An interview with Jeremy Yoder

Name: Jeremy YoderJeremyYoder

Current Job: Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Sally Aitken’s lab (Forest and Conservation Sciences, University of British Columbia); starting in fall 2017 I’ll be an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology, California State University, Northridge.

Scientific Discipline/Field: Evolutionary ecology

Country: Currently Canada, originally (and soon again) USA

Pick some letters (L,G,B,T,Q etc.): GQ (ha)


What does your job involve?

Right now I mostly design and execute analysis of population genomic data other folks have collected, but on other projects I’ve also done the fieldwork to collect ecological data and genetic samples, extracted and prepped DNA for sequencing, and built mathematical models and simulations — and writing grant proposals to fund it all. As a postdoc, my job also technically involved applying for permanent faculty positions, which took more time than I would’ve liked, but helped develop some useful project-management skills, I think.

How did you get to this job (education etc.)?

I have a B.Sci. in environmental science with a minor in chemistry, and I interned as a field assistant with a land conservancy before getting a Ph.D. in biology. I got my first postdoctoral position (with Peter Tiffin at the University of Minnesota) by applying to a job ad, and demonstrating a solid background and interest in the “big-picture” questions of evolution and ecology that the lab studied. My current position was a similar experience, with the twist that I found the ad via my supervisor’s Twitter account. Finding a good tenure-track faculty position took, I kid you not, 156 applications and about a dozen in-person interviews over what will be six years as a postdoc, most of those in the last two years. (Your mileage may vary, but that is not out of line with broad-scale descriptions of the academic job market.)

Do you feel being LGBT has affected your career decisions?

Yes, I’d say it definitely has. Interviewing for faculty positions at (mostly) U.S. research universities, many of which are in small, rural towns, I definitely had to weigh whether I thought I could find a queer community and safe spaces to be myself. (And, frankly, to date — for better or for worse, I’ve stayed single through the nomadic phase of my academic career.)

Have you had any reactions from colleagues about being LGBT, either good or bad?

Overwhelmingly, reactions are neutral to good and supportive. Evolutionary biology isn’t a field that attracts a lot of social conservatives, for the most part, and getting into science was actually a key part of my journey out of the closet. My upbringing was pretty conservative — grad school was the first time in my life where I met well-adjusted, entirely open queer folks, and many of them were other scientists.

Did you have any role models growing up (LGBT, STEM, totally unrelated…)?

I mean, a bunch. Before I started grad school and came out of the closet, I looked up to public scientists and science-educators like Stephen Jay Gould, Rachel Carson, and David Quammen, and to a lot of fictional scientists who were a bit, well, queer — like Sherlock Holmes and Mr. Spock. As I got started in science, I’d include people like Douglas Futuyma, who may well be the first openly gay evolutionary biologist, and who wrote one of the most widely-used evolution textbooks — and Chris Smith, a postdoc in my grad school advisor’s lab who was really a second advisor, and who I’m still glad to count as a friend, mentor and collaborator.

What are your plans for the future?

Setting up a lab at CSU Northridge! I’m planning to start projects in the greenhouse and fieldwork in the Mojave Desert as soon as I get settled in LA. (And I’m looking for postdocs and grad students, hint hint.)

Anything else you’d like to add?

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Queer in STEM project studying LGBTQ experiences in STEM careers, which I started with my neighbor (and now Calstate colleague) Allison Mattheis — working with some new collaborators, we’ve just completed a second nationwide survey, which had an even bigger turnout than the first one, and we’re excited to begin work on its results.

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