Neotropical migratory bird surveys in Louisiana swamps
In the spring before I started graduate school, I worked as a research assistant to a then-graduate student at University of Mississippi. His research focused on analysis of neotropical bird migrant genetics and demographic patterns. I was one of two mist-netting assistants and our jobs were to disentangle birds from the finely-meshed nets and run them to Zoltan’s collecting station. We also helped collect data on individual birds. This position afforded me an incredibly intimate interaction with startlingly beautiful birds and I’ve never lost my love of birds since.
Herps and smammals in high desert Arizona
After graduating UT Austin in 2006, I took a seasonal biological technician position at Petrified Forest National Park in north-eastern Arizona. I was the only biotech and had a great deal of autonomy on my various assigned projects. My two main focuses were collecting observational data on herps (reptiles and amphibians) and Gunnison’s prairie dogs (“smammals,” i.e. small-mammals). I learned a considerable amount about collecting data in a rigorous, repeatable manner and developed research protocols for both of those main projects. Previously there was no standard protocol. I also convinced my supervisors to purchase statistical software so I could start to analyze the years of data that had been collected on herps. Most of what I took away from that position was a respect for rigorous data collection and its use in ecological understanding and management of a conservation area.
Invasive plant demographics in New England forest
For one summer during my undergraduate years, I was part of the NSF-funded Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program. My internship was at Harvard Forest under the guidance of Dr. Kristina Stinson who worked on the invasive plant species garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata). Along with my partner, Jens Stevens (now a fellow grad student at UCD), we collected data on an ongoing reciprocal transplant study and started an observational study on garlic mustard invasion in Western Massachusetts ecoregions. That summer was my first real foray into rigorous scientific research and whetted my appetite for a career as a full-fledged scientist.
Conservation management training in Oklahoma woodland
In the summer following my second year of undergraduate studies, I had my first experience into real-world field-based conservation and ecology. My internship at Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma was funded by the Student Conservation Association (SCA). The internship was a broad one, intended to give me and my fellow SCA intern partner an overview of the type of work that went into managing a federal conservation area. We mostly worked with the Refuge biologists and through them, I found an intense love of identifying plants and deciphering plant communities. We also worked on deer surveys, prairie dog relocations, water quality tests, and more. In addition to our biological duties, we also staffed the Visitor Center often and occasionally helped with the Environmental Education classes. That summer solidified my passion for ecology and field work.