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Category: Interviews (page 1 of 2)

Kathy Barker: Scientist, Writer, Activist

When I was a new scientist starting work in the lab I purchased the book At the Bench, by Kathy Barker. It became a well-read manual I referred to when questions arose about living and working in the laboratory. As I gained experience over the years, moving into more responsibility overseeing high school and undergraduate interns,  I bestowed upon them this same book for reference and peace of mind.

I had no idea that nearly a decade later I would have the chance to get to know the author.

We met at an event co-hosted by the Association for Women in Science (AWIS) and Hutch United at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.  There was to be a discussion on Social Media and Activism in Science with distinguished panelists :

  • Kathy Barker, PhD –Scientist, Author, ScientistsAsCitizens.org, @ScienceActivist
  • Jennifer Davison –Program Manager, Urban@UW, @JenEDavison
  • Sharona Gordon, PhD –Professor, UW Department of Physiology & Biophysics, @ProfSharona

As a young scientist active on social media, I wanted to hear the opinions of more advanced researchers and the voice they use online. (If you want to know my opinions, read this post.)

Kathy was the first person I met before entering the building. It was dark and raining, as per usual in Seattle, and we were both lost. Together we ventured in to what we thought was the correct building and as the house lights illuminated our faces I saw she had a streak of red dyed hair.  As someone who sometimes worries about whether or not I’ll be taken seriously with my turquoise dyed hair, I was glad to see another scientist rocking the look.

Kathy has a PhD in microbiology and spent time as an assistant professor in the Laboratory of Cell Physiology and Immunology at Rockefeller. She currently consults and writes on science management and communicating science to society. She has authored two books At the Bench and At the Helm.

Kathy gladly agreed to participate in an interview to share with us her diverse set of experiences and gained wisdom:

What is your earliest memory of being hooked by science?

Volcanoes, animals, rockets, and infectious disease. There was scant information around in those pre-web days, but I devoured all the books in our little library.

What did you study during undergrad? Did you know what you wanted to study before beginning?

I was an English major for 2 years of college, with no interest in science. After dropping out for a few years to travel and work, I returned to college and got hooked by a tour in a basic biology class of a scanning electron microscope and a view of an insect eye. I ended up doing a double major in English and Biology.

What was your first science-related job?

Breeding mice as an undergraduate. I should have thought more carefully about animal use at that time, for it troubled me for the 4-5 years before I realized I should just say no to animal work.

How did you decide to go for a higher degree?

Entropy.

Did you have any preconceived notions about science, or scientists, and did that change once you explored your career in science?

Not knowing any scientists until I was in my 20’s meant I had a cartoon image of what a scientist was, and didn’t realize the absolute power I had to make much more informed and better choices. No one can tell you how to be a scientist. You get to be an activist, or take time off, or have no kids or a zillion kids (I had 3), or do “descriptive” science, etc etc.

Has your work allowed you to travel? If so, where have you gone and what were you doing there?

Yes. The writing turned into giving workshops on running labs, and I traveled all over the country. It is great fun, and I meet wonderful people.

Could you expand more on your experiences working in different sectors?

After my postdoc, I was an assistant professor for a few years. I found it interesting that many of the problems encountered by people in the labs were communication problems, and were common to all. I wanted to write about it, and contacted a publisher. He thought it was a good idea, and I left the lab about 6 months later to write.

Writing was hard at first. It took me a while to build up colleagues, and expertise, and until I had a finished product, my ego took a hit. I hadn’t realized how that title ‘scientist’ gives you a sort of pass in life, as people assume you are doing something valuable….even when it isn’t true.

I’m currently hooked up with a group of public health academics, and together we are writing a book on the primary prevention of war. Three of my lives came together here: the scientist, the writer, and the antiwar/antimilitarism activist. It feels good!

Have you experienced any big compromises or struggles making a career in the sciences?

Compromises or struggles…I can’t quite come up with anything. Not everything went well, but that is probably because I wasn’t as thoughtful about my scientific life as I should have been, not about the field I was working in, or about my future.

What keeps you motivated when you’re feeling the drudgery? What keeps science FUN for you?

Even making buffers in a lab was fun for me- I loved everything about the lab, every single day. I never felt drudgery…except with writing. I wouldn’t say it is fun every day, but I am very happy.

Was there any one person that inspired you?

Not really. The big sister of the girl next door and a microscope, and I thought both she and the microscope were absolutely cool.

What are some inspirational materials you’ve used along the way?

Natalie Angier’s “In Search of the Oncogene” is one of the best books about how lab science is done.

What are some key points you wish you knew or that you remind yourself of during your science career journey?

I was too independent- I wish I had had a mentor. Even having a role model would have meant I was thinking about the strengths and weaknesses I had. It meant I would have known when I needed help.

What is your big dream?

I would love to be part of a movement that convinces scientists to think about war and nonviolence, and to choose their careers and paths with consideration of the effects of their work for all of society.

~~~

Thank you so much, Kathy, for sharing your career journey!

Make sure to follow Kathy’s newsletters and feed on Twitter.

 

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Jaclyn Friedlander: marine conservationist and author of Friends with Fins

Jaclyn Friedlander is a marine and environmental conservationist and creator of Friends with Fins.

I first met Jaclyn at the 2nd Annual Citizen Science Symposium in Long Beach California while we were both perusing the poster session.  This was a short day-long conference but after a quick chat we exchanged emails to continue talking–that’s networking in action!

The next week Jaclyn shared with me her engaging YouTube channel and a couple of weeks later, we met over coffee in Los Angeles to continue the conversation in real time. Jaclyn showed me the fun children’s books she has published, two of which include illustrations done by a 14 year old and the third illustrated by an animator who has worked with DreamworksTV.

Jaclyn created Friends with Fins because she saw a need for ocean specific educational content.

“Our mission is to provide educational materials in the form of books, videos, and live presentations to school aged children with a strong focus on promoting ocean conservation, STEM and keeping all children, especially young women interested in science.” ~Jaclyn

Friends with Fins started as a short animated film that runs at some aquariums and the series grew into a whole marine science children’s brand. Now there are three picture books in the Friends with Fins series, over 80 ocean and conservation related YouTube Videos and Jaclyn speaks at schools, aquariums and conferences across the country!

I knew I had to ask her to do an interview for the readers of Woman Scientist.

Let’s hear more from Jaclyn about her career journey:

What is your earliest memory of being hooked by science?

I’ve loved marine science and ocean animals since first grade. The guppy in our classroom had babies and had to be separated from her babies so she didn’t eat them. For some reason 6-year-old me found that fascinating and the rest is history!

How did you get in to ocean conservation outreach?

I started volunteering at an aquarium running the touch tanks and then I became a beach clean up captain. Both of these positions taught me so much and made me realize I needed to do something ocean and conservation related.

What is your big dream?

The goals for the brand are to move the YouTube videos to educational Saturday morning television, and create a 90-minute stage play.  Both are in development. We’ve already started shooting the first few episodes of the show thanks to some generous sponsors and we are currently looking for more corporate sponsors and individual donors.

Has your work allowed you to travel?

Friends with Fins has opened many travel doors and vice-a-versa.  I’ve had the opportunity to travel to speak with school children all over the country.  Whenever I’m in a city near water, I always find myself making a video at a rescue center or an aquarium or out with a scientist doing field research. I’m an avid scuba diver so underwater videos are a big part of my travel journey. One highlight from last year was a trip to Sylvester and Albany Georgia to speak to a school district and also to speak at an aquarium.  I ended up doing a whole feature piece for a video on the Flint RiverQuarium. They had me do their fish feeding dive show while I was there and it was incredible.

Come along on the journey in this video:

 

What keeps you motivated when you’re feeling the drudgery?

Meeting and inspiring new children keeps me motivated.  Every school visit is different and exciting.  Knowing that teachers are using my videos in classrooms all over also keeps me going.

What are some inspirational materials you’ve used along the way?

As a scuba diver, I love Dive Training Magazine.  My bookshelves are filled with ocean science books and I listen to a lot of entrepreneur podcasts.  I also read a lot of business books.

How can others collaborate?

With all of the budget cutting at schools, many of the author visits that I do are sponsored by generous parents or local businesses.  If you want to sponsor an author visit/marine science assembly for a school near you check out this video to see what we offer and get in touch:

If you have ocean related topics you want to see videos about, let me know and if I can I will cover the topic! Please send ideas to info@friendswithfins.com and visit www.friendswithfins.com.

 

I hope this interview inspired you to think about how you can reach the younger generations. Whether its going out yourself or partnering with others who have passion to share knowledge.

~~

Thank you Jaclyn!

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Swift Interview with Corvid Expert Kaeli Swift

Kaeli Swift knows crows. Between her undergradaute work and current doctoral work, she’s studied them for nearly seven years.  While these exploits have given her a holistic education on all things crow, her current interest is in understanding their “funeral” behaviors.

Crows, in the family Corvidae, are known for their intelligence and adaptability. Everyone has a story, good or bad, which demonstrates the inquisitive, sometimes mischievous nature of these corvids.

To gain expertise as an ethologist and evolutionary biologist, Kaeli earned a Master’s degree and is currently pursuing her PhD at the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences at the University of Washington.

A masked individual held a dead crow for 30 minutes (Credit: Kaeli Swift)

I met Kaeli at a dinner function in Seattle. Woman Scientist had just started hosting “Dinners with Field Scientists” — a night of informal connection between women pursuing careers in the sciences that get them out in the field. A mutual Field Scientist friend, Carolyn Rachel, brought her along. As we went around the table sharing our work, she spoke to us about studying funerals. The crow stories flew across the room.

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Knowing her subject matter was such good conversation topic, I invited her to give a talk at the Institute for Systems Biology, where I worked at the time, for our informal luncheon discussion groups.  She came straight from the field to share with us everything we needed to know about crows and it was the most well attended luncheon I’ve seen.  The entire room was captivated by her research material and engaging presentation style.

Kaeli received her undergrad degree in Biology from Willamette University and knew that she wanted to go into wildlife biology. As a junior in undergrad, she started working with crows (and talking to John Marzluff), and crow work became the goal. Through her education she realized she wanted to have more power designing her own experiments. To figure out how to gain that independence, she made many calls to individuals who held job titles she saw herself having and asked what degrees they had.  Most earned degrees in higher education which inspired her to pursue a PhD.

Let’s hear more from Kaeli:

What was your first science-related job?

The summer of my Sophomore year I participated in The Student Collaborative Research Program which was basically a paid science internship (supported by the Murdock Charitable Trust). I looked at using the photo sharing network Flickr to track banded bird sightings.  

Did you have any preconceived notions about science, or scientists, and did that change once you explored your career in science?

I thought it was cleaner. You learn about these famous experiments, even animal behavior experiments, and you have no idea how much mess and disaster goes into actually producing the data. It’s much less precise than I pictured when I was a young student doing mostly very simple lab experiments.  

Kaeli and John Marzluff look at the brain activity of crows.

What is your earliest memory of being hooked by science?

When I was in 3rd grade I designed an experiment to test if goldfish had memory.  

Was there any one person that inspired you?

Jane Goodall

What do you want to achieve in your career? What is your big dream?

When we think of the most famous contemporary faces of science, the people who have made careers out of translating science for the public, the reality is that they  are still (mostly) white men.  Women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, are all an increasing (albeit still minority) presence in the highest levels of academia and I want to be part of the force normalizing their faces as the faces of science.  I love talking about my research, and science more broadly, with the public and I’d love to turn that passion into a career.  To do so at the level of someone like Neil Degrasse Tyson or Bill Nye would be the ultimate goal.   

Photo credit: Michael Werner.

Has your work allowed you to travel? If so, where have you gone and what were you doing there?

I’ve been to Australia to do a 3 month tech job looking at sexual selection in Satin bowerbirds. It was the hardest physical job I’ve ever had, but it was by far the most beautiful and exciting. Then I went to IN for the private sector job. It was the exact opposite of the Aussie job in every way.  

Tell about your experiences working in different sectors?

I’ve worked in academia and the private sector (I worked for 2 seasons with biological consulting firm). The private sector stuff paid BANK but there was also a nagging discomfort in knowing my bosses were paid by people who had very vested interests in the outcomes of our research. That being said I never witnessed anything that looked suspicious or like bad science. They treated us well, safety was taken seriously, and there were serious financial perks. Academia on the other hand is a bit more wild west. The pay is often meager, people hardly ever talk seriously about safety in the field, but there’s so much more freedom to ask crazy interesting questions.

What were or currently are some big compromises or struggles you’ve experienced making a career for yourself in the science world?

Temporary field work was always tough before grad school because I was in a relationship. My husband and I have spent most every year apart, at first because of my job and more recently because of his. That was hard. Now, being a grad student, it feels like all our friends are growing up and moving on with their lives (buying homes, earning a decent wage, starting families) and we’re living the same life we did 10 years ago in college.  

What keeps you motivated when you’re feeling the drudgery? 

Sharing stories with my colleagues or engaging with my study animal in a non scientific way. Oh, and of course doing public talks. They’re maybe the biggest pick me up. They’re a great opportunity to recognize how much stuff you do actually know (grad school has a way of becoming Ygritte –Game of Thrones reference), be supported by kind strangers, and take your academia hat off and just tell people about all the best/most interesting aspects of your field.

What are some key points you remind yourself of during your science career journey?

That other people have the same doubts that I do. Doubts about their path, their qualifications, and their achievements.  

What are some inspirational materials you’ve used along the way?

TED talks are great! Also, Dogs Days Raven Nights by John and Colleen Marzluff is a great look at the post-doc experience.

dodays

Thank you for the doing this interview Kaeli! 

I know Kaeli’s story ended too soon and you’re probably hooked on wanting to hear more about her research with crows. Well, you can!

Be sure to follow Kaeli on Instagram, Twitter, and via her engaging blog posts!

If you liked this interview, please share it!  And if you’re a Woman Scientist doing work out in the field, or know someone who is, we’d love to hear your career journey. Please fill out the interview by clicking here.

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Second Month of Graduate Life

Did you like the video? Please share!

To see more photos from our time on Catalina Island click here.

To hear about the first month of graduate school, click here.

And here is another awesome video of a green turtle swimming off the coast of La Jolla Shores.

Don’t forget to follow Woman Scientist for more inspiration on Facebook and Instagram.

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The Story of Texas Wild’s Jessie Story

If you haven’t heard of Texas Wild make sure to watch this clip now:

 

Ray and Jessie’s work with Texas Wild is produced at West Texas A&M University in cooperation with Panhandle PBS KACV and reaches viewers in over 250,000 homes. In 2016, Jessie was awarded the Dan A. Klepper Memorial Scholarship from Texas Outdoors Writer’s Association for her work merging wildlife education and improving science literacy with the public through social media and television.

I first learned of Texas Wild via Instagram when Jessie Story introduced herself and shared a stunning photograph of her holding her first bobcat as a field assistant on a carnivore research project. I shared the image with all of you on Woman Scientist’s Instagram account and immediately asked Jessie to do an interview. She gladly agreed!

Jessie Story with Bobcat

Those who work with Jessie Story in the field describe her as being a “tough-as-nails outdoors person that will sleep anywhere, work in any conditions, fears nothing (except heights a little), and is low maintenance. She can handle venomous snakes, canoes and kayaks, snorkels and films underwater, and is a capable spelunker.”

Her partner, Ray Matlack, describes her as the energy that keeps Texas Wild going.

She describes herself as a bit of a fashionista. “I like my handbags, a bi-weekly trip to the nail salon and wearing my sandals to lunch. Leather jackets, scarfs and all black attire are my go-to’s. Equally, I enjoy catching animals, swamps, camping, getting lost and getting dirt on my face. Don’t let my appearance fool you!”

Let’s hear more from Jessie:

Jessie in Canyon Square 5

What is your earliest memory of being hooked by science?

Sharks.

As far back as I can remember I was fascinated by sharks. Since I was a child, reading has been a central pastime in my family. My mother is an avid reader which led to weekly trips to the library where she would swap out her bag of books. Some of my fondest memories are tagging along with my mother on her weekly Library trips where I would position myself in the aisle that held, on the bottom shelf, books about sharks. I would sit and flip through the pages while my mother browsed (as a child and young adult, I battled a severe speech impediment). Aside from sitting in the library aisle, I attended storytelling session in the library. I remember Native American stories as well as “Stellaluna,” an experience that shaped my love of bats.


Growing up I inhaled a large amount of nature and science documentaries, from sharks to Bill Nye. I watched as biologists explained their research and the tracking methods of specimens. I then would try to replicate the monitoring and data techniques. I would measure, weigh and sketch the patterns and morphological characteristics (such as lack of toe in Woodhouse’s toad) before releasing them. I was always fascinated by the animals themselves and this was just another way for me to handle wildlife.

Has your work allowed you to travel?

Man, I’ve been everywhere. My primary home range has been Texas–every inch of her–for the past 3 years during the creation of Texas Wild. Born in Amarillo, I reside in Canyon and consider Bastrop TX, a second home. Other activities have carried me outside of my home range from sleeping in the back of a Toyota truck on top of tripods in below-freezing temperatures at Bosque del Apache to the Sandhills of Nebraska and traversing large portions of the Great Plains. I’ve traveled from my hometown, Amarillo to Key West, scouting locations for future filming.

During the past three years working in the field for both research and film purposes, I travel the majority of the year often missing family holidays, celebrations and birthdays. This past Thanksgiving was the first holiday I’ve been home for in those 3 years

Did you have any preconceived notions about science, or scientists, and did that change once you explored your career in science?

Starting my academic career I really had no preconceived notions or expectations. One observation I quickly made was that there has been a separation between the scientific community and the public for far too long. The media has been an influencing factor in the creation of that gap. With that said, as members of the scientific community we can ill afford to not stand behind a proactive movement propelled within the realm of social media. Social networks are being used as tools to bridge this gap and to further connect the public with those in the scientific community.

KD1A2930 Filming bats in a cave

What is the big dream for your career?

To continue on my current path, traveling, filming and learning. As long as there is a camera in my hand, miles to cover and an intellectually stimulating environment, I’ll be content.

Was there any one person that inspired you?

Truthfully, there isn’t just one person who has influenced me. My drive is the result of books, music, plays, people I’ve meet along the way, childhood experiences and hockey (it sounds strange, I know but life is the place we spend in between hockey games). My parents have been a pivotal force for me; they have been married for 50 year now and have always been travelers.

What are your go-to inspirational materials?

Find what moves you whether that aligns with your path or not. Enjoy it, break it down and examine the pieces. Find out what parts reached out and grabbed you in the first place. Understanding why this “thing” lead to you become so enamored with it, will reveal what paths you should follow in your future.

Filming underwater

What were, or currently are, some big compromises or struggles you’ve experienced making a career for yourself?

The first struggle I’ve faced is “colleague conflict,” a little phrase I use that embodies the backlash one can experience as a result of their ideas, accomplishments, research or other academic endeavors. I experienced this as an undergrad at West Texas A&M University (WTAMU) when I beat out a graduate student for a position on a project. The following years introduced me intimately to “colleague conflict” as the grudge was carried by the student. As I continue my work, there is a realization that “colleague conflict” is an element that will always exist.

Another memorable experience that I get to hold close to me is being told my work holds no purpose or merit. In the aforementioned story, the very person I out-competed, told me that my work didn’t matter and “to compare you to me is like comparing apples to oranges!” Nothing woos me more. There has been a small crowd of people throughout my life and more recently, during my college career, who have lamented similar opinions and have tried to discredit the efforts that Ray and I have put forth in our time creating Texas Wild. It helps having someone like Ray in your corner during these times; he’s an optimist who never says die. As fate would have it, opposing forces have become powerful and motivating force.

Personal struggles include battling a speech impediment as a child and throughout my young adulthood. It took years of extensive speech therapy to get to the point I am today. I remember trying to learn how to say the phrase “the squirrel squatted in the square.” My speech impediment has made college that much more challenging to me. Family and friends keep me going.

What are some key points you wish you knew or that you remind yourself of during your science career journey?

Safety, safety first. Then teamwork.

What keeps you motivated when you’re feeling the drudgery?  

The experiences you gain as a result of this lifestyle. I have a Patagonia hat I picked up in Florida a few years back. This hat is one of a few valued treasures of mine that I take on the road. The hat alone has traveled seven states, bares the ink stains from an octopus (bikini as well), was lost in Lake Jessup FL, which has 421 alligators/mile of shoreline (a childhood hangout for Ray), worn during an encounter with an 2.5ft nurse shark and has been envenomed by a broad-banded copperhead.

I had the fortunate of filming the largest bat colony, Bracken Cave, home to 15 million free-tailed bats and carry a scar on my left hand from a water snake which certainly puts a dent on my career as a hand model and experienced parasites.

Ray and I rediscovered the endangered Houston toads calling and filmed several other endangered species, flipped out of truck windows, broken equipment, missed the best shots, been hypothermic and seen parts of Texas, most never will. It’s the excitement of what comes next.

Another motivating factor is the impact this effort is making. I too often forget to reflect on how far this team of two has come, something Ray has taught me to do more of. We are self-taught and have been fortunate enough to gain a following of people who genuinely care about the cause. Most rewarding is when you see this passion being instilled in the next generation.

The End

A huge thank you to Jessie for sharing your inspirational journey with us and thank you to all reading!  

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Keep in Touch with Texas Wild

Media from Texas Wild has aired on the Red Steagall Show and The Daytripper. Social media posts have been researched by many conservation groups such as The Nature Conservancy-Texas and even groups as far as Australia. They’ve paired with schools around Texas so teachers can use their media in alignment with education curriculum to encourage and teach appreciation and conservation for wildlife.

Be sure to follow them on PBS, the Web, the blog, Instagram, and Facebook.  

All media was provided courtesy of the Texas Wild team!

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When I Stopped Chasing The Dream Job, I Discovered My Dream Career

Re-posting an article I wrote for National Girls Collaborative Project, because I’ve added fun links in this version! You can read the original article published on National Girls Collaborative Project Blog  (submitted by Greta Carlson on April 29, 2016 – 2:20 pm)

Contributed by Allison Lee 

Growing up I never had a clear picture of what I wanted to become. Inspecting insects, creating mud-pies and gazing at the stars were childhood past times and as I grew into a teenager I embraced traveling and learning more about nature. I didn’t immediately connect all of these interests with becoming a scientist. I spent  years frustrated by my lack of vision; finding the dream job I felt contained all of my passions was a struggle.

By the time I turned 30, I had traveled to all seven continents as a Biologist studying a diversity of lifeforms from microscopic algae, to songbirds, parrots, mice, squirrels, big cats, and whales. Obviously I figured something out! Life is funny that way. A hunch paired with the right blend of curiosity, odd jobs, research-focused vacations, volunteer opportunities, frugal living, and luck delivered me to my dream career.

Finding my passion
In my high school senior yearbook I wrote that I wanted to be an astronaut. I thought astronauts traveled the most of anyone on Earth. Inspired, I researched the degrees earned by NASA’s astronauts and found an overwhelming proportion had studied science. I decided to major in biology and geology at the University of Washington. It wasn’t until sophomore year when I had the epiphany that biology was my passion.

The scope of biology is broad and I wanted to learn as many disciplines as possible. Senior year, I signed up for an internship in neuroscience at the Allen Institute for Brain Science and found a part-time lab job in the Immunology Department taking care of a mouse colony. I started learning molecular techniques and computer programs, using fancy pieces of equipment, and doing those things called PCRs and Southern Blots. I wasn’t entirely sure what was going on – but I was doing SCIENCE!

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Questioning my interests
After I graduated with my Bachelor of Science in Biology, I continued to work full time in the immunology lab. Two and a half years passed. Restlessness set in and I began to wonder if maybe I just didn’t like science anymore. I knew one next possible move was to go to graduate school, like many of my college peers, but I didn’t know what I wanted to commit to studying. I wasn’t inspired by my neurobiology or immunology experiences. I hated doing computer work. I felt stuck. So I did the thing you’re never supposed to do: I quit.

The next two months were spent feverishly searching job boards, institute websites, and email listservs. Because of my interest in many aspects of biology, I didn’t know where to focus my efforts. Regardless, I felt optimistic that my Dream Job was out there. A job posting for a field technician conducting songbird research caught my eye. I didn’t know much about birds, but I convinced the interviewer I could learn bird songs because I learned other languages easily and had been playing music for 15 years. It worked! Every morning I woke at 4:00 AM to get to the field site before the sun rose. I got paid to be outside tromping through the woods looking for birds. It was during these quiet twilight mornings, outside in nature, that I realized THIS was my dream job. I never wanted it to end.

But, as is the nature of seasonal fieldwork, it did. Five months later, I found myself once again unemployed. Turns out, seasonal work is the usual for field technicians. I knew that field biology wouldn’t be the most lucrative career choice, but I felt empowered to commit myself to studying the environment – whether I got paid for it or not.

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The sacrifices
I went on a quest to find as many wildlife jobs as I could. Later that year, I studied forest fire treatments on threatened squirrel populations; I studied the breeding behaviors of endangered parrots in Mexico. Each time, the pay was minimal to none, so I worked side-gigs as a professional baker and bartender to pay my bills. While I was happy to gallivant around the woods for science, working for free wasn’t exactly the dream job I had in mind. I was turning into a poor disgruntled vagabond.

In an effort to gain a sustainable salary, I left fieldwork and went back into the lab to begin a project at the Institute for Systems Biology (ISB) investigating the genetic responses of algae to climate change and ocean acidification. I knew nothing about marine systems but I had skills in the lab and stellar references. Part of me thought leaving the field was a mistake but as I gained exposure to the natural world within a molecular science framework, I saw the impact of a systems approach to research and I was hooked. I still missed going out into nature every day, but I kept an open mind and a positive attitude.

Over six years have passed since I went back into the lab and the job has given me more opportunities than I could have imagined. What started off as a lab job performing controlled experiments on algae has evolved into a field job sampling algae from the natural environment. This work has led me all over the Puget Sound area of Washington, as well as to Hawaii, and even as far as Antarctica!

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The best of both worlds
As a field scientist working indoors, I still daydreamed about the rainforests. On the weekends, I’d flee to the mountains. With a bit of money saved up, I decided to satisfy my restless soul. I used my vacations to help conduct research on voluntourism projects, like Earthwatch. From aboard a restored rubber boom era steamship, I spent three weeks studying biodiversity in the Amazon jungle. I realized I could save my money, use my vacation time to get out in the field, and still have a paying job in science. It was the best of both worlds!

The plan is working. I’ve volunteered on projects studying macaws with Tambopata Research Center in Peru, biodiversity in the Amazon, big cats in Africa, and whales in Mexico. I love volunteering so much I do it at home too, giving time to local conservation organizations like Conservation Northwest. We work to mitigate human wildlife conflicts in the migration corridors of the Cascades. I also get kids outdoors with the Sierra Club, and spend time with kids through Ocean Inquiry Project, the Woodland Park Zoo, and Pacific Science Center. I speak about careers in environmental science with students to convey my passion for nature and inspire another generation to care about protecting the biodiversity on Earth.

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What’s in a dream?
I’ve come to believe the dream job doesn’t exist for me, and I don’t think it’s beneficial to maintain that perspective. I have too many passions – too much wonder for the potential of science in the world. I find fulfillment in contributing to important work for the environment and interacting with innovative collaborative thinkers. I benefit from an extremely flexible schedule, live in the city, and travel to amazing places through work. And I’ve been lucky to have many other amazing experiences volunteering with local and international conservation organizations. I am continually seeking as many opportunities as I can find, but this time things are different; I’m no longer looking for the Dream Job, I am creating the Dream Career.

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Allison Lee is a Seattle native who loves coffee, talking to people, and learning new things. When she’s not doing science you can catch her ultra-running, cycling, hiking in nature, traveling, and burning the candle at both ends. At age 32, she has finally realized the differences between working a job and building a career. This summer she will begin a Masters degree in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego California with the hopes of following another curiosity: the social, economic and policy side of marine science. You can follow her and see examples of other inspirational women working in the field at Woman Scientist on Instagram, Facebook, and the Web.

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Beyond the B.S. ~ Career Panel Pop-Up Event

Woman Scientist and Pop-Up Science have partnered once again to bring you Beyond the B.S. – a series of free informal panel discussions for women in science, technology, and engineering looking to find their place in both life and work.

 

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Beyond the B.S. seeks to provide women aged 15-30 a welcoming place to learn about their options, share their stories, and support each other’s career goals. Each event features two female panelists and an open Q&A which aims to give students a more creative understanding of the job opportunitites that lie before them.

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There’s a lot more out there than just bench research and medical school, ladies! Join us for a night of straight talk on science, STEM careers, and life beyond the college degree — by women, for women.

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Gracious Event Location Host:

Ada’s Technical Books & Cafe – Capitol Hill in Seattle, WA

Download and share the Flyer here .   Hope to see you there!

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Meet Wildlife Biologist Imogene Davis

One dark and rainy night during my commute home from work, I was scrolling through the endless feed of images on Instagram-as one does- when I discovered a young biologist with a bright sunny face and captivating feed:

@biologistimogene – Imogene Davis – Wildlife biologist, conservationist, starving artist, optimist. Adventures welcome. Photos my own.

With 5,184 followers, I quickly joined the ranks of admirers. I gobbled up Imogene’s video shorts and inspiring selfies in the field. I felt transported into the world of a Wildlife Biologist. 

With so many awesome posts of her nonchalantly holding lizards, snakes, and large mammals it is no wonder Instagram featured her in their “Scientists in the Field”

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Before I knew it,  30 minutes had passed and it was time to get off the bus.

I walked home in the rain, head buried in the phone. I couldn’t stop scrolling. What I really appreciated about her feed were not just images and videos, but the amount of information and detail she shared with her followers which gave educational context to everything she posted.

A true educator’s spirit.

I stayed up through the night reading everything I could find about her career in Wildlife Biology.

Imogene is currently a Research Technician working in the Lance Lab within the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory  at the University of Georgia and has a B.S. in Animal Science from North Caroline State University (2010) and an M.S. in Biology from West Texas A&M University (2015).

 

As a research technician, she assist with a variety of molecular and ecotoxicology projects across an array of taxa with a particular focus on salamanders and newts. Her work doesn’t stop there!

Bill, from Southwest Jaguars, did an excellent Q&A with Imogene in which, through a series of 12 questions, she generously shared about her research with meso-carnivores and other charismatic mega-fauna.  As the Q&A came to an end, I grew sad that it was over. Naturally, I had more questions of my own. By the powers of Social Media, I reached out and asked Imogene my questions!

It is without further ado that I present to you:

Woman Scientist Interview with Imogene Davis – Wildlife Biologist

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What type of scientist do you consider yourself?

My education falls in the areas of ecology, conservation, wildlife management, and genetics. I’m a wildlife biologist, but I also consider myself a conservation biologist and a landscape geneticist. I’ve been called worse.

What is your earliest memory of being hooked by science?

I remember being fascinated with amphibian metamorphosis as a child. Every summer I would watch frog and toad eggs hatch and watch daily as the tadpoles slowly changed into froglets, then into terrestrial adults. I didn’t realize at the time that this could be anything other than curiosity- I just assumed that people who liked animals were veterinarians. However, when I was in fifth grade my elementary school hosted a science fair, and I was excited to find that people actually tested and/or manipulated the things they found in nature. I created a project to evaluate the causes of fighting in roosters during certain seasons. While I didn’t place in the competition, and the experimental design was terrible, I had so much fun performing observations and testing interactions, logging my findings, and talking to adults about testosterone surges.

#tbt to the time I determined I probably wouldn't be a fisheries biologist

#tbt to the time I determined I probably wouldn’t be a fisheries biologist

Was there any one person that inspired you?

My grandfather was a medical doctor and radiologist, and one of the most intelligent people I have ever met. I dedicated my thesis to him because of his love for science. He taught me that higher education is the most important thing you can do and that biology is endlessly spellbinding. His respect for the scientific process and desire to never stop learning heavily impact my goals as a scientist.

When I was in college and trying to decide what field best suited my interests as well as addressed the needs of wildlife conservation, I decided to take a trip by myself to Washington, DC for an annual fundraiser for the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF). CCF is an amazing conservation organization focused on cheetah conservation in the wild as well as addressing the needs of human communities so human and wildlife can coexist. It’s a really active way to address conservation needs, and the founder and CEO, Dr. Laurie Marker, has an unmatched focus towards this effort. I have a lot of respect for her, as she is a self-made career woman, scientist, and top-notch conservationist. I got the chance to privately sit down with her in DC (and Dr. Stephen J. O’Brien, a world-class geneticist who at the time I didn’t realize is basically famous) and speak with both of them about my career goals. At that time I was divided on my interests in veterinary medicine and wildlife biology, and I asked her what avenue most strongly matched the needs in conservation. She smiled at me and said that if my goals were to, for example, save a species, that I could always collaborate with a really good veterinarian and be free to simultaneously work in other areas. It was a subtle suggestion, but it spoke volumes. I’m so thankful for that private meeting because I got to sit down with two renowned scientists and receive advice that has really spearheaded my career focus.

Dr. Laurie Marker with cheetah "Chewbacca" (CCF's ambassador cheetah that was rescued from a trap on a livestock farm and raised by Dr. Marker) Cheetah Conservation Fund, Namibia

Dr. Laurie Marker with cheetah “Chewbacca” (CCF’s ambassador cheetah that was rescued from a trap on a livestock farm and raised by Dr. Marker)
Cheetah Conservation Fund, Namibia

What did you study during undergrad? Did you know what you wanted to study before beginning?

My bachelor’s degree is in Animal Science. I chose this major in part because I was interested in veterinary school. This was not the ideal major choice for me, however, because the biology coursework was lacking, and my interests eventually funneled into wildlife biology. I didn’t realize until the latter half of my degree that I wanted to study a different type of science, and so began my many internships and extra coursework in wildlife sciences. I went to Australia in 2008 for a study abroad program on wildlife medicine, and our classes on ocean conservation really ignited my interest in working in conservation research. This non-traditional background has been useful to my work as a wildlife biologist, however, in that my skills often fill particular niches (which roughly translates to me being able to handle a lot of species without injury as well as perform necropsies and assist in deliveries…though I wouldn’t ever try to help a bear give birth). I didn’t always know that my interests were meant for the field of wildlife biology, but I think my background is a good example of how veterinary medicine isn’t the only way to investigate animal systems.

Davis sleepy bear

This bear was the biggest one I have ever seen. Helping the Missouri Black Bear Project take morphometric measurements includes overall body length, girth, tail length, leg length, even foot and toe length. Bears were also fitted with a radio collar for tracking purposes.

What was your first science-related job?

I did an internship at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences during my undergrad. I worked for the mammalogy department in the basement of the museum processing specimens and transcribing data files from the early 1900’s. It was a really cool gig because I got to cut up dead things (yes I really do enjoy that) and see firsthand how reporting data and disseminating research is useful to a variety of research efforts, no matter how old.

My first paid science-related job was right out of undergrad when I moved to northwest Montana to work on a bobcat ecology project. We were near Glacier National Park and I got paid to hike in remote back-country for several months collecting vegetation info, performing bobcat necropsies, and chasing radio-collared bobcats. To this day it remains the most fun I’ve ever had. I was regularly banged up and bruised up, but I worked with a phenomenal PhD student and developed a vast array of skills. We like to joke that it was a great summer because we didn’t get killed- we had a close encounter with a mama griz, almost fell off some cliffs, almost got swept away while crossing a river, and even got a teeny bit lost one day due to a compass malfunction (be sure to never have magnets on your gear if you are handling a compass in the middle of nowhere). Joking aside, it was a great project and a great experience. It is because of this position that I was offered all other research jobs.

 Passing an anesthetized 007 to Mark.

Passing an anesthetized 007 to Mark.

What led you to get a Master’s Degree? 

Obtaining my PhD in this field has been a long-term goal, so getting my master’s degree was part of the process. I didn’t feel qualified or prepared to jump straight into a PhD, and my master’s was a great introduction to creating and managing my own research. While not all areas of wildlife biology require a master’s degree or PhD, it is a competitive field and many positions regularly look for candidates with master’s degrees. However, there are many career options in this field where degrees above a B.S. are not required. Because I’m interested in wildlife research, getting a PhD is the most practical way to eventually have my own research program. I’m interested in landscape genetics, spatial ecology, and population connectivity, which means I’ll be looking for degree programs focusing on conservation biology, ecology and evolution, etc. On a personal level, I just want to be the best at whatever I do, and higher education is an avenue I’ve chosen to help accomplish that. I’m also totally nerdy and I love college! I would go to classes forever if they let me.

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I received my master’s degree in wildlife biology at West Texas A&M University

Has your work allowed you to travel? If so, where have you gone and what were you doing there?

Yes! I have been fortunate to join research efforts across the US. I’ve worked in Montana, California, Washington, Missouri, Texas, Virginia, and South Carolina on various research projects. Before starting my master’s degree these positions involved field research, where I primarily worked gathering, monitoring, and/or processing biological data for different wildlife research projects. These efforts involved live-trapping and handling of bobcat and bears, collecting DNA samples from foxes, wolverine, fishers, and martens, studying reproductive hormones in the clouded leopard, and managing camera traps for wildlife studies. In graduate school I was also able to participate in a lot of research efforts outside of my own, and I’ve worked in several areas of Texas on various lizard, snake, and fish monitoring projects. My current research position in South Carolina gets me into the field to work with salamanders, so I’ve been fortunate to travel to a lot of places and see a lot of things. My personal favorites were working outside of Glacier National Park and in the Sierra Nevada of California.

Mole salamanders are stout salamanders with large, flattened heads. This Ambystomatid species is found throughout the coastal plains of the southeast US.

Mole salamanders are stout salamanders with large, flattened heads. This Ambystomatid species is found throughout the coastal plains of the southeast US.

Can you share with us about your experiences working in different sectors such as academia, industry, non-profit, eco-tourism, citizen science, contracting, small business, or entrepreneurship?

I’ve mostly worked for academic institutions and federal agencies, including various universities, the US Forest Service, and the Smithsonian. I have enjoyed both avenues immensely because there is a heavy focus on the quality of research and the importance of disseminating that information to both the scientific community as well as to the public. Of course, the sector you choose to work in depends on your interests- I am interested in research as well as education, and fortunately for me that creates some flexibility. I currently work in social media to educate the public about nature- I think this is necessary for biologists. I also have friends who have done important conservation work in the private business sector, which shows that there are many opportunities in this field.

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Holding a five-year-old 6-foot eastern indigo snake. These nonvenomous snakes are a threatened species that range throughout the eastern United States and prefer woodland habitat with burrows and debris piles. I showed this snake at a Boy Scouts event working with members of the West Texas A&M University chapter of The Wildlife Society focusing on wildlife education. Kudos to this ambassador snake for being very calm with so many Scouts wanting to learn about him.

Did you have any preconceived notions about science, or scientists, and did that change once you explored your career in science?

When I was younger I assumed that you have to be a bit of an antisocial genius in order to be a scientist. Aren’t scientists on screen and in books often portrayed as insular, peculiar, and a bit lofty? When I was younger I assumed that I couldn’t be a scientist because math scared me and because I love talking to people. Sometimes I still freeze up when it comes to numbers, but that hasn’t hindered my career in science at all. Also, many of the biologists I know are the most social butterflies of all! There is nothing more enjoyable than having a beer and talking science- really, that’s what a lot of scientists do! I know a few geniuses of course, but you don’t have to be dry and unyielding to be a scientist. Scientists aren’t scary or boring at all- some of the coolest people I know are biologists!

Davis snowmobiling

What were, or currently are, some big compromises or struggles you’ve experienced making a career for yourself in the science world?

Realistically, finding a permanent position that pays the bills has been the hardest part as a new graduate. For many, getting a master’s degree is necessary in order to make money in this field (though certainly not for all, and not always a requirement). Many wildlife science-related positions are in more remote areas of the country, which means that compromise is often necessary in terms of making life decisions. Finding balance is not impossible, but it is challenging, particularly when career interests funnel your options.

Now that I’m a little older, I’m not immune to issues that a woman in science might face. I have previously experienced inequality in the workplace (I spent an entire summer on a field research crew where I was the only woman), and while it certainly didn’t hold me back, dealing with issues such as salary inequality and sometimes the blatant sexism women can experience in the science world is both astounding as well as frustrating. My gender doesn’t cross my mind as a factor regarding my qualifications, so the notion that I could struggle in this field because I’m a woman is a little foreign and a little funny to me, but it’s not something that I totally ignore because it happens. If the time comes when I decide to start a family, it may involve compromise that I wouldn’t have to deal with if I were a man. I’m not there yet, but I have no intentions of letting that happen. I love science and I’m good at it, and at the end of the day that’s what drives us.

Davis river rapid

What keeps you motivated when you’re feeling the drudgery? What keeps science FUN for you?

I can’t imagine not having a job where I get to go outside and see things, find things, or explore. I do spend a lot of time in a research lab working with genetic samples, though, and even though I love it, sometimes you need a change of pace. Nothing rejuvenates me like getting my hands dirty or my heart rate up, and for me that usually involves field work or recreational time outside, like hiking. When I’m hiked out, I turn to painting (I paint wildlife and landscapes). For me, however, science is the most fun when you can share it- I really enjoy doing education programs for children and adults on wildlife and conservation. I’m also very active on social media- I post “facts of the day” on Instagram about wildlife I’ve encountered or worked with. It both reminds me why I’m interested in this field as well as satisfies my goal of getting others involved in nature. I’ll be launching a wildlife-themed podcast next month with a colleague. It’s called The Radio Collar- be sure to look out for it!

Davis lab work

What do you want to achieve in your career? What is your big dream?

I plan to complete a PhD in the areas of conservation biology and ecology. My research interests are mediated by the desire to conserve biodiversity as well as study landscape connectivity regarding natural resource problems in conservation biology. I want to use my skills in a position that expects me to conduct quality wildlife research as well as works to engage the public. I specifically want to use my education to teach people how important and finite our natural resources are, including wildlife and natural habitat. My big dream is to work with an organization like National Geographic creating media that inspires and fascinates us to participate in conservation.

Davis telemetry

What are some key points you wish you knew or that you remind yourself of during your science career journey?

I absolutely love what I do, but it’s easy to get caught up in the rat race of it all if you aren’t careful! I shouldn’t have worried so much about the end game between my bachelor’s and master’s degree. I worried a lot about getting into a funded graduate program (I did), and getting jobs that would help me along the way (I did), and meeting the right people and making the right choices for my career (I did). Science is a serious field, and requires a certain mindset and a specific dedication, but nothing in life is about the end game. All of these things would still have occurred with just a little less stress on my part, and you better believe I wish I was still doing contract field jobs out in the middle of nowhere. You can’t always be serious. And you shouldn’t be! In a serious field that can involve a lot of pressure from grant applications, publication expectations, and research quality, it’s good to remember that it’s not actually work- it’s a passion.

Davis working hard

Making sure to take it easy from the pressure of the rat race with stress reduction techniques. Gotta keep that passion stoked for the long haul!

What are some inspirational materials you’ve used along the way?

I highly recommend that everyone interested in wildlife, natural resources, and any other field of biology read “A Sand County Almanac” by Aldo Leopold. Leopold is considered the father of wildlife management. This text introduces the idea of the Land Ethic, which much of wildlife an natural resource management is based on. It’s not a dry text- it’s an easy read that connects you to nature through stories of skunks, the beauty of melting snow, and the complexity of songbird breeding season. Every outdoor enthusiast should read this book.

I also get a lot of emails from high school-age students seeking advice on how to get involved in the field of wildlife biology, and one of the tools I suggest is the Texas A&M University wildlife job board. This source posts research positions, internships, and education opportunities for all skill levels across the country and is a great way to fine-tune your goals. If you find a job that sounds interesting, you can review the qualifications needed for that position and work towards meeting specific goals.

Anything else you’d like to add?

The best advice I can give to those interested in a career in wildlife biology is to get involved ASAP. So many students think that good grades are the best way to get a job, but that just isn’t true. Good grades are essential, but so are real-world skills and experiences. Getting involved with research early is so important, as field skills and familiarity with the scientific process determine your eligibility for those cool jobs. Going to research conferences, being active in your wildlife society, and building relationships are also important in this field. Lastly, most wildlife biologists study many taxa instead of just one species-this field is about ecosystem/ habitat management and conservation, which means you focus on many different areas. That’s what makes it so fun!

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I’m so excited and thankful to be interviewed by Woman Scientist! Women in science fields form a really tight knit group, and I’m proud to be in a career that is supportive as well as full of brilliant, kind, and funny humans.

Thank you Imogene!

Want more photos? Check out the album on the Woman Scientist Facebook page.

And be sure to follow her:

 

Updates:

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Imogene recently received the 2016 Clarence Cottam Award at the Texas Chapter of the Wildlife Society’s annual conference for presenting her work on the importance of spatial scale in landscape-mediated genetic structure. Her talk was titled, “Scale-dependent landscape genetics of bobcats across western Texas.” This award is given to recognize and promote outstanding student research.

Imogene recently started research at University of Delaware, in collaboration with Panthera, to complete PhD research on snow leopards.

Updated September 10, 2016

Congratulations and keep up the good work!

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What Do Reptiles, Ebola, Bikes, Microbes, and Epidemiology Have in Common? Karlyn Beer!

When I met Karlyn Beer she was a graduate student in the University of Washington’s Molecular and Cellular Biology program working at the Institute for Systems Biology under Dr. Nitin Baliga. She was studying how microorganisms respond to environmental change, using the salt-loving extremophile model organism Halobacterium salinarum.   This work mostly kept her in the lab running copious growth experiments, and learning computer programming and modeling, but she also managed to venture out into the field, to the Halo hot spot: Utah’s Great Salt Lake.

The north arm of the Great Salt Lake is purple/red due to the abundance of Halobacterium living in the water. Source: Wikipedia

The north arm of the Great Salt Lake is purple/red due to the abundance of Halobacterium living in the hyper saline water. Image source: Wikipedia

Within the five short years I have known Karlyn, she has completed her graduate degrees, earning an MS in Epidemiology with her thesis focusing on unique gut microbial communities associated with fiber and starch intake in healthy premenopausal womenand a PhD in Molecular and Cellular Biology with dissertation work focusing on Phenotypic and genomic stability in a halophilic model organism.

Karlyn sampling microorganisms from the hypersaline Great Salt Lake.

Immediately after earning her PhD, she traveled the world for eight months on a Bonderman Travel Fellowship mostly using a bicycle to explore ten countries spanning three different continents. Karlyn has always been interested in public health and epidemiology in developing countries and this was an excellent opportunity for her to supplement and enrich her academic public health education by visiting people and places where infectious disease is much more prevalent and less easily managed than in the US. She visited, in order: Nicaragua, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, India and Turkey.

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Not only that, upon returning to the US she landed a job as an Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and was sent to Liberia, West Africa to provide Ebola technical assistance to the Ministry of Health and county health officials during the 2014 Ebola epidemic. She now resides in Atlanta, Georgia with the CDC’s Waterborne Disease Prevention Branch.

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This is just a short synopsis of the life and work I’ve witnessed her do during the time I have known her.  Its impressive to say the least and this Woman Scientist has a lot of excellent reflection and advice to give to us all in her interview:

Let the Interview Begin!

1. What is your earliest memory of being hooked by science?

​I’m not sure I was ever aware of something called “science” that hooked me, but I think I was always curious and always interested in knowing new things.  I picked up all the bugs, I brought frogs and toads inside to the dinner table and one time I got a book of science experiments from the library. ​Also, I licked a pole in the middle of winter in Minnesota and my tongue got stuck…that was a hard lesson about phases of mat ter. I got hooked on public health after reading The Hot Zone by Richard Preston and Living Terrors by Michael Osterholm.

karlyneggs

2.   Who inspired you to go down the path of science?

​It was a combination of people and experiences that probably led to my signing up for a biology major as an undergraduate.   My biology teacher in high school was a quirky, enigmatic guy and I loved how he taught us about life in terms of systems and interrelationships. About the same time my mind was being blown in biology class,​ I learned about Mad Cow Disease and started reading books about all kinds of pathogens and infectious disease. At one point in high school, my parents suggested I call my state epidemiologist to learn what it might be like to be a disease detective as a career. Dr. Mike Osterholm kindly talked with me about his work, and made a comment that I took to heart: He told me that public health needed more epidemiologists who were also scientists, who understood the biology behind the disease. I thought that sounded pretty exciting so I decided to study microbiology as an undergraduate at Cornell, and my research mentor there inspired me to pursue a PhD after graduating.

Crotch Rocket the cow calf.

Research barn calf. Don’t worry, this one doesn’t have Mad Cow Disease, although I’m sure Karlyn is thinking about infectious diseases regardless.

3.  What type of science do you love to read about?

​I sign up for all sorts of science-related email lists and table of contents updates from journals.  I tend to look for public health and disease-related literature, but I can never pass up a story about reptiles or nutrition or the gut microbiome.  My favorite science book I’ve read lately is Spillover, by David Quammen… it’s all about zoonotic diseases that have been transmitted to humans at some point in history, or might at some point in the future.  HIV, Ebola, and even Malaria have zoonotic parts of their natural histories! ​

Spillover-2

4.  What kind of scientist do you consider yourself?

​I’d like to think I’m a big mix of many kinds of scientists, and I love that I have been able to do so many different things so far. I’ve worked as an ecologist, a microbiologist, a molecular biologist, an animal nutrition scientist, an epidemiologist, a data scientist, a field biologist and a very amateur herpetologist. I think there are incredible overlaps among all of these. So much overlap that we might be better off if we didn’t define different kinds of science so rigidly. Maybe that’s why I love public health…it’s an amazing mixture of many kinds of scientists, all working together toward a common goal.

5.  What were some preconceived notions about science or scientists and did that change once you explored your career in it?

​​When I was a kid, my idea of a PhD scientist was someone who wrote a book about something that no one else knew about.  I quickly wrote off the idea of a PhD, because I figured that by the time I got old enough, there would be nothing left that was unknown to even write about.  Once I actually grew up, I realized how much there is to learn, and that we definitely don’t know as much as I’d thought as a kid.  There are so many unanswered questions, and the trick is to find someone to pay you to answer the ones you like the best. ​​

6. What were some big compromises or struggles you experienced?

​I think the biggest compromises and conflicts came when I started my PhD and realized that my idea of the perfect project, supervisor and lifestyle did not all come in one package. When I started grad school, I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to study and that nothing else mattered. I just knew I would find the perfect project in the perfect lab with the perfect advisor! Of course, this was ridiculous.  In reality, the colleagues and supervisors you work with are tons more important than the particular project you’re working on. Grad school is a time for gathering tools and skills through apprenticeship with good scientists, and your toolbox and colleagues are much more important and far-reaching than the title of your dissertation. In fact, I wasn’t asked about my dissertation work at all during my first job interview following my PhD.

After  graduate school, I had to start coming to terms with the time and money I had spent on my education.  It has all been worth every moment and every penny, but becoming a scientist means a big sacrifice in earning potential and income during the years you’re in school.  I learned that its OK to consider this aspect as you craft your education and your career. I’m happy with my decisions, but nothing spells reality like a student loan payment half as big as your rent check! 

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7.  What keeps you motivated when you’re feeling the drudgery? What keeps science FUN for you?

​Like any job, science can get boring and frustrating. Realistically, you’re not accomplishing something good for the world every single day but I stay excited and motivated by focusing on the end goals…whether its a paper, or a talk, or someone else’s project I helped to improve. Teaching others and helping with colleagues’ projects is incredibly motivating too.

8.  Who do you aspire to be like?

My science hero is Rita Colwell. I’ve never met her, but her work on Vibrio has spanned from the basic science of pathogenesis to practical solutions for fighting Cholera in Bangladesh. She is an accomplished scientist who has embraced the world of policy and advocacy alongside her work as a biologist.  It’s simple to sit in an ivory tower and publish papers, but to me, science belongs in the service of action and scientists should not shy away from policy and advocacy when their results lead them there.

rita

Dr. Rita Colwell in the lab. Rita holds a B.S. in  Bacteriology, M.S. in Genetics and a PhD in Oceanography. She also served as 11th Director of the United States National Science Foundation for six years.

Outside of science, I aspire to be someone who is generous with their time and compassion for others. For me, a person named Monty Thomas embodies these qualities and sets an example for me every time I feel rushed, or too busy. Monty was director of psychosocial support at an HIV clinic in Durban, South Africa, and we met when I was an undergraduate study-abroad student in 2004. I was struggling setting up interviews with HIV support group members about their experience in the hospital’s choir. Monty was busy with a million things many times more important than me.  Still, he would answer his phone “Hi, this is Monty… how can I help?” and he would invite me into his office even as he was finishing a meeting with someone else. I did get to interview the support group members, and I learned so much more about public health because of him. I feel like I have a lot to pay forward, thanks to Monty and so many other mentors who have guided me along the way.

9.  Advice you’d tell young students; Some key points you wish you knew before you set out.

  • ​Find good mentors, science is always a collaborative effort.
  • Enjoy the journey/process just as much as the end results.
  • No one cares about your project more than you do, so own your work 100%.
  • It is possible to be a smart and respected person who often says, “I don’t know” .
  • ​Money doesn’t buy happiness, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need it and you don’t have to think about it. It follows that the earlier you think about it, the less you have to worry about it later.
  • In discussions, arguments and debates with others, there is always room for uncertainty. Rarely does anyone have enough information to truly analyze the issue at hand.  ​Embrace this uncertainty and approach discussions as a group effort to learn more, rather than an opportunity to prove people wrong.
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously!
  • Don’t take too much advice from others​!!

10.  Any other information you want to highlight? 

​Science will give you the best friends anyone could ask for, and I don’t mean lab mice and petri plates! Science is a magnet for people who are excited about life and the world around them, and I’m glad to have had such an awesome group of colleagues for so long.

Just a couple of great colleagues

Just a couple of great colleagues

Bonus

I don’t want this interview to end without also mentioning her non-scientific career endeavors. From a very young age, Karlyn has been in love with reptiles. Turtles, lizards, snakes, you name it. She once arrived at a Jungle-themed party wearing her pet snake around her neck! Talk about costume commitment.

Karlyn with her pet snake, Skeletor, at a jungle-themed party.

She is also an avid cyclist and has built her own bicycle. As you read, she traveled the world riding her bike as much as she could. She also commutes frequently via bike and she has even raced cyclocross.

cyclocross racing

cyclocross racing

Last little secret, if you happen to love folk contra dancing, you may see Karlyn dancing as well. She’s even been known to do a little calling!

Want to read more from Karlyn? Check out the travel blog she kept while on her journey’s with the Bonderman Fellowship.

Did you like this interview? Please share it with anyone you know who might find inspiration from Karlyn’s words.

Interested in submitting an interview for Woman Scientist? We’d love to have your story!
Please follow this link to fill out the interview questionnaire! Know someone who would be a great feature? Send them the link too!

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Jammin with Jellies – Interview with EvoDevo Biologist

One day Lauren came over for a dinner where the discussion had turned to nerdy science topics, as most dinners with curious people do. We had a giant spread of butcher paper over the kitchen table and we turned to Lauren and asked her to share something nerdy with us.

Little did we expect she would be armed and ready for us; Off she went capturing our attention with explanations of the biology and evolution of jellies.

I distinctly remember making a mental note that often times people call them jellyfish when in fact they should just be referred to as “jellies”. From that day on, I always call them by their proper term.

Lauren is incredibly enthusiastic and passionate about her marine invertebrates from jellies, to nautilus, to all the vast array of deep sea creatures. She contradicts all stereotypes of scientists being dull and boring, which you can see immediately by her bright red hair and refreshingly quirky style.  She is down to dress up and strut her stuff in every aspect of life blending friends, family, fun and science!

At the time of this posting Lauren is currently working her way through graduate school studying evolutionary marine biology.  I wanted to capture this time in her life as she continues to carve her niche in her career. She has great perspective and solid advice for those of us figuring out our way in the life sciences, so without further adieu, I give you Ms. Lauren Vandepas.

American Samoa, a few miles offshore. Taking pictures with a nautilus we caught before divers returned the nautilus to a depth about 70 feet and released it. We took tissue samples for DNA and RNA, weighed, measured, sexed, and x-rayed the nautiluses. Photo by Tom Tobin

1. What did you study during undergrad? Did you know at the time you wanted to study jellies and ctenophores?

I double majored in Biology and Marine Science at the University of Miami with a minor in Chemistry. Deep sea animals and ecosystems were especially fascinating (we didn’t talk about them nearly enough in my classes!). I always loved jellies and thought that ctenophores were the most alien things I’d ever seen. I was interested in how these awesome animals evolved, why deep sea critters look so strange, and how animals make their own light.

Ctenophore Bolinopsis infundibulum at Friday Harbor Laboratories, WA.

Developing tunicate tadpole larvae (Ciona) at the Misaki Marine Labs.

2. What type of job opportunities have you had over the years during college and after college?

When I was in college, I was eligible for a Federal Work-Study. That allowed me to get a paying job working in a coral research lab. The skills I learned there really helped with my job hunt after college. I graduated in 2008, when the economy was still “free-falling”, and I was living in a job market that was one of the hardest hit from the crash. It took me a year after graduating to find full time work in science. I was exploring research technician jobs at universities and colleges in my area, as well as looking into government jobs. I eventually got a position in a medical research lab. It initially bummed me out what I wasn’t able to find a job in marine science, but I learned so much by switching disciplines.

Doing something completely different allowed me to build on the skill set I had in genetic work and learn a ton of other techniques that I wouldn’t have necessarily been exposed to. My mentor, Dr. Suzy Bianco, was awesome and my time in her lab allowed me to become a stronger applicant for graduate school and a better scientist.

I was worried for a while that working in another field might reflect negatively on me down the road (not sticking with just one thing), but it turned out to be the opposite!

Paris – Scientists vacation sometimes! Photo by Diego Valdes.

Bit of an aside… A lot of people end up volunteering in labs to get research experience, and it’s really critical to have that experience under your belt (one year commitment is minimum to get a lot of skills down) when applying for jobs post-undergrad or for graduate studies (med school, etc). So to anyone hoping to go into life sciences as a career, I’d highly recommend joining a lab during undergrad to get some experience!

Lauren showing off Ctenophore wound healing assays at Friday Harbor Laboratories in the San Juan Islands.

Sonicating tissue at the Misaki Marine Labs

3. Where have your studies and work taken you?

One of the awesome things about science as a career in general, and marine science in particular, is that there’s a lot of opportunity for travel. It’s one of the rewards of the job! There’s data to collect, collaborators to visit, conferences to attend, courses to take. Many universities (and marine laboratories) offer graduate-level courses for specific disciplines. Because there’s such a large international network of scientists in any field, a lot of conferences rotate between countries.

Here are some of the places where my studies have brought me, whether for collecting samples, having the chance to learn from others, or attending conferences:

  • Bocas del Toro, Panama – I took a course on larval invertebrate (mostly plankton!) diversity, form and function at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
  • Pago Pago, American Samoa – I got to join collaborators on an expedition to collect nautilus. We used the tissue we obtained on a project examining the relationships of separate nautilus populations
  • Eilat, Israel – The Coelenterate Biology meetings were held in Israel (“coelenterate” is a term that used to be more commonly used to describe comb jellies and cnidarians.).
  • Misaki, Japan – As part of the E. S. Morse Institute (a scholarly exchange between marine biologists at the University of Washington and University of Tokyo). I attended an invertebrate embryology course at the University of Tokyo’s marine labs.

Pago Pago, American Samoa

It’s been fantastic to be able to connect with and learn from scientists around the world, as well as see some amazing nature first hand (the Red Sea! the amazing diversity of Indo-Pacific coral reefs!).

4. What kind of scientist do you consider yourself?

Biology is a huge discipline! I think cases where scientists are completely encompassed in one field are pretty rare. Usually research is spread across several sub-disciplines and the science is under a few different headings simultaneously. Broadly, I would say I’m a marine biologist – I study marine invertebrates. But what do I study about them? I’m interested in why the life we see is so diverse in form and color. How did all of this biodiversity evolve? So I’m an evolutionary biologist, but the way I study evolution is to look at the development of different animal groups (which genes are involved, etc.).

Sharing research with other students at the Misaki Marine Labs

In the lab, x-ray of a live nautilus (the animals are unharmed during this process). Pago Pago, American Samoa

5. Did you have any preconceived notions about science, or scientists, and did that change once you explored your career in it or do some of them remain?

Originally, I thought there would be a lot more outdoor exposure. It turns out field work makes up a small amount of the actual time I spend doing science. A majority of the efforts are actually spent analyzing the samples or data collected in the field. Also, you get very, very attached to your set of pipettes.

One great thing about marine biology, and something that was always attractive to me, was that I didn’t associate working in this field with the (often negative) stereotypical image of a stuffy scientist in a lab coat working in a stuffy acrid-smelling lab. Although, I did make the lab smell pretty awful just the other day when I was working with chemicals. I mean, does β-Mercaptoethanol have any olfactory equivalent? Smelly chemicals aside, I’ve come to discover that science is not stuffy.

Tidepooling at the Misaki Marine Labs.

Live crinoid! Misaki Marine Labs.

6. What led you to get a higher degree? How did you decide between staying at a Bachelor’s vs getting a Masters, or PhD?

I really wanted to be a scientist, as my career. I wanted to do research in marine science and after talking to people in the field and exploring job postings online, realized that to be able to have the career I wanted, I’d need a PhD.

Snorkeling in American Samoa. Photo by Tom Tobin

7. What were/are some big compromises or struggles you’ve experienced trying to make a career for yourself in the science world?

One of the biggest struggles that I’ve faced and witnessed friends deal with is balancing a career in science while still paying attention to other aspects of life (family, hobbies, friends). There’s a perception that if you’re going to be a successful scientist, you have to work 80 hours per week, to the detriment of spouses, family, health…

It seems like that paradigm may be slowly changing and that there’s a pretty recent, more active, conversation about work-life balance. There are many articles on the subject by people who are way more eloquent than I! I think that’s probably the largest functional challenge I have made or will have to make.

It’s something that I’m still struggling with and thinking about as I look to what my career might be like after I finish my PhD. Doing research is so satisfying, challenging, fun, and often dirty/salty/muddy (in short, awesome), and I’m not sure I’d be happy in another field. However, I don’t want the work to make up 100% of my day-to-day either. Everyone deals with it differently and I haven’t figured out what the best path forward for me would be yet.

Chilling next to a whale vertebra, Misaki Marine Labs

8. Did you get hooked by science immediately or was in more of a natural progression?

I grew up in South Florida and we have some awesome nature there. Coral reefs! The Everglades! Mangroves!

Spending time in this environment and exploring was such a joyful and comforting experience that I wanted to figure out a way to be around and think about the ocean all the time. I took advanced science classes whenever I could in school and was fortunate enough to have parents and family who signed me up for marine biology summer camps or took me to the beach, or snorkeling, or tide-pooling. I’ve always wanted to remain immersed in this field, and if I can even get paid to do it, hot damn!

Snorkeling in American Samoa. Photo by Tom Tobin

9. What keeps you motivated when you’re feeling the drudgery? What keeps science FUN for you?

I go outside! I head to the rocky intertidal here in Seattle, or make a point to go snorkeling when I visit my family in Florida.

Volunteering and outreach really keeps things fun, too. Working with kids and the public, I remember why I’m so jazzed about plankton and volcanoes and all things science. I get re-energized showing others how awesome our world is. Having a 2nd grader exclaim, “THAT’S SO COOL!” at a big green isopod you just handed them is a real pick-me-up.

 

 

bluefish Upper: Sorting fish caught in a trawl on the R/V Centennial. Friday Harbor Laboratories, WAl; Lower: Snorkeling in American Samoa

10. Advice you would tell youngsters; Some key points you wish you knew before you set out.

This is going to sound hugely cliché, but… do what makes you happy. If science classes are your favorite, keep at it! Don’t let anyone tell you it’s too hard or there’s MATH or that you have to have perfect standardized test scores. There are a lot of opportunities out there at any level (bachelor’s degrees, PhDs, whatever!) to do what makes you happy.

No one goes into this field for the money, it’s not exactly the most well paying gig, but I do science because I love it and wouldn’t be as satisfied with any other career.

Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars. – Les Brown

Want more?
Make sure you check out more photos from Lauren’s scientific adventures in the Woman Scientist  Facebook album.

All photos courtesy of Lauren Vandepas.

(Featured Image Thumbnail: Selfie with a turtle at the aquarium in Eilat, Israel)
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