Leveling Up

As my internship starts to really wind down (only four more weeks left, where did the time go!?), I have been reflecting on how far I’ve come over the years. This isn’t my first rodeo, as some would say. After graduating with my bachelor’s degree back in 2012 I really didn’t have much of an idea about what I wanted to do. I was too focused on finishing school to plan much further. I didn’t even know field biology was an option until an ecology instructor mentioned her work as a contractor surveying endangered and threatened species in the bay area. I remember thinking, “wait, I can find a job working outside? Cool!” I really had no idea what I was getting into.

And so I have worked many seasonal field positions over the years. I started out wanting to work with wildlife and soon realized plants are way cooler (and they don’t move, hence surveys at ungodly hours are not required!). It took a year or two to be able to secure work during the off season (other winters I did restaurant work and worked at my local ski area or traveled with whatever savings I had accumulated, volunteering while traveling makes this much more feasible). Each year the position lasted a little longer and paid a little better. Each year I learned more and made some great contacts. This accumulation of experience and contacts eventually led me to graduate school (Plant Biology and Conservation program at Northwestern and our favorite place the Chicago Botanic Gardens) and then to this internship, which is part of my graduate program requirements.

This internship has been an excellent experience to apply my past experience in the field and the knowledge I gained in school. While most of my previous experience has been in vegetation surveying, this position helped me to learn a lot about rare plant monitoring. On top of the expected duties of interns in the rare plant monitoring program I also worked on independent projects.

One project, which will also be part of my graduation requirements for my master’s degree, has been species distribution modeling, a skill I acquired during my graduate course work. Using MaxEnt, I modeled current and future predicted ranges for Sclerocactus glaucus, a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act. This species is up for re-evaluation of status, so my mentor is working on supplying the US Fish & Wildlife Services with information related to the species. It’s been really fulfilling to be able to utilize the skills I acquired in grad school to this project, like researching peer-reviewed articles, running models (with the help of Arcmap) and technical writing. I’m excited that my report will be included in the official report provided to USFWS.

I’ve also been working on habitat assessments for Sclerocactus glaucus using data from the BLM AIM (Assessment Inventory Monitoring) program. As much of my field experience has been with this program, is was really cool to be able to use the data.

As I finish up here I am happy to report that I will be working again shortly. I have been offered a permanent (well long term contract anyways) full time job here in the Denver area. I’m excited to have finally gained more permanent employment, though I will miss being in the field a lot! While this job is mostly office work, it is within the realm of field biology and I know I will learn a lot. This really is a big transition for me! I haven’t lived anywhere longer than 1 year since 2012. It will be really nice but also a little weird for me to not be moving around constantly. But I think it is time for me to settle down and pass the torch along.

For all you out there just starting out, have patience and enjoy this time. Every position offers you the opportunity to learn and gain experience and make new friends and great contacts. To be honest, I haven’t had to interview for a job in years. Once you establish yourself as a hardworking, helpful, intelligent individual people will look out for you. They will offer you jobs or recommend you to other people. Be open to positions that you might not think are that great. My first paid field position wasn’t something I thought would be cool. I figured I would stick it out and get the experience. It turned out to be a great experience where I made great friends and started making good contacts. On the contrary, the positions I was most excited for turned out to be less than ideal.

I know I will miss the excitement of figuring out what my next adventure will be. I will miss the adventure of moving somewhere new, remote and wild. I will miss the adventure of making new friends in desolate places. I will miss living in crazy, middle of no-where places where you can see the milky way from your backyard. I will miss camping in the middle of nowhere with my crew, just finding a decent enough spot off a dirt road to park the truck and pitch your tent. I will miss the long, hot, dusty days in the field finding cool rocks and getting real intimate with all those plants out there. Long story short there is a lot I will miss!

But I’m excited for my next adventure, one that delves into realms I have yet to experience. I am ready to “level up.” I am excited for all of you too! Happy Adventures and Good LUCK!

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About Lauren

Growing up in the Southwest I've been incredibly lucky to spend a lot of my time outdoors enjoying nature. I always loved watching nature shows and dreamed of being a zoologist. Although I am not a zoologist I think I am on my way to achieving an even better dream, becoming a botanist!

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