Website: N/A

 

What was the most useful skill you learned in grad school that you use now?

Logistics and budgets! How do you effectively run projects?

 

How did you learn about your career options? Did you intend to end in your current position?

Accidental.  I intended to stay in academics, but found working with land management agencies super satisfying.

 

What are the favorite parts of your job? Major challenges?

Helping with real-world, on-the-ground solutions.  Political constraints on land managers sometimes makes it difficult or impossible for them to implement what the data suggests is best.

 

What do you spend most of your work days doing?

Writing grants and papers, technical assistance to land managers.

 

What challenges have you faced in your career path and what resources have you used to overcome them?

Being in a field that was not yet recognized as important and having to establish that before funding became available. Resource to solve:  persistence! enthusiasm despite dark times!

 

What is the best advice you could give a student interested in following your career path?

Finding internships, temporary positions so people in your area of interest get to know you.

 


 

David Whitall

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Current Position/Job Title: Senior Coastal Ecologist

Organization: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration

Highest Degree Earned: PhD

Specialization: Environmental chemistry

Sector: Government

Work Website: https://coastalscience.noaa.gov/

Personal Website: N/A

 

What was the most useful skill you learned in grad school that you use now?

I had a course in Organic Geochemistry that was extremely useful because of the way it was structured.  We had to read a couple of journal articles every week and then critique and discuss them.  It really taught me how to read/understand/evaluate published studies, determine their strengths and weaknesses, and generally improved my critical thinking.

 

How did you learn about your career options? Did you intend to end in your current position?

While I was aware of NOAA in graduate school, I always assumed I’d end up in Academia.  I applied for this job on a whim, didn’t intend to make it a life long career and then discovered what a great place to do research it is.

 

What are the favorite parts of your job? Major challenges?

I get to work with an amazing array of really smart people, both within NOAA, but also at other federal and state agencies, Academia and NGOs.  There are financial challenges (most specifically Government “red tape” and overall funding levels) that can be frustrating.

 

What do you spend most of your work days doing?

On a good day, I’m do data analysis (statistics, GIS, data interpretation) and writing.  On a bad day, I’m sitting in meetings and answering emails.

 

What challenges have you faced in your career path and what resources have you used to overcome them?

My background is in nutrient biogeochemistry, but the location  (not near an estuary or coast) and nature (a national program) of my job, makes it tough to do “hands on” nutrient monitoring type research (i.e. weekly or monthly sampling over a period of years).  I’ve overcome this in two ways: one by building strong local partnerships in the places that I work to lean on local scientists to do the heavy lifting on the field work side on things; and to diversify my expertise/portfolio to also include contaminant chemistry (heavy metals, pesticides, PAHs, etc) which is more conducive to the types of field missions our office is able to execute.

 

What is the best advice you could give a student interested in following your career path?

The ability to think/plan/critique/reason is far more important than any one skill that you can learn in the lab/field.  In other words, do your best to learn/practice the “process of science” because the “nuts and bolts of science” (i.e. specific methodologies) will change over your career, but the scientific method will not.

 


 

Peter N Dudley

Current Position/Job Title: Project Scientist

Organization: National Marine Fisheries Service

Highest Degree Earned: PhD

Specialization: mechanistic niche modeling

Sector: Government

Work Website: https://swfsc.noaa.gov/default1.aspx?Division=FED&id=554

Personal Website: https://biophysical.wordpress.com/

 

What was the most useful skill you learned in grad school that you use now?

Trouble shooting programs and software, and the ability to chain programs together into workflows.

 

How did you learn about your career options? Did you intend to end in your current position?

I found the job call on a job board (perhaps EcoLog?).  This is the type of position that was my goal in grad school.

 

What are the favorite parts of your job? Major challenges?

My favorite parts are working with other intelligent scientists, working on a system that there is a lot of interest in, and having a good amount of autonomy.  The major challenges are the usual publishing and getting grants.

 

What do you spend most of your work days doing?

Data analysis, setting up running models, and writting articles.

 

What challenges have you faced in your career path and what resources have you used to overcome them?

 

What is the best advice you could give a student interested in following your career path?

Don’t pigeon hole yourself in applying to jobs that are similar to you dissertation/thesis work.  The skills you gained in doing that work are often what employers in nonacademic jobs are looking for.

 


 

Harold (Hal) Balbach

Current Position/Job Title: Emeritus Research Biologist

Organization: US Army Engineer Research and Delevopment Center

Highest Degree Earned: PhD

Specialization: Botany/Ecology

Sector: Government

Work Website: http://www.erdc.usace.army.mil/locations/cerl.aspx

Personal Website: N/A

What was the most useful skill you learned in grad school that you use now?

Appreciation for the way in which multiple interests may all affect one situation, and no one of them is probably adequate for a full explanation.

 

How did you learn about your career options? Did you intend to end in your current position?

Originally aimed for position in University teaching, and pursued that for several years. In what you might call mid-career, was urged to examine possibility to contribute to major Army sponsored program to better analyze the evaluation of environmental impacts of construction activities. This summer project turned into an offer of full time employment which I then followed for 40+ years.

 

What are the favorite parts of your job? Major challenges?

I always enjoyed being able to explain to others how I felt the many different parts of a problem could be better evaluated and brought into focus.

 

What do you spend most of your work days doing?

When I was actively engagedin problem solving, I spent many hours a day on the telephone working to achieve concurrence with a fruitful project outcome.

 

What challenges have you faced in your career path and what resources have you used to overcome them?

Mostly, there have been problems with being able to adequately explain to widely divergent interest groups the manner in which I felt the overall problem could be solved to everyone’s satisfaction even if nobody achieved 100% of what they were asking.

 

What is the best advice you could give a student interested in following your career path?

Think more widely than planning for a niche at a college or university. There are thousands of positions beyond Academia if you think more broadly.

 


 

Giselda Durigan

Current Position/Job Title: Scientific Researcher VI

Organization: Forestry Institute, São Paulo State, Brazil

Highest Degree Earned: PhD

Specialization: Plant Biology

Sector: Government

Work Website: http://labecologiahidrologia.weebly.com/

Personal Website: http://lattes.cnpq.br/6907261164017372

 

What was the most useful skill you learned in grad school that you use now?

I am a Forestry engineer, and engineers learn, above all, to solve problems in the real world. My researches are mostly focused in applied ecology, and my knowledge on ecosystems management from my undergrad school are the basis of my work. During my grad school, my knowledge about native plants and natural ecosystems was remarkably improved, and that is crucial for my work today.

 

How did you learn about your career options? Did you intend to end in your current position?

At the university, three possible ways were presented for our future careers as engineers: private companies, university or Government. I was in search for research since the beginning. When the Forestry Institute announced a position, I’ve applied and that has been my job since 1984. The Forestry Institute is Governmental, and has different activities, grouped as: 1) production (timber, resin, seeds, seedlings), 2) conservation (administration of protected areas), and 3) research (to support production and conservation).

 

What are the favorite parts of your job? Major challenges?

My job provides me a permanent contact with nature, and that creates unique opportunities to understand the ecological processes, to formulate interesting and innovative questions and to carry out sampling or experiments to find the answers. Besides, being in a Governmental institution gives me opportunities to use my findings to change public policies related to ecosystems management, conservation and restoration.

 

What do you spend most of your work days doing?

My work days are often unpredictable. Besides my planned research activities (implementing experiments, collecting and analyzing data, writing papers), I am often requested to solve management and political problems that are not planned.

 

What challenges have you faced in your career path and what resources have you used to overcome them?

The major challenge that I’ve faced in my career has been changing people’s mind when the results of my researches indicate that management practices or even laws must change. My scientific publications and my talks have been the certification of my arguments to support my recommendations.

 

What is the best advice you could give a student interested in following your career path?

Working for a Governmental institution can put you much closer to the real world and to the decision making process than any other job. If you want and believe you can help to change the world, that is a good way.

 


 

Stan Wullschleger

Current Position/Job Title: Research Scientist, Corporate Fellow

Organization: Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Highest Degree Earned: PhD

Specialization: Plant Physiology

Sector: Government

Work Website: https://www.ornl.gov/division/esd

Personal Website: https://www.ornl.gov/staff-profile/stan-d-wullschleger

 

What was the most useful skill you learned in grad school that you use now?

Organized and thoughtful approach to science.

 

How did you learn about your career options? Did you intend to end in your current position?

First step always lead to next step; my career was built one day at a time, one success at a time that created new opportunities.

 

What are the favorite parts of your job? Major challenges?

People, innovative thought, and addressing national challenges at the intersection of energy and the environment.

 

What do you spend most of your work days doing?

Identifying research opportunities and helping others realize their potential in the Earth, environment, and climate sciences.

 

What challenges have you faced in your career path and what resources have you used to overcome them?

Challenges are just new opportunities waiting to be overcome. My colleagues have always been a source of information and inspiration.

 

What is the best advice you could give a student interested in following your career path?

Have purpose, have passion, and find enjoyment in the little steps along the way. Those little steps can lead to amazing places.

 


 

Renee Johansen

Current Position/Job Title: Post doctoral researcher

Organization: Los Alamos National Laboratory

Highest Degree Earned:

Specialization: Biology

Sector: Government

Work Website: http://www.lanl.gov/org/padste/adcles/bioscience/bioenergy-biome-sciences/index.php

Personal Website: N/A

 

What was the most useful skill you learned in grad school that you use now?

By grad school, I had already gotten to grips with the basics of literature searching, synthesis, writing and oral presentation. For me, the most important skills were those pertaining to doing my own research in the laboratory. Particularly as I hadn’t done a lot of laboratory work during my undergraduate years. I picked up skills in molecular biology, particularly DNA sequencing, which are essential in my current role. I also learned how to trouble shoot when things aren’t going smoothly with lab operations.

 

How did you learn about your career options? Did you intend to end in your current position?

I became familiar with the Government research environment during a summer studentship I undertook in New Zealand, which was advertised through my university. I went on to complete my PhD at that institution. My PhD was so absorbing that I didn’t have a lot of time to look into career options, but I did talk to colleagues and mentors about the post doc path. I wasn’t focused on finding a Government research post doc in the USA, but as I wrote up my PhD thesis and realized the depth of specialized knowledge I had obtained, and reflected on the effort it had taken to get to that point, it became important to me to put it all to use in the workplace. When it became clear there was limited opportunity to do that in New Zealand, I started looking at post doc positions available offshore and applied to various advertisements, including the one for my current position.

 

What are the favorite parts of your job? Major challenges?

I enjoy planning and executing experiments. At the moment my job doesn’t involve field work, but I enjoy that a great deal as well. Successfully executing tricky lab work, requiring precision and concentration, is always satisfying. And of course it’s always a thrill to look through brand new results. Talking with colleagues to develop new ideas can be fun and I enjoy reviewing the work of others. The biggest challenge is probably dealing with rejection; a lot of aspects of science are competitive and/or require our work to be scrutinized by others. It can be disheartening when the outcome of that is not positive. I am also quite an impatient person by nature, sometimes I struggle with the slow pace of science. I also find it challenging to concentrate for hours at a time over many days at a computer, which is essential for the data analysis/writing stage of a project.

 

What do you spend most of your work days doing?

My work day depends on project stage. I am involved in all stages of the research process – planning, executing experiments (including follow-up lab work involving DNA sequencing), data analysis and writing.

 

What challenges have you faced in your career path and what resources have you used to overcome them?

Given I am a post doc in my first job, I’m still in the early stages of this career path. Finding a post doc, especially from New Zealand, represented the first hurdle. I spent time making a long list of web sites that include job ads, and looking at other resources like eco-log and twitter, so that I could conduct a methodical job search. I searched these sites daily and also reached out to contacts in New Zealand and offshore to ask them to let me know if they heard of anything suitable. In this job, the biggest challenges come from needing to get an understanding of unfamiliar research areas, and in the application of statistics, which is not my strong point. If the internet can’t help, my next-best resources are definitely the people sitting around me. I find most people in science are very generous with their time and expertise.

 

What is the best advice you could give a student interested in following your career path?

Do the very best you can to publish during your PhD, even if it is just one paper. This is particularly important if you are not already known to your future supervisor, they are likely to see that as a marker of future success and will mean they take your application more seriously.

 


 

Paul J. Hanson

Current Position/Job Title: Corporate Fellow and Group Leader

Organization: Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Highest Degree Earned: PhD

Specialization: Forest Tree Physiology

Sector: Government

Work Website: http://mnspruce.ornl.gov

Personal Website: https://www.ornl.gov/staff-profile/paul-j-hanson

 

What was the most useful skill you learned in grad school that you use now?

Techniques for measuring gaseous flux from the atmosphere to vegetation and other natural surfaces.

 

How did you learn about your career options? Did you intend to end in your current position?

I followed job opportunities.  I never planned or expected to end in the job position that I am in.

 

What are the favorite parts of your job? Major challenges?

I enjoy the diversity of my job which includes hands-on field research, management of a large research project, and the ability to plan and foster a new idea.

 

What do you spend most of your work days doing?

Writing and communicating.

 

What challenges have you faced in your career path and what resources have you used to overcome them?

The major challenges have been to apply my skill set to the next important question as defined by public funding opportunities.

 

What is the best advice you could give a student interested in following your career path?

Have confidence in your strengths and work very hard.

 


 

Amy M. Iler

Current Position/Job Title: Conservation Scientist

Organization: Chicago Botanic Garden

Highest Degree Earned: PhD

Specialization: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Sector: Non-profit

Work Website: https://www.chicagobotanic.org/research/staff/iler

Personal Website: https://amymarieiler.weebly.com/

 

What was the most useful skill you learned in grad school that you use now?

The most useful skills I learned in grad school were how to write scientific papers and design experiments, which are  big components of my current position.

 

How did you learn about your career options? Did you intend to end in your current position?

I always hoped to work at a Non-profit that focused on ecological research.  When I saw a guest lecture by someone at the Nature Conservancy during grad school, I knew that was actually something that was available, instead of some vague notion that I had.  I considered and interviewed at many types of institutions: R1 schools, liberal arts schools, and Non-profits.  It is actually kind of funny that I ended up where I had hoped, but yes I did intend to end up here (after a circuitous journey)!

 

What are the favorite parts of your job? Major challenges?

The favorite parts of my job are thinking up new projects, writing proposals, doing fieldwork, and writing papers – basically doing research.  I also enjoy teaching, which I do as part of our joint graduate program with Northwestern University.  The major challenges are managing people and administrative work, which can take more time than you might hope. Securing funding is also always a challenge.

 

What do you spend most of your work days doing?

Research, mentoring graduate students, and lately, dealing with administrative challenges.

 

 

What challenges have you faced in your career path and what resources have you used to overcome them?

The two biggest resources for me were (1) seeking out great mentors and (2) setting realistic expectations (with which I still struggle, but even so this goes a long way).  It was challenging for me to find a permanent position that was a great fit.  In hindsight I spread myself too thin applying to every job that might possibly be construed as a good fit.  I think I wasted a lot of time doing that. My mentors really helped me to develop my job materials. I also had a baby two and a half months after starting my current position and had to teach for the first time right away after returning from maternity leave.  That was a lot to handle, but setting realistic expectations can really help you from feeling like you are underperforming (e.g., I will not have as much time as I want to prepare for class, but I can still do a good job – maybe not my very best, but still totally fine).

 

What is the best advice you could give a student interested in following your career path?

Be persistent, don’t compare yourself to others, and don’t get discouraged. It is easy to think of a career path as a straight line, but really there are all sorts of failures and offshoots with successes mixed in.

 


 

Tim Fullman

Current Position/Job Title: Senior Ecologist

Organization: The Wilderness Society

Highest Degree Earned: PhD

Specialization: Geography (spatial wildlife ecology)

Sector: Non-profit

Work Website: https://wilderness.org/bios/staff/tim-fullman-phd

Personal Website: N/A

 

What was the most useful skill you learned in grad school that you use now?

There were a number of important tools that I learned in grad school that both helped me get a job and which I continue to use regularly, things like R, ArcGIS, and remote sensing. The most useful skill I took away from grad school, however, was learning how to teach myself more and how to look for help. While I gained basic familiarity with the tools mentioned above in grad school, I am constantly reaching new challenges or pushing myself to apply these tools in new ways. Because of my graduate training I now have the confidence and ability to seek out the help and training that let me use these tools in new ways to tackle the problem that arise in my work.

 

How did you learn about your career options? Did you intend to end in your current position?

I didn’t expect to go into a career working for an NGO. As I neared the end of my PhD Academia was all I knew and was where I assumed I’d go. Our final year of our PhD, one of my advisers taught a course about seeking and applying for jobs. This covered many important skills like writing a CV, researching options, and being interviewed, but it was primarily geared toward academic career options. I applied for a few academic positions, then somewhat fell into a career as a Non-profit conservation ecologist, after seeing a job posting on the ecolog listserv that matched my interests and experience. Nearly four years into my Non-profit position, however, I love it and it has proved to be a great fit for me and my family.

 

What are the favorite parts of your job? Major challenges?

Since my undergraduate training I have wanted to do research that makes a difference for conservation and management. Being part of a conservation Non-profit group gives me a great avenue to pursue this. I know that the science I conduct will be used to help inform decisions and support protection of species and places that I care about deeply. Another great benefit is the culture of support within our organization. People genuinely seem to like each other and to want to work together to achieve our mission. It’s neat to have a strong science team, but to also get to interact with a wide array of non-scientists in the organization – policy people, communicators, philanthropy folks, administrators, etc. This has exposed me to a wider array of perspectives than I might have gotten in an academic department. Finally, the work-life balance in my position has been a major blessing to me and my family. While there are times where there is a lot that needs to be done in a short time, as with any organization, in general our organization believes that people should both work hard and play hard and supports staff in getting out to enjoy the landscapes in which we work or in seeking other avenues for rest and recreation.    One challenge is that working for what is, in essence, an advocacy organization could cause some to question the objectivity of my work. While my job is to conduct robust and independent science, there are still some who may view me as representing an “environmentalist agenda” and so question my science. I seek to overcome this by pursuing peer-reviewed publication of all our science, rather than simply releasing reports. This takes longer, but is a demonstration that other scientists have evaluated the work and its rigor. Furthermore, whenever possible I seek diverse collaborators, including partners with a very different position policy-wise, such as those in industry. When we can work together to produce scientific papers, it shows that the results stand on their own and do not reflect any given group’s agenda.    Another aspect that is both a strength and a challenge, is the reduced emphasis on some of the deliverables expected in Academia. While I pursue peer-reviewed publications, as described above, my performance is not judged on the number of papers I put out each year. This reduced pressure to constantly publish contributes to the work-life balance described above, but – combined with other responsibilities that academics may not have, like engaging with policymakers – also reduces my scientific productivity below that of many in an academic track. Similarly, I generally do not write grants, with fundraising handled by others in the organization. This provides great freedom to pursue research that is relevant and of interest without having to wait to see if we are awarded a grant, but it results in a modest research budget and may affect the metrics I am able to demonstrate if I apply for an academic job in the future.

 

What do you spend most of your work days doing?

My job primarily consists of two components: conducting new scientific research to inform conservation and management decisions and engaging with policy makers and agency staff to advocate for the use of the best-available science to inform decision making. This means that many days I’m at my computer analyzing data to better understand caribou movement and habitat use in relation to the environment, human activity, and energy development in northern Alaska. Other times, however, I’m in meetings with agency staff or stakeholders to discuss proposed management and how it incorporates science. I also will spend time drafting comments on environmental review processes like Environmental Impact Statements to summarize existing scientific information, identify data gaps and to suggest analyses that need to be conducted to robustly consider environmental concerns.

 

What challenges have you faced in your career path and what resources have you used to overcome them?

One challenge was access to papers. Our organization does not have subscriptions to journals, which can make keeping up with the latest research challenging. To overcome this I pursued and received an affiliate faculty position at a local university, which provides journal access. Nevertheless, this can still at times be a challenging issue.    Another challenge was a desire for more diverse mentorship. We have a great science team in our organization, but it is small. I had questions about the future of my career and of keeping some work-life balance that I really wanted an outside perspective on. The Ecological Society of America met this need through the Early Career Ecologist Mentorship Program run by the Early Career Ecology section. I was paired up with a leader in our field at one of the annual meetings and had the benefit of getting to learn from her and discuss my questions. I found this very helpful.

 

What is the best advice you could give a student interested in following your career path?

Scientific skills are definitely important and necessary, but so are other skills like writing and speaking. The ability to interact with people well and to write have led to several opportunities with me. Also, science is hard, develop a strong community who can support you as you step into this career.

 

 


 

Jeremie Fant

Current Position/Job Title: Molecular Ecologist

Organization: Chicago Botanic Gardens

Highest Degree Earned: PhD

Specialization: Genetics

Sector: Non-profit

Work Website: https://www.chicagobotanic.org/research/staff/fant

Personal Website: http://sites.northwestern.edu/fant-lab/

 

What was the most useful skill you learned in grad school that you use now?

The importance of good mentorship, networking and collaboration for succeeding in science. After my first year I realized my advisor and I were not a great match, and I was left to my own devices. I used that experience to expand my circle of mentors and collaborators which allowed me to complete my PhD and succeed.

 

How did you learn about your career options? Did you intend to end in your current position?

I learned a lot about my career options long my academic journey. I did an applied science major, for undergraduate, in part because I believed it would be more valuable for getting a job. Not happy with the options I saw, I did a variety of internships and volunteering, especially at places that weren’t obviously academic, such as Botanic Gardens and Zoos. From this, I learned that there were possibilities outside my narrow idea of careers. Just being aware of these avenues worked well for me. Although I was much more academic focused in graduate school, by my second post-doc I decided this was not my ideal route, but due to my broad search image, I was able to identify alternative options and quickly found my current job. Interestingly this job has become more academic but it has been more on my terms.

 

What are the favorite parts of your job? Major challenges?

My two favorite part of my job is working with students and the diversity of tasks. My job includes a wide variety of task, some academic and some not. This diversity of jobs can be hard to juggle but does allow great ability to tailor my work schedule which I like. The other component I like is sharing my enthusiasm for my area of interest with students (and the public).

 

What do you spend most of your work days doing?

I spend a lot time managing people and projects – but unfortunately not doing research.

 

What challenges have you faced in your career path and what resources have you used to overcome them?

I think my worst challenge is Imposter Syndrome – or lack of confidence in my own my abilities. Having gone to a good graduate school, I often felt I was not as good as my peers. I learnt a little too late that many other people felt the same or were overly confident in their abilities. With time, I noticed that others, including some of my mentors, valued my opinion, which increased my confidence. Once I became aware that this thing had a name, Imposter syndrome,  I was better able to manage these negative thoughts.

 

What is the best advice you could give a student interested in following your career path?

Pursue things that interest you, not just what is “the right thing”. In my case, I feel that my career trajectory was linear – but in reality I know it was not. However I think the reason it felt straight forward was that I was always looking for things that excited me, so for me that was native plants, genetics, gardens and conservation, hence a job at a Botanic Garden seemed an obvious ending point. However I only learnt of this option because I explore all those areas at different times along my career path in different ways.

 


 

Mason Sieges

Current Position/Job Title: Research Scientist

Organization: Ducks Unlimited, Inc

Highest Degree Earned: Masters

Specialization: Wildlife Ecology

Sector: Non-profit

Work Website: ducks.org

 

What was the most useful skill you learned in grad school that you use now?

Critical thinking: do we need to conduct this study? Does it adhere to scientific rigor?

 

How did you learn about your career options? Did you intend to end in your current position?

Trial and error – I worked a lot of temporary jobs before I focused on shorebird and waterfowl conservation.   I did not intend to end in my current position, but I really like my job now!

 

What are the favorite parts of your job? Major challenges?

Working with undergraduate researchers, assisting them in the field.   Low budget/equipment breaking.

 

What do you spend most of your work days doing?

Coordinating research within Ducks Unlimited and with other agencies.

 

What challenges have you faced in your career path and what resources have you used to overcome them?

Being away from my family – I chose to travel because I felt it was necessary for success. Going back to (grad) school after working for so many (8 years) as a technician.   My family has always been supportive of my career, and the friends I made along the way have become like a second family. Networking is key.

 

What is the best advice you could give a student interested in following your career path? Be willing to travel!

 


 

Marcia DeLonge

Current Position/Job Title: Senior Scientist, Agroecologist

Organization: Union of Concerned Scientists

Highest Degree Earned: PhD

Specialization: Environmental Science

Sector: Non-profit

Work Website: https://www.ucsusa.org/about/staff/staff/marcia-delonge.html#.Wx_-AUgvzmE

Personal Website: N/A

 

What was the most useful skill you learned in grad school that you use now?

Learning how to learn new things, at a high level, and quickly! That, and practicing/learning how to speak as an expert, when surrounded by other experts, while keeping calm, collected, and confident.

 

How did you learn about your career options? Did you intend to end in your current position?

I was fortunate during my MS, PhD, and postdoc to gain a variety of experiences working with different stakeholders, including Government, Non-profits, etc., so I knew there were a lot of neat jobs out there for scientists.  I made the most of those opportunities to get a better sense for what career paths might be a good fit for me.

 

What are the favorite parts of your job? Major challenges?

I love getting to work with so many people with different career paths, backgrounds, training, etc.  It’s also a challenge, but it’s very satisfying and I’ve learned a lot.

 

What do you spend most of your work days doing?

Every day/week/month is a little different, but it tend to be a blend of reading, writing (blogs, reports, papers), research, team work, and outreach (talks, panels, workshops, etc).

 

What challenges have you faced in your career path and what resources have you used to overcome them?

 

What is the best advice you could give a student interested in following your career path?

Find little ways to branch out and explore new things!  Even just a little of this can open big doors.

 


 

Alycia Crall

Current Position/Job Title: Science Educator and Evaluator

Organization: Battelle

Highest Degree Earned: PhD

Specialization: Interdisciplinary environmental studies

Sector: Non-profit

Work Website: www.neonscience.org

Personal Website: N/A

 

What was the most useful skill you learned in grad school that you use now?

An interdisciplinary approach to my education and research (natural and social sciences) has really supported my career path.

 

How did you learn about your career options? Did you intend to end in your current position?

My husband attended medical school while I was seeking employment. When you are limited to where you can look for jobs, it narrows your options tremendously. Although I originally intended to work in Academia, no positions were available where we moved. So, I had to look for other jobs, and I’m glad I did. The positions I’ve taken throughout my career, as I’ve moved with my husband, have provided diverse experiences that have allowed me to gain knowledge and skills beyond what I received through my formal education.

 

What are the favorite parts of your job? Major challenges?

The favorite part of my job is also one of the major challenges. I enjoy being challenged to take on projects that may be somewhat outside my existing knowledge or skill set. This allows me to gain new knowledge and skills and directly apply them in my work. The more projects I take on, the more I learn what it takes for each one to be successful.

 

What do you spend most of your work days doing?

It changes, depending on the project I am working on at that time.

 

What challenges have you faced in your career path and what resources have you used to overcome them?

My biggest challenge was being geographically limited to where I could work, which required me to take a different career path than I originally planned. I was disappointed that I could not jump directly into a faculty position when I finished my PhD and postdoc programs, but it forced me to explore other career options that I had not previously considered. By doing this, I realized that I preferred doing work outside of Academia and have not looked back. These diverse career experiences have made me more competitive for jobs requiring an interdisciplinary skill set that has been applied in multiple contexts.

 

What is the best advice you could give a student interested in following your career path?

Be open to the career path that is laid out in front of you even if it diverges from the path you wanted to take.

 


 

Sarah Treanor Bois

Current Position/Job Title: Director of Research and Education

Organization: Linda Loring Nature Foundation

Highest Degree Earned: PhD

Specialization: Plant Ecology

Sector: Non-profit

Work Website: www.llnf.org

Personal Website: N/A

 

What was the most useful skill you learned in grad school that you use now?

Graduate school was a “safe place” to fail. I learned so much about setting up my own research experiments and finding out what worked and what didn’t. It seemed like there was more room for that type of learning in graduate school.  Working across state boundaries with multiple state agencies and other academic institutions was also a lesson in permitting and permissions.

 

How did you learn about your career options? Did you intend to end in your current position?

I had worked for Non-profit conservation organizations prior to entering graduate school, so I knew the pathway. I did intend to go into Non-profit work and am happy with my current position. I was told by an academic advisor that once I left Academia I could never go back. He may have been right, but I hope to someday have an academic tie if not return completely.

 

What are the favorite parts of your job? Major challenges?

I do like that I am not beholden to the academic 3 or 5 year cycle. I can have a field experiment run with the intention of it being long-term. I can publish (or at least submit) when the research seems ready, not just the least publishable units. A challenge with all of that is that I am beholden to a board of directors, so I have to work with them to understand my motivations and how it serves the organization’s mission.

 

What do you spend most of your work days doing?

Organizing research, education programs, and supervising staff. I have to be careful about carving out time for data wranglign and manuscript writing.

 

What challenges have you faced in your career path and what resources have you used to overcome them?

Working at a Non-profit, I am THE scientist on staff. I created my own advisory network to bounce ideas off of. I realized that I missed having a lab group to toss around ideas with.

 

What is the best advice you could give a student interested in following your career path?

Think about your quality of life and what you woudl be happy doing on a daily basis. Where do you want to live. I find that Non-profit work allows me to have a more balanced family life than I felt I did in Academia.

 


 

Doria R. Gordon

Current Position/Job Title: Lead Senior Scientist

Organization: Environmental Defense Fund

Highest Degree Earned: PhD

Specialization: Plant Ecology

Sector: Non-profit

Work Website: https://www.edf.org/people/doria-gordon

Personal Website: N/A

 

What was the most useful skill you learned in grad school that you use now?

Critical thinking, experimental design, critical review of the literature.

 

How did you learn about your career options? Did you intend to end in your current position?

I was interested in a research position in a conservation NGO from the start. My first position was with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) as Ecologist for the Florida Chapter. I stayed with TNC for 25 years in a variety of scientific capacities. However, I found that my position became increasingly management-focused, and I wanted to get back to the science. As a result, I made the switch to Environmental Defense Fund, working in the Office of the Chief Scientist. While there are many similarities about working in the NGO sector, it has also been interesting to experience the difference between organizations and to work at the national, rather than state level. Overall, I really feel that working in applied conservation in an NGO has made for a tremendously satisfying career and I have never looked back.

 

What are the favorite parts of your job? Major challenges?

I really enjoy working with colleagues who are all focused on addressing environmental problems at scale. I do a lot of literature review and helping to increase the scientific capacity of our organization. So I am continuously learning and helping programs expand their scientific basis. The challenges are not a surprise – there are so many threats to our environment, at such large scales, and with so many drivers that it’s challenging to conceptualize of effective approaches to mitigate those threats. But I would not want to do anything else than working at the science/policy interface to be a part of the solution.

 

What do you spend most of your work days doing?

Every day is different! I do spend a lot of time in video conferences with project teams or individuals. But I also have time to read the literature and develop framing concepts for our work, summarize critical advancements, and conduct my own research.

 

What challenges have you faced in your career path and what resources have you used to overcome them?

I think the major challenges have been time and resources – not different from most careers and difficult to overcome. More specifically, I have found that I need different expertise than I obtained in graduate school as fields have advanced (e.g., GIS, R). For those I primarily rely on great collaborators!

 

What is the best advice you could give a student interested in following your career path?

Your academic work will give you strong technical skills. Even more than in Academia, work at an NGO requires strong communication skills (particularly in translating the science to a less technical audience), social and emotional intelligence, and leadership skills like working effectively in teams and facilitation. Find ways to increase your experience with these skills as well.

 


Sam L. Davis

Current Position/Job Title: Research Manager

Organization: Dogwood Alliance

Highest Degree Earned: PhD

Specialization: Ecology / Plant-Insect Interactions

Sector: Non-profit

Work Website: http://www.dogwoodalliance.org

Personal Website: http://www.samldavisphd.com

 

What was the most useful skill you learned in grad school that you use now?

The most useful skill I honed in grad school was to be able to think quickly and logically. I can draw logical conclusions and am able to argue a case almost immediately.     The most marketable skills I gained in grad school were tech related. I picked up bits of graphic design, web development, video editing, and storytelling, all of which are essential when transitioning out of the hard sciences and into the nonprofit world.     Finally, a good knowledge of stats has been intimidating and a positive selling point for most hiring folks. They see stats and think “oh that person is smart” — which can help sell you a bit better.

 

How did you learn about your career options? Did you intend to end in your current position?

Like most grad students, I believed that I was in the professor pipeline. I wasn’t going to be one of the many who dropped out of the career. But in my postdoc, I was more or less miserable — not because of the work, but just because I was burned out of Academia. So I decided to look around and ended up applying to a few environmental nonprofits. Full disclosure: I also applied to statistician jobs at healthcare and agricultural companies. I was not picky. I was desperate for change. Dogwood Alliance decided to take a chance on me, and so far, it has worked out very well. Knowing what I now know, I plan to stay in the nonprofit world for a little longer before considering consulting or a move to upper management.

 

What are the favorite parts of your job? Major challenges?

I really enjoy working with folks who know the importance of conservation for the future. Most folks in the nonprofit world are overly passionate and driven to see change and impacts from what they’re doing. I’ve gained a lot of respect for organizers and even the whole petition-signing process, which I was skeptical of before.

 

What do you spend most of your work days doing?

I spend about 40% of my work week in meetings. The rest of the time, I’m creating content, editing, designing, or otherwise participating in collaborative documents.

 

What challenges have you faced in your career path and what resources have you used to overcome them?

Learning to work with people has been a challenge. We’ve hit a few bumps in road with that, had some miscommunications that needed to be smoothed over. I relied a lot on my past experiences of dealing with academics as well as looked to mentors in my current field for advice on how to handle situations.

 

What is the best advice you could give a student interested in following your career path?

Develop your soft skills. Take a storytelling class. Learn wordpress or do freecodecamp. Take a marketing class. Literally do anything that will separate you from “desperate academics with no real life skills” — and you will succeed.

 


 

Rebecca Swab

Current Position/Job Title: Director of Restoration Ecology

Organization: The Wilds

Highest Degree Earned: PhD

Specialization: Plant responses to climate change

Sector: Non-profit

Work Website: www.thewilds.org

Personal Website: N/A

 

What was the most useful skill you learned in grad school that you use now?

Research design.

 

How did you learn about your career options? Did you intend to end in your current position?

I sought out alternative paths to Academia while in grad school and made a point to connect with anyone I came across in a non-academic job to ask them about their career path.  I wanted a non-academic job such as the one I have.

 

What are the favorite parts of your job? Major challenges?

My favorite parts are having a direct impact on conservation and being able to do a large variety of activities.  Major challenges are funding and finding/making time to write publications.

 

What do you spend most of your work days doing?

A little bit of everything! No 2 days are the same.  Sometimes I’m planting trees, sometimes I’m doing statistical analyses, sometimes I’m answering emails.

 

What challenges have you faced in your career path and what resources have you used to overcome them?

Finding a non-academic job which I was qualified for was a challenge, but I was lucky enough to get one relatively quickly.

 

What is the best advice you could give a student interested in following your career path?

If you need hands on experiences, volunteer and make the time to get those experiences to broaden your resume.

 


 

Elizabeth Ellwood

Current Position/Job Title: Reesarch Fellow

Organization: La Brea Tar Pits and Museum

Highest Degree Earned: PhD

Specialization: Ecology

Sector: Non-profit

Work Website: tarpits.org

Personal Website: libbyellwood.space

 

What was the most useful skill you learned in grad school that you use now?

The art of collaboration.

 

How did you learn about your career options? Did you intend to end in your current position?

In my doctoral research I visited natural history collections to gather historic data related to plant phenology. This exposed me to the world of museums, the wealth of information they contain, and career paths available in this field. I did not intend to be in my current position.

 

What are the favorite parts of your job? Major challenges?

I enjoy being at an institution where there are always new discoveries, new challenges, and new ideas. Many people aren’t aware of the vast amount of research that happens “behind the scenes” at natural history museums. The museum community is extremely active in research, is highly collaborative, and engages with timely questions at local to global scales.

 

What do you spend most of your work days doing?

I spend a lot of time developing and implementing citizen science projects, working on manuscripts, traveling to attend workshops and conferences, and, of course, keeping up with email correspondences.

 

What challenges have you faced in your career path and what resources have you used to overcome them?

Funding and permanent positions can be hard to come by. I have been open to collaborating with partners on a variety of projects, taking on short-term projects, and working on funding from ‘soft’ money. I also regularly find myself working with taxonomic experts in fields I am not familiar with and have learned to do quick research on the fly, ask questions, and keep in mind that we each bring to the table unique and valuable skills and knowledge.

 

What is the best advice you could give a student interested in following your career path?

The best way to pursue a job in a museum, or with natural history collections, is to familiarize yourself with them by collaborating with museum researchers, taking on museum-based research yourself, and applying for positions at museums (including volunteer positions). I also recommend working with the wealth of online collections data in a wide variety of ecological fields and educational activities.

 


 

Clifford Duke

Current Position/Job Title: Director of Science Programs at ESA

Organization: Ecological Society of America

Highest Degree Earned: PhD

Specialization: Botany (formally; marine biology more accurately)

Sector: Non-profit

Work Website: esa.org/science

Personal Website: N/A

 

What was the most useful skill you learned in grad school that you use now?

The ability to quickly digest and summarize new information. This was a skill that I actually developed when I was working on a Master’s degree in public policy, which I did at the end of my Ph.D. work.

 

How did you learn about your career options? Did you intend to end in your current position?

After grad school, I had several postdoctoral positions, the final one being at the Harvard School of Public Health. At Harvard, I started learning more about consulting, and from there began a 13-year career in environmental consulting. I learned about my current position at ESA through an ad in the Washington Post, as I was interested in the nonprofit world. (I have been at ESA since 2003.)

 

What are the favorite parts of your job? Major challenges?

(1) ESA is a great place to work, with wonderful colleagues and lots of interesting people to meet. (2) I get to work on a variety of projects that help build capacity among ecologists and links between the research and management communities.    The major challenge of my job is that it depends on outside funding in the form of grants, cooperative agreements, and contracts.

 

What do you spend most of your work days doing?

Project development and supervision (of a 2-person staff plus intern), grants management, proposal writing. I am a scientist-administrator.

 

What challenges have you faced in your career path and what resources have you used to overcome them?

Early on, when I transitioned from postdoctoral research to environmental consulting, I needed to learn a new set of skills in financial and personnel management. These were not things I had learned in either my PhD or Master’s programs. Fortunately, my first supervisor (and later ones) helped me develop those skills, which were readily transferable to my position at ESA.

 

What is the best advice you could give a student interested in following your career path?

Learn a field of science in detail, but pick up additional training in project management, Business planning, and related areas wherever you can find them.

 


 

Chris Foote

Current Position/Job Title: Editor in Chief, Ecology and Evolution

Organization: Wiley

Highest Degree Earned: PhD

Specialization: Evolutionary Biology

Sector: Business

Work Website: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/20457758

Personal Website: N/A

 

What was the most useful skill you learned in grad school that you use now?

As a journal editor, I should probably say the ability to critically assess a scientific paper. In reality though, learning how to write nice emails has proven just as important.

 

How did you learn about your career options? Did you intend to end in your current position?

Initially, like I suspect most PhDs/post-docs, I fully intended to stay in research and become a professor, with no thoughts of alternatives; a career in publishing was never even on my radar. Having by chance seen an advert for a position as a journal editor, I researched the idea more and suspected it might be more suited to my skills and temperament than a career in research – and likely would have a much higher chance of permanent employment!

 

What are the favorite parts of your job? Major challenges?

The variety. As a journal editor I get to read papers on multiple interesting topics every day and am involved in many different projects – this is quite a contrast to my experience in research. The major challenge probably comes directly out of this – being involved in so many different things can sometimes leave you feeling you never have enough time to do them all justice.

 

What do you spend most of your work days doing?

Writing emails… but also reading papers, inviting reviewers to asses them, etc. A lot of time is also devoted to talking to our Editorial Boards, authors who have submitted papers and so on. Its also important to try and keep up to date with the research literature in general. Blessedly, despite working in the Business world, I spend surprisingly little time in meetings. And, no, editors don’t do copy-editing (a common misconception I find) – our job is to decide what journals publish, which means the peer review process is our main focus.

 

What challenges have you faced in your career path and what resources have you used to overcome them?

Initially the somewhat opaque nature of job titles in the publishing industry was a challenge; who knew that an Assistant Editor and an Editorial Assistant are such different things? Getting advice from people already working in the industry would have been helpful when making the first step into publishing.  I also had to accept that working on journals some way from my own research background was necessary in order to earn experience, before I was able to get a job working on ecology/evolution journals.

 

What is the best advice you could give a student interested in following your career path?

Think about what kind of job you would actually enjoy – being an editor on Nature is a very different job to being an editor on PLoS One for example. Talk to people already working in publishing, in particular to find about about the different jobs that exist – you would probably be surprised as to the varied jobs that exist in publishing for someone with a bit of scientific training!

 


 

Matt Otto

Current Position/Job Title: Senior Ecologist

Organization: Corblu Ecology Group

Highest Degree Earned: Masters

Specialization: Biology

Sector: Business

Work Website: http://www.corblu.com/

Personal Website: N/A

 

What was the most useful skill you learned in grad school that you use now?

The most useful skill I learned was the knowledge I gained on plant identification.  I am currently our companies go to for plant identification and have been placed in charge of most of our more rigorous plant studies.

 

How did you learn about your career options? Did you intend to end in your current position?

I mostly learned of my career options through my own internet research.  I original goal from the moment I got my bachelors was to get a permanent position with a federal agency.  After no getting anything but seasonal, even after attaining my Masters of Science, I decided I needed to expand my search.  Found my current employer on the Society of Wetland Scientist job board and have been here ever since.

 

What are the favorite parts of your job? Major challenges?

The favorite part of my job is the field work.  A good mix for me is 80% field and 20% office.  My two favorite jokes are 1) the worst day in the field is better than the best day in the office; and 2) when asked what I do for a living I answer “I play in the woods”.

 

What do you spend most of your work days doing?

Depends on the day.  Office days are writing reports and working on GIS data.  Field days are extremely variable as our company does anything from Fish surveys to Wetland and Stream Delineations with anything in between.

 

What challenges have you faced in your career path and what resources have you used to overcome them?

As mentioned above, my goal for the longest time was to get a permanent position in the federal Government.  At some point I made a transition to permanent was more important then federal.  I can’t name a resource that helped me overcome any challenges.  The best I can say is, if you know you want to be in the biological field, be ready to move to where ever you need to to make it happen.

 

What is the best advice you could give a student interested in following your career path?

As mentioned earlier, if you want a career in the biological sciences be ready to move to obtain it.  I never thought I would live in Georgia, but here I am and I love it.

 


 

Laura J. Six

Current Position/Job Title: Plant Ecologist

Organization: Weyerhaeuser

Highest Degree Earned: PhD

Specialization: Plant community dynamics in managed forests

Sector: Business

Work Website: www.weyerhaeuser.com

Personal Website: N/A

 

What was the most useful skill you learned in grad school that you use now?

Statistics and technical writing.

 

How did you learn about your career options? Did you intend to end in your current position?

My original position with the company was a summer internship. I liked the field work and continued after the summer on data entry. I was able to get involved in new research projects and plant species and community monitoring, and my experience as an intern eventually led to graduate school and a permanent position.

 

What are the favorite parts of your job? Major challenges?

Variety – I like the mix of project initiation, data collection, analysis, and writing. And I like that there are always multiple projects going on. The challenge I face most often is networking with the right people and knowing who to contact (internally and externally) especially with all the change in Weyerhaeuser and the timber industry in general the last several years.

 

What do you spend most of your work days doing?

Coordinating field work and writing pieces of research manuscripts.

 

What challenges have you faced in your career path and what resources have you used to overcome them?

 

What is the best advice you could give a student interested in following your career path?

Know that Academia is not the only option, and be open minded about internships and similar experiences – you never know their full potential!

 


 

Theodore Taylor

Current Position/Job Title: Teacher, Bangor High School

Organization: Bangor High School

Highest Degree Earned: Masters

Specialization: Geology

Sector: Academia

Work Website: https://bangorhigh.bangorschools.net

Personal Website: N/A

 

What was the most useful skill you learned in grad school that you use now?

Problem solving – which comes with learning how to be resourceful.  Finding answers to questions is not always easy, and usually requires taking several alternative, but connected routes.

 

How did you learn about your career options? Did you intend to end in your current position?

From companies that interviewed at my graduate school.  No, I had no intention in graduate school that I would now be a teacher in public, secondary, education.

 

What are the favorite parts of your job? Major challenges?

Favorite: Engaging the students in science.  Research projects.   Challenges: Getting the funding to fully support the learning and research.  The AP “conundrum” (content vs. process).

 

What do you spend most of your work days doing?

Teaching in the classroom. Preparing the next lesson.

 

What challenges have you faced in your career path and what resources have you used to overcome them?

I made a significant career change from consulting with a science and engineering firm, to education about 18 years ago.  After 17 years of consulting, I realized this was something I did not want to continue for another 20 years, so I made the change.  I had to use my own resourcefulness to make this change.  I have not looked back.  Both consulting and education are rewarding careers, I have been happy with both, but am very glad I was able to make the change when I did.

 

What is the best advice you could give a student interested in following your career path?

Open as many doors as you possibly can by participating in as many different forms of experiences as you can.  Do this in an attempt to find what it is you are passionate about.  What ever it is you are doing, be the best.

 


 

Carmen R Cid

Current Position/Job Title: Dean – School of Arts and Sciences

Organization: Eastern Connecticut State University

Highest Degree Earned: PhD

Specialization: Plant Ecology

Sector: Academia

Work Website: http://www.easternct.edu/artsandsciences/

Personal Website: N/A

 

What was the most useful skill you learned in grad school that you use now?

Networking skills at annual conference meetings.

 

How did you learn about your career options? Did you intend to end in your current position?

I was recruited into administrative dean position — had not thought about it from the start but my work in recruitment and retention as an ecologist was good preparation.

 

What are the favorite parts of your job? Major challenges?

Being able to provide resources to enhance academic programs, including faculty positions — developing interdisciplinary collaborations – supporting students in their career development – challenges involve getting people to work together on projects.

 

What do you spend most of your work days doing?

Facilitating academic program development, faculty mentoring and undergraduate student research projects.

 

What challenges have you faced in your career path and what resources have you used to overcome them?

Getting older faculty in the department to appreciate the differences in ecology teaching and research from other areas of biology — using ESA annual conference resources to validate my work — also making use of ESA mentors and ESA literature to support my work.

 

What is the best advice you could give a student interested in following your career path?

Become active in ESA and use ESA resources to validate your work — continue making use of all your talents (including people skills) and collaborate across departments.

 


 

Claire Fortunel

Current Position/Job Title: Research Scientist (Chargé de Recherche CR1)

Organization: Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, France

Highest Degree Earned: PhD

Specialization: Population Biology and Ecology

Sector: Other (Academia + Government)

Work Website: amap.cirad.fr/en/index.php

Personal Website: cfortunel.wordpress.com

 

What was the most useful skill you learned in grad school that you use now?

Before grad school, my work schedule was mostly structured around classes and small research projects. In grad school, I was really excited to schedule yearly field and lab experiments to test my research questions. But being in Academia also meant making time for meetings, training, teaching, etc. My first field season proved quite challenging because I was teaching at the same time. Figuring out how to manage my time efficiently became critical to balance and achieve my goals. I have found setting priorities and budgeting time accordingly to be most useful. These organization skills have proven most useful to keep being productive as my time gets more constricted with each career step.

 

How did you learn about your career options? Did you intend to end in your current position?

I did my undergraduate research at Uppsala University in Sweden, where I learned about academic careers. I then conducted my graduate research at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in France, where I interacted with both professors and Government researchers. As a student generally motivated by both the pursuit and sharing of knowledge, I considered both positions as career options. And later as a postdoc, I applied for both.

 

What are the favorite parts of your job? Major challenges?

My job title at the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD) literally translates as “entrusted with research”. This is a permanent research position, with no teaching load. Having a flexible schedule allows me to take on both short-term and long-term research projects, with or without extensive fieldwork or modelling developments. The challenge is then to carefully select which projects to commit to and not disperse research efforts on too many different projects.

 

What do you spend most of your work days doing?

I dedicate most of my work days to developing the research I am most excited about. As in any academic position, this entails designing research questions, writing grants, collecting data in the field and in the lab, analyzing data, communicating the findings in papers and at conferences, developing collaborations and training students. Maybe one aspect that is more specific to this particular job is that, because the majority of French research institutes are organized around structuring research themes, this work can be done in close collaboration with colleagues across departments. This might translate in more time spent in meetings, but allows borrowing from the many, interdisciplinary strengths in the broader scientific community.

 

What challenges have you faced in your career path and what resources have you used to overcome them?

My research combines field-based observations, experimental manipulations, and statistical modelling. Developing an independent research with strong experimental and quantitative components required time, which may have set me on a slower career path. But this also helped me to recognize when I needed to reach out to the broader scientific community for help and allowed me to build durable collaborative networks in both experimental and quantitative approaches.

 

What is the best advice you could give a student interested in following your career path?

The annual hiring procedure for researchers in French public research institutions such as the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD) is not conducted by individual departments, but run at the national level. A hiring committee, composed of professors and researchers from various universities and research institutions, reviews the application material of the candidates and invites a few dozens for a short interview (generally less than 30 min total for the job talk and the questions). This means the committee has limited time to get to know each candidate, so it is important to learn how to best communicate your research to a broad scientific community. I have found favoring common words over field-specific jargon, without betraying the underlying science, to be most effective for a compelling narrative. These science communication skills are overall appreciated at every step of your career, from when you give talks to when you submit grant proposals.


 

Lorinda S. Bullington

Current Position/Job Title: Microbial Ecology Researcher and Bioinformatics Analyst

Organization: MPG Ranch

Highest Degree Earned: Masters

Specialization: Molecular Ecology

Sector: Other (Private Sector)

Work Website: www.mpgranch.com, www.mpgnorth.com

Personal Website: N/A

 

What was the most useful skill you learned in grad school that you use now?

Multivariate and pattern recognition statistics.

 

How did you learn about your career options? Did you intend to end in your current position?

My current position was originally University affiliated. As an undergraduate student I talked to multiple professors and started working for free in different labs to get familiar with their research. This brought me in contact with my current employer who eventually started paying me for lab work and now my own research.

 

What are the favorite parts of your job? Major challenges?

My current position allows me to have a lot of independence in the lines of research I choose to pursue. I feel very fortunate to have this freedom in my job, but it also requires a lot of self motivation and drive.

 

What do you spend most of your work days doing?

Writing, bioinformatics and data analysis with a few days in the field every month.

 

What challenges have you faced in your career path and what resources have you used to overcome them?

Statistics and analyzing big data can be somewhat of a knowledge gap in conservation ecology. I focused on these things in grad school and now specialize in data analysis at my current job.

 

What is the best advice you could give a student interested in following your career path?

Network! There are a lot of job opportunities out there, but you are more likely to get the job you want if people already know your face.