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Careers in Science

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Careers in Science

Michelle Hester
Ecologist

How did you choose your present profession? What were your biggest motivators? Who have been your greatest mentors or heroes?
My interest in studying the natural world was sparked in a high school biology class.  The teacher genuinely enjoyed learning about the, seemingly ordinary, plants and animals living on campus.  His energy was contagious.  Through college, I never tired of learning about the Earth and the oceans and became increasingly interested in relationships—the ecology.  I chose to pursue a profession I had passion for, so it was an easy choice and I feel fortunate to enjoy my work every day.

I admire the life work of E.O. Wilson.  He is a science nerd and specializes in ants.  Despite his expertise in small things, he has assumed a grand responsibility to reach outside the academic bubble and encourage the masses to conserve life on Earth.

Was there a pivotal event in your life that helped you decide on your career path?
Landing on the Farallon Islands.  During undergrad I applied for a summer internship on a thriving island wildlife refuge off San Francisco.  It was a crash course in the realities of doing science in the field with a team of biologists and I loved every minute of the long, windy, tiring season.  I decided to pursue graduate school so I could return and manage the biological field station on the island.

What has been the biggest surprise in your life as a scientist?
The humility in realizing the vast amount we don't understand, the joy in learning a little piece, and the satisfaction when that little piece makes a difference.

What would you recommend for students wanting to pursue a similar career?
I recommend students seek a wide array of lab and field experiences outside of the classroom during and between studies.  Pay attention not only to what you enjoy but also the types of jobs possible that fit with your other life priorities.  For example, I ultimately decided to work in the non-governmental/non–profit sector.  I chose this path because the work environment fosters my own strengths, effectiveness and happiness.  It will help to work with mentors from a variety of jobs and take note of the day-to-day realities of their careers to inform your own future.  

What do you like best about your profession?
The two things I enjoy most about my profession as an ecologist are the fabulous wild places I get to study and the interesting, dedicated people I meet.

What would you say has been your greatest achievement?
I feel my greatest contribution has been in helping others to make the most of their abilities—both by sharing my passion with students and providing support to my peers.  While science may appear a lonely endeavor, it takes collaboration and support from others to gain knowledge and improve the world.

Are you optimistic for the future of the planet and if so why?
I am optimistic that people will become more interested and invested in maintaining a healthy planet.  Rising from science, engineering and art, I am hopeful that we will redesign how we live and even enjoy the changes.

What are your greatest fears for the future of the planet?
Despite my optimism that we can redesign the way we live to reduce ecological degradation, I fear only the privileged minority will be able to participate.  Human suffering and poverty must be significantly reduced to apply sustainable living practices at the global scale necessary.

What’s the one message you would like the next generation of scientists to hear?
There is a lot of work to do.  Find or create a work environment that fosters your abilities and passion so you can maximize your effectiveness and happiness.

What Web sites, books, articles and other layperson references would you recommend for viewers interested in your work featured in Strange Days on Planet Earth?
Black-footed Albatross Research, Articles, and Natural History Information
http://www.oikonos.org/albatross.htm Off-site Link

Free classroom resources for teachers about albatross tracking and marine debris
http://www.oikonos.org/oceanstewardship.htm Off-site Link

Albatross Necropsy on Kure Atoll by biologist Cynthia Vanderlip
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6o_rtV68Yn8 Off-site Link
or
http://www.oceanslive.org (search for "Plastic") Off-site Link

Marine Debris - Rivers to the Sea
http://www.plasticdebris.org/ Off-site Link

What Can You Do?  NOAA Marine Debris Program
http://marinedebris.noaa.gov/marinedebris101//WhatCanDo.html Off-site Link

National Geographic Article: Wings of the Albatross
http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/2007-12/albatross/lanting-photography.html Off-site Link

Visit Hester's bio page »

 

 


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