From an “Ecologist Directory” maintained by the ESA Education Office about 2004-2005. Profile circa 2004.
Degree MS (University of Wisconsin)
Department Public Affairs Office
Organization Ecological Society of America
When did you become interested in ecology? Who was most influential in guiding you into ecology?
I grew up in a suburban setting, Northern Virginia right outside Washington, DC. But luckily, my family and I went sailing on the Chesapeake Bay nearly every weekend. As soon as we would be anchored in some snug cove, I would explore the marshes with our little rowboat. All those years of being out on the water in all seasons exposed me to everything from close encounters with jellyfish and blue crabs to lessons in erosion, watching the Bay’s Poplar Islands slowly disappear. Stan Temple of the University of Wisconsin—Madison was most influential in really coalescing my interest in the science of ecology. He gave a riveting talk on endangered species and it inspired me to want to work with him and somehow contribute to the field
How did you learn about ecological careers – what is your position title now?
Once I figured out that my talents were not in ecology per se, but rather in a passion and skill in communicating ecological science, I realized I needed to look for public affairs/communications positions. My current title is Director of Public Affairs at the Ecological Society of America.
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?
My route was neither carefully planned nor conventional. Halfway through my undergraduate studies, I needed to select an additional major (I was majoring in German). I picked Environmental Studies because its broad spectrum of coursework included numerous ecology, resource economics, and environmental law classes and I have always gravitated to, being more of a generalist than a specialist. During my senior year, I acquired an internship which dovetailed nicely with my coursework and emphasized communication skills. My boss really became my mentor and urged me to get my Masters degree at her alma mater, the University of Wisconsin’s Institute for Environmental Studies. My biggest challenge was realizing that my generalist background had not prepared me for a hard-core ecology field project, nor was I particularly well suited for that. After sorting through this reality, my advisor, Stan Temple, and I worked out a rather unusual thesis project. Unlike most of my peers in the program, who were doing original field work, my research was more akin to investigative journalism combined with collecting existing data. My research and coursework, combined with my position as a scriptwriter for Earthwatch Radio during graduate school, gave me excellent training as a communicator of ecological science. After graduate school, I landed a position with the Chesapeake Research Consortium, where I provided staff support to scientists working on various aspects of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay Program. From there, I became the Ecological Society of America’s Public Affairs Officer, in charge of the Society’s press operations. Several years later, I became Director of ESA’s Public Affairs Office, which is responsible for conveying ecological science and the Society’s positions on policy matters to the press and to policymakers.
What key advice would you offer a student today?
I would encourage students to pursue avenues—both educational and work experiences—that inspire and motivate them. Sometimes it’s not obvious where these may lead, but surprisingly often, doing so will help crystallize what area a student wants to work in and also where their talents lie.
What advice do you have for communicating ecology to diverse audiences?
I believe ecology is one of the best sciences to share with non-scientists. Ecological stories practically tell themselves. The key is not to get bogged down in technical jargon, but to focus on the fascinating observations, the unexpected relationships, and the many connections; the relevance of ecology to people.