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