I’ve always enjoyed being outside, and despite growing up in the big city, I knew I wanted a job someday that involved working outside. In high school, the most “outdoorsy” job I could find was working at a plant nursery, watering acres of petunias and giving advice on what customers should plant in their gardens. Little did I know that 15+ years later I’d be launching a career studying plants!
When I left Washington State for New England and my freshman year in college, I thought maybe I’d head towards a career in law, or politics. But a little taste of those things and I quickly realized they were not for me! I headed over to the Biology building on campus and started checking out classes in ecology. A few research internships and a few inspiring teachers later I was well on my way towards a career in ecology.
I would say that my career path towards ecological research was cemented when I spent the winter of my junior year in the tropics studying ecology. We spent our days inventing miniature research projects in the rain forest, and then spent our nights analyzing the data and writing up little reports while giant arthropods buzzed around our heads. I loved it! The whole process: brainstorming questions, designing field data collection, analyzing the data and writing up results.
After I graduated, I spent about a year traveling around the country working as a field technician. This was great fun, and I got to see places like the Sierra Nevada, the Tetons of Wyoming, and the northern hardwood forests of New England. However, I was impatient to be able to run my own research projects, to be the one making decisions about how the data was collected, instead of following orders. So… I headed off to graduate school at Colorado State University.
I was lucky enough to find a funded PhD project studying invasive riparian plants in Canyon de Chelly National Monument. I spent four summers in the desert, learning about why riparian plants are so cool and how they exist at an incredibly unique place on the landscape: at the interface between land and water. They rely on the river for disturbance and moisture, and rely on floodplains for soils and connectivity to the nearby uplands. I was hooked!
I’ve been working as a postdoc for a couple years now and my research includes how invasive plants, river regulation such as large dams, and climate change are all impacting and influencing riparian plant communities in the western US. I feel lucky everyday that I get paid to do the work I love. And although I’m not outside as much as I would like, I am out every field season, working on rivers in some of the most beautiful places.
For more on my career and research, check out the info and links on my contributors’ page