My Story


I grew up on a ranch near the city of Lompoc on the central coast of California. When I say ranch, most people probably picture horses and cows and a big house. There were cows, but since we rented our house they weren’t ours, and the only other animals were our pets and the wild ones. Looking back, I probably developed an interest in wildlife because I grew up close to nature; bobcats, red-tailed hawks, rattlesnakes, and tarantulas were part of life there.

Me and dad building our basketball hoop

I attended the University of California Santa Barbara and graduated in 2013 with a B.S. in Zoology.  While there, I got my first research experiences, working on vernal pool restoration, small vertebrate surveys, urban landscape connectivity, and wetland parasitology. As I was delving into upper division courses and research experience, I decided to become involved in student government. As one of the few scientists in student government, I was introduced to a whole new world. I learned what micro-aggressions were, participated in marches for social justice (even yelling into a megaphone), and generally awoke a passion for people. I felt conflicted, what was I doing learning about Lotka-Volterra equations (1) and chameleon tongues (super cool by the way) when there was so much human suffering in the world?

“Hey-hey, ho-ho, these budget cuts have got to go!”

I wrestled with these two passions for months, then had a eureka moment in my parasitology class senior year. My professor (shout out to Dr. Armand Kuris) described a project he led in East Africa using crawfish as a biocontrol agent for the secondary snail host of the parasite that causes Schistosomiasis (2). At that moment I realized that my passions weren’t mutually exclusive, I could use my knowledge of ecology for the benefit of wildlife and people. I went on to work in Dr. Kuris’ lab for the remainder of senior year studying the underestimated effects of parasites in wetland communities.

I graduated from UC Santa Barbara in 2013, and like many undergraduates, didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life. I worked at Petco as a grooming assistant and tutored high school kids for 6 months before landing a full time job as a Biological Technician. I worked at University of California Riverside on a project researching the efficacy of parasitoid wasps as an alternative control measure for the Asian citrus psyllid, a potentially devastating invasive pest. I used to be pretty into parasites, not so much anymore, but I still think they’re cool (and probably ecologically underappreciated). Working as a technician was great, we had an exciting mix of field and lab work, I had the freedom to design experiments, and it was nice to not have homework. However, after a while started to miss school, realized I didn’t want to work with insects anymore, and craved a new challenge. I decided to apply to graduate school. I quit my job, and did some traveling before starting grad school.

Me building a cage for the wasps, maybe it was hot that day.

I applied to several master’s degree programs, and decided to attend California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo. Cal Poly was an hour away from where I grew up, so it sort of felt like coming home. My parents didn’t live nearby anymore (a year after I left for college they bought an R.V. and are living “on the edge” as my grandpa likes to say) so I saw it as a new experience. Those were the best 2 years of my life. I absolutely love the intellectual curiosity, diversity of thought and culture, and palpable energy of life at a university. My thesis work was on ways to reduce roadkill while still providing safe passage for wildlife across highways. [See my research page for more information.] I honed my research interests as a master’s student, I became most interested in carnivore ecology and conservation, community ecology, and human-wildlife interactions. I decided to pursue a career in academia, I thrived balancing my time between research, teaching, service, and social activities. The next step for me was a PhD.

A standard day during my master’s looking through wildlife photos.

After having lived in California my whole life, I was open to living somewhere else during my PhD. I applied to 8 programs to start in the Fall of 2018, but was only accepted into 1 program. I ultimately decided not to attend that university because it didn’t feel like the right fit, and resigned to apply again during the next cycle. Keep in mind I was still earning my masters at the time, taking classes, doing research, teaching, and working part time. I found a job in the San Francisco Bay Area and was set to move up there when I was contacted by my future advisor at Clemson University. I had applied to a predator-prey interaction position in the spring of 2018 but had sort of forgotten about it. After hearing more about it, and talking with my mentors I decided to commit to moving to South Carolina and began my PhD at Clemson University in the fall of 2018.

This was a big move for me. Not only was it far from from friends and family, people kept telling me how “different” the South is. Regardless, I was excited to move somewhere new, start a new research project, and make new friends. For my PhD, I am studying coyote ecology in the state of South Carolina, specifically their interactions with white-tailed deer and smaller carnivores. See my research page for more information.

(1) https://www.khanacademy.org/science/high-school-biology/hs-ecology/hs-ecological-relationships/v/predator-prey-cycle

(2) Dr. Kuris’ work aimed to limit the numbers of snails (step 3), thereby limiting how many parasites were in the system.

Image result for schistosomiasis life cycle

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