What was your life like before becoming a Ph.D. student at Oregon State?
I finished my undergrad in 2007 at Georgetown University with a B.A. in Theology. As you can probably guess, theology is a virtually non-marketable degree – theology majors either 1) go to seminary, or 2) earn doctorates, then teach future theology students. I had zero interest in either of those career paths. But at the time I didn’t particularly care about job prospects, since about halfway through college I decided I wanted to go to culinary school, and eventually open my own bakery.
After graduating I moved to New York City, where I was professionally trained in classic French pastry. But after just a few months working in the food industry, I became sadly disillusioned. I realized that, unless you’re extremely talented and extremely lucky, a career in baking means hard physical labor, big egos, low creative freedom and even lower wages.
I stuck with it for a while, but I also started looking around for other opportunities. I spent a fair amount of time trying to market my non-marketable theology degree (fail). Eventually, I suppose around 2011, I gave up the hope of getting myself on any sort of career track, and instead resigned myself to a series of dead-end jobs. Fortunately, since those jobs offered no intellectual stimulation whatsoever, I had plenty of time and mental energy to do some soul searching as well. By 2013, with more than a few oven burns on my arms and way too much retail experience under my belt, I decided to go back to grad school and (hopefully) re-tool myself to work in some field related to environmental conservation and sustainability.
What has your experience been like?
It’s been a challenge, for sure. Coming from a non-science, non-NR background I had a steep learning curve, and I never really found a strong research focus. Generally I concentrate on ethics in conservation, but within that concentration I’ve thought and written on a range of topics, including wildlife management, forest management, and even a little climate change. I’ve also dabbled in conservation psychology, particularly for my dissertation work. So I’m pretty interdisciplinary. Recently I’ve also come to realize that I’m most interested in asking questions that don’t have clear or unequivocally “right” answers. I think I’d argue that many if not most of the ethical issues we face in environmental management and conservation meet that condition…which is really overwhelming, but at least I know I won’t run out of things to think about any time soon.
You work as an instructor. What’s that like?
I really enjoy teaching, and I feel lucky to have had a chance to do a fair amount of it as a graduate student. Right now I’m teaching an online graduate course, SNR 522 Basic Beliefs and Ethics in Natural Resources. It’s been a good term – probably the most diverse and engaged group I’ve had yet.
Will you continue to do that now that you’re wrapping up your Ph.D.? What’s next?
I’ll be starting a post doc position in summer through the HJ Andrews Long-Term Ecological Research program. They supported me throughout my grad program, so I’m happy to have a chance to stay with that community, and hopefully make myself useful. And yes, I’m also hoping to continue teaching my class. I’d gladly accept any opportunities to teach additional classes as well.
Have you read any good books lately?
Lately I’ve been reading some stuff by a local Eugene author, Barry Lopez. He wrote this amazing essay for Harper’s magazine, called “Polar Light” – a mentor sent it to me a few months ago, and it sort of got me hooked. I picked up Winter Count, which is a book of short stories, and I was done with it in one evening. That same night I ordered Arctic Dreams, which is what I’m still reading now (it’s been slow going – I tend to fall asleep after a couple pages). Anyway, this one is non-fiction, and conveys Lopez’ lifelong fascination with the arctic region. It’s such a different place than anywhere else on Earth, so I’ve enjoyed learning a bit of that history and ecology. But more than that I appreciate his ability to translate his observations of the arctic region into these insightful and frankly beautiful reflections on humanity. He’s a great writer.
What’s your favorite food?
Cake. And salad.
If you were one of the seven dwarfs, which would you be?
Some combination of Sleepy and Grumpy…Slumpy?
What’s in the trunk of your car right now?
Sheets (an effort to control the profusion of dog hair in my car…which in actuality is an exercise in futility); reusable grocery bags; and a large pink umbrella, which I bought at an old-fashioned pharmacy in New York City back in 2008.