Major at CSB/SJU: Biology
Graduation Year: 2009
Graduate School: University of Colorado- Denver (Fall 2010)
Please give a brief description of your current position:
I am about to begin Graduate School with the intention of getting my Master's of Science in Biology at the University of Colorado-Denver. I just finished a 6 month Conservation and Land Management internship at the North Carolina Botanical Gardens, funded by the Chicago Botanical Gardens. Here, my job consisted of traveling around the Southeastern region of the country and collecting seeds of plants that are ecologically important for a government program called Seeds of Success. For example, Venus Fly Traps only grow in the inner coastal region of North Carolina and bits of South Carolina. The population is in decline due to land development and poaching. We collected Fly Trap seeds and sent them to a seed bank in Colorado where they will be stored until the species can be protected. I also got to work on other conservation and restoration projects like plant rescues and endangered species monitoring. I had the opportunity to work with so many different government agencies including the Forest Service, Park Service, Fish and Wildlife, and the NC Coastal Reserve. Another part of the job consisted of starting a nationwide data bank for all these plant seeds collected which included everything about the species and its location. Something like this has never been done before on a national scale, making all species data easily accessible.
What path did you follow to arrive at your current job?
I just happened to come across the link for the position on the internet. I knew I wanted to do some work in the conservation field and was interested in working with a government agency. I was also looking to find work out of state. I wanted to experience something new. I probably googled "conservation internship" and the program, which hires nearly 70 interns every season and sends them to government offices all over the country, turned out to be a perfect fit. After applying, I had two phone interviews: one with the Chicago Botanical Gardens and one with the North Carolina Botanical Gardens.
What advice/suggestions would you have for students who might be interested in your career?
I get the idea that persistence is very important in this field. There is high competition for government positions right now so it is important to have some prior experience, but if you look, there is stuff out there. In asking others how they became introduced to the field, they entered from having an internship or doing seasonal work for an office which is often available. Everything is still extremely new to me, so I can't speak straight from experience, but I have been told that a Master's degree is a really good idea if you want to have a more permanent position. Everyone I have met in the field of conservation ecology has been extremely passionate about what they do. Certainly a natural curiosity and a desire to answer questions about the world are essential.
What is the most satisfying/rewarding part of your job?
It is very rewarding working on projects with the intention of further understanding the way our environment is changing. Part of my thesis at graduate school is dealing with the impact of climate change on high elevation ecosystems. The long term effects of climate change are still very unknown and it feels good to be adding to the research pool.
What activities/experiences were helpful at CSB/SJU (and elsewhere) in preparation for this career?
My advisor recommended that I apply for one of the summer research positions available at CSB/SJU in order to get experience with researching. This was probably the best thing I could have done. In reality, if you don't want to go into teaching, most of the jobs in this field are research driven so it is really important to get experience in some sort of research project. I was required to come up with my own research proposal and write a full paper, which I had the opportunity of presenting at the National Conference of Undergraduate Research. If you decide to go to graduate school and write a thesis, the process is very similar to this. Conducting an independent research project, writing a paper, and presenting your research is what it is all about.