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This Women’s History Month, meet and learn more about some of the amazing women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) behind USGS climate science!

Meet Mari Rodriguez, an early-career biologist with the National CASC:

Mari Rodriguez, NCASC
Mari Rodriguez checks a trap for mice at a field site in Michigan for research.

Q: What kind of science or science support do you do?

A: I actually started as an intern (at USGS) right after I graduated, and I was brought on to work on this synthesis project with some of my colleagues looking at biodiversity impacts from climate change. Specifically, looking at how temperature drivers and precipitation drivers are affecting species ranges.

Q: What inspired you to pursue your career?

A: I had a lot of formative experiences in my undergraduate career. During my undergraduate career I did do research, but (my research supervisor and I) weren't really looking at climate change. We were looking at how the environment impacts stickleback (a small spiny fish)morphological evolution, and I think that background made me understand the kind of questions that I was really interested in: how does the environment affect how species look, where they live, and what they eat? 

Q: What was your path into your career?

A: One summer I ended up doing an REU (Research Experience for Undergraduate) at the University of Michigan’s Biological Station and the whole program was actually geared towards looking at climate change impacts. I did a project looking at how forest fires impact the predation of white-footed mice, so that's kind of where I got that climate angle.  I began to get really interested in climate science and I knew that was a topic that I've always been interested in and passionate about – climate justice and things like that. I thought that they kind of meshed well together – my interest in adaptation and evolution, and then also climate change.

After that summer experience, the program reached out to former REU students and posted about a summer field internship with the USGS and the ESA. It worked out that when I interviewed with (NCASC scientists) Madeline Rubenstein and Sarah Weiskopf our interests really aligned. I had a lot of experience reading about climate change and climate impacts – some of the background research I did for my REU was about range shifts in climate change – so it was a really good fit for me.

Q: What advice would you give to people that are early in their careers?

A: I would say don't be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. When I was younger, I was afraid that my experience was so limited that I wouldn’t be able to apply what I know to other topics or larger projects. But I've surprised myself this entire experience with how much I've been able to adapt to new challenges.

Q: What do you enjoy most about your job?

A: That's a really easy question for me! I love mentoring new interns and like getting to meet them. I love telling them about the project, getting them excited about it. Also, being there for them in the sense that “I was in your shoes, too. I know what it's like to join a big scary project, where you don't know anybody, and you feel like you don't know what you're doing.”

I like being the person that tells them it's OK to not know everything. It's OK to take your time and you don't have to be like the smartest person in the room. It's OK to ask questions. It's OK to be curious. Whatever internship experience that you're in, it's for you – you're going to get out of it what you put into it. 

 

Meet Christina Stone, Public Affairs Specialist with the USFWS, temporarily assigned to the USGS:

Christina Stone, Public Affairs Specialist with the USFWS, temporarily assigned to the USGS
Christina Stone in a helmet standing in front of wildflowers and a large blue and white glacier.

Q: How would you describe your job and what inspired you to pursue this path?

I focus on climate change communication and how to talk about climate change in a way that engages and affects audiences in their reality. I grew up in Saskatchewan, in a low income, conservative, agriculture- and coal-dependent area. Then I enlisted in the military and was assigned to military intelligence, after which I went to one of the most liberal colleges on the planet. When I started graduate school at Yale, I realized that I had a unique perspective on climate communication and that I was well positioned to translate for people from different backgrounds. I’m able to be that middle-ground and can understand multiple perspectives.

Q: What do you enjoy most about your job?

A: I was brought on as an external adviser to take a look at USGS climate science communications and come up with a way that infuses all of the expertise that I and all the passionate people that I work with bring to the table. This is what I dreamed of. This is what I went to school for. A federal agency is giving me the microphone, they're giving me the platform to talk about all the things that have been burning in my heart and to try to change the world.

Q: What advice would you give to people that are early in their careers?

A: Believe that you belong and that your opinions, thoughts, and beliefs should sometimes buck against what other people think. Sometimes you're going to have to embrace doubt and tension. You have to be comfortable operating in that area of uncertainty and self-doubt. You can do this, you belong.

 

Meet Colleen Caldwell, Unit Leader of New Mexico’s Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit:

Colleen Caldwell, Unit Leader of New Mexico’s Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit
Colleen Caldwell holds a brown trout as part of a field sampling trip.

Q: What kind of science do you do?

A: I’m a fisheries scientist, I'm interested in what makes fish “tick.” I have had an evolution throughout my career; from basic fisheries management to understanding sort of the physiology of fish – the effects of the environment and stressors on fish, such as climate warming, fire, flooding, drought, and their impacts on fish populations – which evolved into native fish conservation.

Q: What was your path into your career?

A: I went to Texas A&M. It was predominantly male back then, and I recognized I needed to make a mark if I was going to succeed in the aquatic or fisheries realm. I started out thinking I'd go into marine biology, but I was lost. Then I switched over to the Department of Fisheries and Life Sciences. There was a smaller student-to-teacher ratio, and their classes were amazing. I was hired on – and here's the foundation of my start – almost immediately as a technician to work in the fisheries labs. Because of that start, I’ve paid it forward. I make sure that I hire as many undergrads as I can. I hire undergrads because that's how I got my start.

Q: What advice would you give to people that are early in their careers?

A: Study, do as well in classes as they can. They've got to find their passion. If they don't find their passion about learning, I just don't know how they can move forward into science because science is continually learning. Every day I come in this office I learn something new. I think it's important for these early students to be flexible, and to find somebody who's willing to take them under their wing.

 

Meet Jessica Rodysill, Research Geologist, Florence Bascom Geoscience Center

Jessica Rodysill, Research Geologist, Florence Bascom Geoscience Center
Jessica Rodysill samples a sediment core in the lab.

Q: What kind of science or science support do you do?

A: I am a paleoclimate researcher, so I look at the history of climate changes that are recorded in the geologic record. I measure changes in geophysical, geochemical, and biological properties from sediment cores that I've collected from the bottoms of lakes and figure out how the lake environment has changed through time. I'm really interested in understanding hydrologic extremes – floods, droughts, hurricanes and things like that – to understand what conditions led to them, so that we can better predict and prepare for them in the future.

Q: What inspired you to pursue your career?

A: Well, I've always had a passion for the outdoors. When I was growing up, my family would do a lot of camping and hiking, and we would attend ranger talks that taught us about the parks where we were staying. I just always found it really fascinating to learn about nature and the world around me, and why it looks the way it does. I've also really been interested in storms and storm chasing – I think I was inspired by the movie Twister – so I found a career that combined my interests, chasing storms that happened hundreds to thousands of years ago in the sediment record.

Q: What advice would you give to people that are early in their careers?

A: I found that you never really know what you want to do until you try it. Sometimes you try something, and you learn what you don't want to do, and that's OK. I would say just don't be afraid to follow your interests. You can be creative and create your own career path. Don't pigeonhole yourself. If you feel like “well, I've gone so far in this direction, I can't change” you absolutely can at any time!

Q: What do you enjoy most about your job?

A: Other than that I get paid to play with mud for a living? That seems to be everybody's favorite response, but it's also a really rewarding job because the science that I do has a clear impact on society and it's meaningful and it's important. It improves the quality of life for people all over the world and so it just gives me a sense of self-worth and accomplishment and I just really enjoy that. Plus, I get to play with mud for a living!

 

Meet Hilary Stockdon, Acting Program Coordinator, Coastal Marine Hazards and Resources Program:

Hilary Stockdon, Acting Program Coordinator for the Coastal Marine Hazards and Resources Program
Hilary Stockdon smiles and stands in front of a grassy sand dune, her back to the beach and a bright blue sky.

Q: What kind of science do you do?

A: My current role is to direct congressional funding towards projects that advance science goals related to coastal and marine resources and hazards. This is a recent transition for me. For the past five years my role has been coordinating coastal change hazards research for CMHRP, ensuring that the work we do addresses challenges that people have, and developing a nationally consistent approach to providing scientific information to stakeholders. While we’re a science organization, the focus is not just on research but also on people, making sure that we as a federal agency know what they need and then provide scientific information in ways that are understandable, useful, and meaningful.

Q: What inspired you to pursue your career?

A: I bet a lot of people say, “I’ve always wanted to do this.” That’s not me at all. I didn’t know what I wanted to do; I didn't know this kind of job existed. What inspired me to head down this path was that I love being outside. When I was young, I loved roaming around in the woods, exploring oceans, rivers, creeks, and collecting rocks. I also loved figuring stuff out – I don't think you call it problem solving when you’re a kid. But I like asking questions and finding answers. I’m curious, and I love the logic of science.

Q: What advice would you give to people that are early in their careers?

A: Understanding that you don't have to have it all planned out from the beginning and know exactly where you're going. Just keep yourself in the moment and decide on the next right thing for you, the next thing you want to do.