woman scientist

in the field

Category: Interviews (page 1 of 3)

Allison Lee: Polar Phytoplankton PhD Student

A big thanks to Allison Albritton (formerly Randolph) for the interview on the Ocean Allison podcast before my trip down to Antarctica.

Episode #54, Allison Lee: Phytoplankton PhD Student.


Allison Lee is a biological oceanography PhD student at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, working to bring phytoplankton research to the world of Citizen Science in the Arctic and the Antarctic. In this episode we discuss her experience working in a lab setting, her inspiring blog ‘Woman Scientist’, her passion for phytoplankton research, and more.

Allison just completed a field season in Antarctica aboard the Hebridean Sky, launching her FjordPhyto Citizen Science project with willing and excited passengers. The beginning of this story was featured in the San Diego Tribune.   During the 2017 – 2018 Antarctic summer, citizen scientists from multiple tour ships will be collecting samples which contribute to current climate research.

If you’re interested to learn more about the Citizen Science Project – FjordPhyto – in Antarctica, follow along on the FjordPhyto website, Instagram, and Facebook.

Visit Allison Lee’s website womanscientist.com and follow her on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.

Allison Albritton is an ocean advocate, herself, sharing stories of positive change for the ocean. If you’d like to learn more about Allison Albritton, read the Woman Scientist interview here.

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Life of a Desert Field Scientist – Mindi Lehew

Mindi Lehew is an Environmental Scientist working for the US Forest Service. She has been hiking the Sonoran Desert and Coronado National Forest for more than six years and absolutely loves it.

Check out the video below where Mindi explains the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, the unique desert ecosystems, including the iconic Saguaro cactus, and her work as a field scientist.

Keep reading to learn more about how Mindi first became interested in science.

What is your earliest memory of being hooked by science?

Growing up in a small town, playing in nature was my every day adventure. At the time, I didn’t understand that was the beginnings of scientific exploration and a lifelong conservation ethic. I spent my childhood in the desert, hiking with my dad or riding my horse with my mom. Our family spent a few weeks every summer visiting different national parks.  I remember carrying around a notepad in Yellowstone National Park taking detailed notes and keeping a count of every plant and animal species I encountered. I was probably 10 years old at the time, but I still have the little notebook today, and I know now that was field science at its finest!

What did you think a scientist did before you became one?

I thought all scientists worked in a lab and wore a white coat. It wasn’t until I started college that I realized you could make a career out of studying the environment (and get paid to play outdoors!). Now I know scientists also wear cargo shorts and hiking boots!

What keeps it fun?

I never get tired of the landscapes. Since I was little, I’ve always been humbled by nature and the evolution of our planet and all the species that exist on it. Nothing beats the feeling of summiting a peak and being rewarded with a panoramic view for hundreds of miles in all directions. As an environmental scientist and public land manager, it’s rewarding to know I play a small role in protecting those natural places.

Is there anyone that inspired you? 

My dad! He is a pharmacist by profession, but a conservationist at heart. We always joke that we’re both scientists, the only difference is that he helps the people and I help the planet. For as long as I can remember, he’s had one mantra: leave this earth a better place than it was when you got here. He inspired me to make that mantra my life’s mission!

Let’s learn more about the region: 

Desert Range

This region of Arizona, California, and Baja hosts a convergence of many types of desert ecosystems that span from Mexico all the way up into the Rocky Mountains.

Saguaro Cactus 

The Saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea) live on rocky terrain and do not occur anywhere else in the world. Many people mistakenly think the tall cactus in Baja are Saguaros, but they are actually look-alike cactus called Cardón (Pachycereus pringlei). The Cardón resembles the Saguaro in growth, but can grow to be much more massive, and is not as frost tolerant as the Saguaro.

The average lifespan for a Saguaro cactus is about 200 years. As they grow taller they branch arms and extend their radial root system. Even though the root system is very shallow for such a tall, heavy plant, it provides a sturdy base allowing the cactus to absorb water from the occasional desert downpours.

I had always thought, if lost in the desert, I could survive by drinking water from the cactus tissue. As if cactus were giant rain barrels storing an oasis of refreshment.  I surely would have died! It turns out succulents create toxic products from photosynthesis including Malic Acid and Oxalic Acid. If ingested, Oxalic Acid combines with calcium in our bodies to produce calcium oxalates which are harmful to our kidneys. While a human may be able to survive off small amounts, ultimately dehydration would take over.

Mindi shows us there are some edible parts to the cactus; She delicately plucks a barrel cactus fruit and gives us a taste. Sour!  Like a granny smith apple.

Thank you for taking us through your kind of desert Mindi Lehew!

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Allison Randolph: for the Ocean

My friend, Kate Ruck, told me to follow a woman named Ocean Allison on Instagram. “She is doing awesome podcasts about the Ocean, I think you would enjoy!”  Of course, I hit ‘Follow’ and started listening. The first podcast I heard highlighted the work of Dr. Greg Rouse from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Dr. Rouse is a marine biologist frequently discovering new deep sea species like bone eating worms, ruby sea dragons, and purple socks (curious? listen to the podcast!)

Allison has gone on to interview 48 and counting, other acclaimed ocean advocates such as: Dr. Wallace J Nichols (author of Blue Mind), Rob Machado (pro-surfer), Pam Longobardi (plastic pollution artist), and Jim Toomey (cartoonist of Sherman’s Lagoon).

With a background in Marine Biology, she now combines her knowledge of ocean science with her skills in communications in order to be a voice for the ocean.

“I consider myself a marine biologist since that’s what my background is in, but in reality I am an ocean science and conservation communicator.  I strive to help scientists communicate their important ocean research to the public through education and digital media.” ~ Allison Randolph

Teaching plastic pollution to K-6 students.

While earning her degree at Florida Institute of Technology she worked as a coral reef researcher in a Marine Paleoecology Lab and as an intern with Dr. Andy Nosal at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Allison has also worked as an educator at the Birch Aquarium in San Diego.

After traveling to Antarctica as the Outreach Specialist on a National Science Foundation expedition, Allison began to build her brand as Ocean Allison in order to educate the public on all things ocean via her podcast, social media channels, and educational programs. She is also currently working on a project with the San Diego Natural History Museum, and welcomes every opportunity to communicate ocean science and conservation topics.

Let’s hear more from Allison as she share’s her career journey:

What is your earliest memory of being hooked by science?

My love the ocean started before I can remember.  My childhood revolved around the ocean and over time this interest turned into curiosity, but I don’t know if I ever really thought of this ocean exploration as science (even though it was!).  Growing up, it seemed to me that science was something you did in school, and this subject always drew me in.  I completed my first science fair project in third grade and continued to participate in science fair till my junior year of high school, making it to regional and state fairs several times.

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

I majored in Marine Biology at Florida Institute of Technology (FIT) during my undergraduate degree.  A big reason I chose FIT was because they have a great marine bio program, and this proved to definitely be true.  Apparently, I knew I wanted to study marine biology as early as 1st grade.  Six year old me used to go around saying, “I either want to be a chiropractor or a marine biologist”.

What was your first science-related job?

My first science-related job where I got paid was in the Marine Paleoecology Lab at Florida Tech during my undergrad degree.  I was a student worker in the lab for three and a half years, helping to analyze climatic variability and upwelling regimes in coral reef cores from Pacific Panama, dating back to about 6,000 years before present.

My first unpaid science-related job was as an intern with Dr. Andy Nosal at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, studying the biology and ecology of a large seasonal aggregation of leopard sharks in Southern California.

Shark survey cruise with NOAA SWFSC in Channel Islands.


What are your thoughts on getting a higher degree?

Thus far, I have not chosen to earn a higher degree.  While I don’t rule it out, I have found that I see more opportunity in forging my own path rather than continuing on in academia.

Additionally, since a main focus of mine is science communication, it is actually important for me to be outside of academia so that I can see the big picture and relate to the public; while still of course maintaining a professional relationship with colleagues doing research at universities.

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

Before entering college I thought that marine scientists spent majority of their time out in the field, researching their subject.  After working in a lab and doing an internship in the field, it became clear to me that grad students and scientists were spending majority of the year analyzing data and writing papers and grants in the lab, with only a few weeks, to maybe a few months each year spent in the field collecting data.

Scientists are dedicated researchers that put in long hours to make sure that the results they present to the world are accurate and peer-reviewed.  This both impressed me, and also made me realize, maybe my interests will steer me in a slightly different direction.

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

Through my work I’ve had the opportunity to travel to some truly incredible places around the world.

As an undergraduate I traveled to Indonesia for a research internship with Operation Wallacea.  There I spent 6 weeks living on a remote island, diving twice a day, helping graduate students collect field data on various coral reef related research projects.

In 2015, I traveled to Chile and Antarctica as the Outreach Specialist on a National Science Foundation research expedition studying how climate change is effecting the ecology of Antarctic deep seafloor organisms.  I wrote blogs, formed relationships with K-12 students, posted on social media, and produced a short documentary film about the expedition and it’s science.

A few months ago, I attended the BLUE Ocean Film Festival and Conservation Summit in Monaco where my film, Antarctic SeaScience Expedition, was awarded Honorable Mention.

I had the opportunity to meet some incredibly inspiring ocean filmmakers, conservationists, and scientists all working to create positive change for the ocean and the planet.

Over the last several years, my work has brought me to San Diego and surrounding areas in Southern California.  I have worked on leopard shark research projects in La Jolla and on Catalina Island with scientists from Scripps, I have surveyed shark populations in Southern California waters with NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center, I have worked at Birch Aquarium as an informal marine science educator, and continue to work on a comparative fish skeleton collection project with the San Diego Natural History Museum.

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

While I’ve had experience working in all of these sectors, some of which I personally preferred more than others, I am now working to bring them all together and highlight the positive characteristics of each.  Regardless of what sector I want to work in, I find all of these (and more) vital and important entities in the world.

Through my podcast, Ocean Allison, I highlight individuals from any and all business sectors that are creating positive change for the ocean.  In this way I am uniting people from all areas that are maintaining a common goal, just going about it in all different ways.  You can listen to weekly episodes of my podcast by searching Ocean Allison on Soundcloud, Google Play, iPhone Podcast App and oceanallison.com.


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

One of the biggest obstacles I came across when pursuing a career in science was when I realized that much of what science uncovers remains only within the scientific community.

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

Earth is Blue!  The ocean is the driver of our planet.  Life came from the ocean.  Our climate system is controlled by the ocean.  Majority of our oxygen comes from the ocean.  99% of Earth’s biomass is in the ocean.  It’s what makes our dot in the solar system unique.  We need the ocean.  We have abused it.  And now, in order to help ourselves, we need to help the ocean.

Remembering all of the above, keeps me motivated everyday.  These are the fundamental truths that inspire me to do science, to communicate science, to educate, and to document.  Not to mention getting out in the water and enjoying all that the ocean has to offer, like SCUBA diving, snorkeling, surfing, swimming, and boating!

Snorkeling in the Bahamas.

Was there any one person that inspired you?

In terms of ocean curiosity and exploration, my parents were definitely my biggest inspiration growing up.  They facilitated my ocean experiences and always were teaching me about ocean animals and ocean dynamics.

In school, my middle school science teacher Simone Flood was a huge inspiration.  She really invested time into her students, forming a close bond with us.  This allowed for more authentic teaching and for me, I really opened up to how fun, interesting, and diverse science really is.

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

Racing Extinction is an incredibly motivating film that I hope opens people’s minds to changing their actions for the preservation of our planet.

Mission Blue, a film documenting Sylvia Earle and all of her incredible accomplishments is also incredibly inspiring.

The most inspiring thing of all is to immerse yourself in nature.  When studying the natural world, I’ve found this to be the best way to gain fresh perspective and increase appreciation for what you’re dedicating so much time to.

When I met Sylvia Earle at BLUE Ocean Film Fest in Monaco.

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

No matter how groundbreaking or important your scientific findings are, in order to create change for this planet they have to be communicated to a large and varied audience.  If there is no communication, the significance of and interest in science decreases.

Also, always keeping in mind and promoting this quote has helped me greatly: “We are not apart from nature, we are a part of nature.” -Prince Ea

What is your big dream?

My big dream is that we will protect and preserve the ocean so that it is as healthy and thriving as possible.  The ocean drives our entire planet — getting humans to recognize the ocean’s vitality and make change to effectively protect our waters is my ultimate goal.

Through my career I strive to educate others about that vitality of the ocean, since we can only care about what we understand.  Once people understand they will care, and once they care we can work to protect our oceans the way they need to be protected.

Tidepool Guide for Birch Aquarium


To see more photos of Allison’s adventures, check out the Feature Photo Album on Woman Scientist Facebook Page. Like it and share!

Thank you so much for the interview Allison!

For more on Allison Randolph, visit allisonrandolph.com

To see all of her ocean adventures, learn about marine species, and find ways you can help preserve our planet’s blue lifeblood, follow her on social media @ocean_allison on Instagram, Twitter, & Facebook.


Want more interviews? We will post interviews with a new feature Woman Scientist every week. In the mean time, you can read from more inspirational women here.


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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?


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.


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.


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?


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!  


Did you like this interview? Share it with your friends to inspire the next generation of women to build science careers that get them out in the field!

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!


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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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