From an “Ecologist Directory” maintained by the ESA Education Office about 2004-2011. Profile circa 2004.
Degree Ph.D. 1981 (West Virginia University)
Position Executive Director
Department Invasive Species Initiative
Organization The Nature Conservancy
Describe your route to a career in (or using) ecology. What challenges did you need to overcome? What was your training, and what positions have you held?
As an undergraduate student at Wilkes College in Wilkes Barre, PA, I was pre-med. Although I never intended to go into medicine, I knew I liked biology. I took an Ecology class and it hit me – this is a field that makes sense! It brings all the pieces together. Dr. Skip Houseknecht was my professor and he laid out all the fundamentals for me. Unfortunately, Skip passed away some years ago in the Amazon. Both my mother, Doris Gorka Bartuska, and her father were positive influences in my life. They took me for walks at an early age and talked about the natural phenomena that surround us. They did not just list species, but also spoke about the changing of the seasons, and the interconnectedness of all life.I took my first post-PhD job because I was worried that I would not have a job. As a result, I joined a company that was not in sync with my perspective or values. My next job was at North Carolina State University where I was employed as a program manager dealing with the impacts of acid rain. At North Carolina State, I discovered how much I enjoyed managing research programs. I oversaw projects for over 50 scientists, and ensured that they were producing reports we needed to influence policy decisions. While in that position, I also became a Federal Program Manager and spent 14 years with the US Forest Service before moving to The Nature Conservancy in 2001. While working on acid rain projects, I was interviewed by newspapers and television programs (i.e. CNN). I learned how important it is to get professional training in communication skills early in one’s career. I also learned the importance of employee relations. Although I observed my mentors, I faced many challenges along the way, such as showing respect for employees while dealing with performance problems.I have used ecology everywhere although I have mainly focused on acid rain and air pollution, wetland management and delineation, forest health, ecosystem management (being the 1st director of ecosystem management for the Forest Service), forest and range management, vegetation management associated with fire, as well as environmental problems caused by non-native, and invasive species.
What key advice would you offer a student today?
Learn communication skills! You should be able to convey the importance of what you do outside the usual academic environments.
- Always have 3 simple, key messages about your work on hand – be prepared to say what you do to your airplane seat mate without boring them; or be ready to say something to the Chair of the Senate Science Committee if you run into her in the elevator!
- Be able to put your work into context – show how it affects other people!
- Remember that you are working for a VERY worthy cause.