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About our STEM Role Model

What are your favorite hobbies or activities you do for fun?    
Shopping, decorating my house, exercise, walk my dogs, paint, read, cook, movies.

What is your favorite non-science book, magazine, or blog?
Book – The Life of Pi, magazine - Vogue

What’s a song you play all the time?
Can’t Hold Us – Macklemore and Ryan Lewis

How do you describe yourself?
Fun, friendly, outgoing, silly, smart, passionate.

Other basic bio info that you’d like to share
I’m very different than my family. My parents never went to college and never travelled internationally (but they supported me with both!). When I was 12 I got a brochure to be a student ambassador in Australia and I told my dad that I wanted to do it and I did. I went without my parents to Australia and New Zealand that young. 

Highest degree attained

Schools attended
SUNY Buffalo (Undergrad), University of Missouri (PhD)

Favorite classes/coursework in elementary school, middle school, high school, college    
Art, English, science (biology/ecology only), theater

North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

Official title    
Postdoctoral Research Associate

“Layman’s” title
Ecologist or Wildlife biologist

Years in this organization/position

What does your organization do?
Educational outreach to the public and research in various fields.

What is your role in the organization?    
I work on eMammal, a citizen science camera trapping project. I work with teachers to incorporate eMammal in their classrooms – students collect real data that we use and they learn about the scientific process. I use data from eMammal to answer questions about mammal behavior and ecology.

Describe your work environment
I work in the museum on display behind glass walls for the public to see real scientists working.

What tools and/or techniques do you use in your job?
Camera traps – motion and heat triggered to take photos of animals non-invasively.

Describe a typical day in your job
Most days I spend on my computer writing papers, managing eMammal, and analyzing data, but I also give talks frequently and visit classrooms.

Describe an atypical (but notable) day in your job
This past year I was on an expedition on Mt. Kenya, resurveying what Teddy Roosevelt did 100 years ago. I was setting up camera traps from the park entrance to the top – tough field work and very cold. 

How is the work you do important to society?
Everything is interconnected when it comes to nature. If one species is removed, it can affect the whole ecosystem, which in turn, can affect us (e.g. disease is the among the most tangible examples). Animals live close to humans and are moving closer (e.g. coyotes live in downtown Chicago), to live with animals, it is important to study them. I also am a big proponent of general knowledge without there being a tangible “result” to society or for human benefit. I think it’s important to understand/know things just to advance science and human society in general.
What accomplishments are you most proud of in your current role?
Setting up eMammal in international classrooms. We have programs in Mexico, India, and Kenya. 

What projects or goals are you currently pursuing?
Expanding eMammal to more schools, especially as part of a state-wide initiative with the NC Wildlife Resources Commission, developing eMammal Academy, our online educational resources

What are the biggest challenges you face in your work?
Balancing everything. There are so many fun projects to work on and also interesting things to pursue. 

What is the most exciting, most amazing, or scariest thing that has happened to you during your work?
Definitely the hike up Mt. Kenya. It was so hard! I exercise for an hour every day and it was still challenging. Camping and hiking in the cold and through difficult conditions was something I have never done before. I have never hiked a mountain before and this was the second tallest in Africa. 

In my PhD, I had several close calls with elephants, charged several times on foot and one even attacked my room at the field station I was staying. It banged its trunk into my window breaking part of the window. 

What’s the coolest part of your job?
2 things: the great photos we get and the great people I get to work with, awesome teachers and students, as well as other super fun scientists at the museum.

What are some of the perks of your job?
Definitely traveling. Since staring the museum, I have been to Mexico, India, Kenya, and Suriname in addition to several US cities.

What are the downsides of your job?
Competition. There are limited resources (like grants or jobs) and many qualified people to fill them. In fact, people in my field are usually overachievers making everyone highly qualified. 

If asked to “sell” this career to someone, what would you say to convince them to pursue it?
You get to travel and work on animals!

What’s something that most people don’t know about your job/work?
It’s a lot of work. It’s kind of like owning your own business. You can always be working on something to advance it and sometimes it’s hard to shut down or turn off. 

What personal traits make you well suited for the work that you do?
My ability to work with people of all backgrounds and cultures. I am very down-to-Earth and the teachers I work with are always surprised by that. They think scientists are really serious and stuffy. I am not!

Previous employers and positions that have lead to your current role    
School for Field Studies, Kenya, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and Chicago Botanic Garden/Bureau of Land Management.

Other positions not necessarily related to your current career
Starbucks and my dad’s jewelry store (Ben Garelick Jewelers)

Best job you’ve ever had and why
This and Disney. Both had a great work environment – promoted education, outreach, fun, good work-life balance. 

What were you like as a kid?
Outgoing until I moved (around 12 years old). I had a tough time fitting in with my new school. I had friends, but never clicked with them like my other school and I became shy until high school. Going to Kenya for study abroad allowed me to fully become “myself” again. 

What did you think you were going to be when you grew up at age 12? At age 15? At age 18?
All vague ideas – doctor, actress, but nothing grabbed me.

When did you know you wanted to pursue your current career, and what drove you towards it?
Not until college. I studied abroad in Kenya (was convinced to study abroad by my brother, I chose Kenya just because it sounded cool). I was pursuing theater and wanted to be an actress, but always loved animals. I didn’t realize you could have a career in wildlife without being like Jane Goodall and moving to remote Tanzania (I was too social to do that). I learned in Kenya that there were lots of jobs in wildlife. 

Who inspired you on this path?
No one really, but my parents taught me to like animals.

If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, what other career(s) might you have pursued?
Something in art, maybe graphic design? But I also didn’t realize you could have a viable career in art. Otherwise doctor of some sort, but I think my bedside manner is bad. 

Why did you agree to become a STEM Role Model?
I think it’s important for kids to see that scientists are real people with diverse interests. I also think it’s important for them to see different types of scientists both in terms of the field (ecologists, chemists, palentologists, etc.) and the scientists themselves (women, minorities). I was never exposed to career options other than the basics (doctor, teacher, etc.) and I want to show kids what is possible. Also that science is not following a “cookbook” of protocols. It is much more adventurous and creative than that.  

What advice would you give a student interested in pursuing your career?
Perseverance and just working hard. You don’t have to be the smartest or even the best at science, but you do have to stick to it and dedicate yourself. 

What advice would you give students in general?    
To ask for advice, hahaha. Explore their options by asking mentors. Try things out. If they like something, go for it, if not move on. There’s no shame in quitting. 

What are some interesting places you’ve traveled?
Kenya, Gabon, Uganda, Rwanda, Republic of Congo, Tanzania (Zanzibar only), India, Mexico, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Suriname, Costa Rica, France, Belgium, and Netherlands

Additional Resources


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April 28, 2016 at 1:00pm Eastern

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