Year of Graduation: 2009
Graduate School: Master of Science, Integrative Biology, University of Colorado-Denver
Current Position: Field Ecologist, National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON).
Please give a brief description of your current position:
I currently work as a field ecologist for the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON). Within the organization, I work as an instrumentation technician that maintains and monitors ecological and climatological sensors mounted on towers at various field sites in northern Wisconsin. NEON’s towers extend above the forest canopy and into the soil, measuring the physical and chemical properties of atmosphere-related processes like weather and ecosystem gas exchange.
What path did you follow to arrive at your current job?
After graduating from CSB with a degree in Biology, I took a 9-month Conservation and Land Management (CLM) internship with the North Carolina Botanical Garden and Chicago Botanic Garden. These experiences further enforced my desire to pursue a career in environmental science and ecology. I attended graduate school at the University of Colorado-Denver and received a M.S. in Integrative Biology. I then began working for NEON as a seasonal employee in Boulder, CO and transferred to a full-time position when the new office in northern Wisconsin opened in 2014. One of the things I like about working for NEON is that I’ve been able to try different roles within the company. I originally began as a botanist and later transitioned over to instrumentation.
What advice/suggestions would you have for students who might be interested in your career?
I recommend trying different seasonal jobs before committing to a specific path. Graduate school is often required for full-time positions and competition in this field is tough. Before attending graduate school, it can be helpful to figure out what you want your end goal to be. Your path to success could change significantly based on whether you want to go to into academia and research, land and resource management, or environmental consultation.
What is the most satisfying/rewarding part of your job?
It is very rewarding to work on projects with the intention of further understanding the way our environment is changing. I also enjoy the challenge and trouble-shooting aspect of my job—trying to determine why a sensor went down or why a data stream looks irregular. I get to learn and play with new climate technology every day.
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 research. This was probably the best thing I could have done. I was required to come up with my own research proposal and write a full paper, which I had the opportunity to present at the National Conference of Undergraduate Research.