An Interview with Bethany Harvey

Current Job: Environmental Educator & Grad StudentDSCN0479

Scientific Discipline/Field: I think conservation biology covers it. I’ve floated around in a lot of wildlife jobs. My focus in school is ecological restoration and plant ecology, and my thesis is on prescribed fire.

Country: USA

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

Website:

overlookednature.com

What does your job involve?

Right now, I’m working on a master’s degree, so I just have a part-time job. I work at a city park, where I’m kind of an all-purpose employee. I answer questions visitors have, help design activities for kids, and help with monitoring and maintenance around the park. It is not an exciting job.

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

Honestly, I don’t think it requires anything above a high-school diploma, but my previous experience doing wildlife surveys and TA-ing dendrology certainly helped. Though I’ve taken a lot of biology classes, my only actual degrees are a B.A. in English and a graduate certificate in GIS. I look awful on paper. But I have tons of experience doing wildlife and plant surveys.

Do you feel being LGBT has affected your career decisions?

When I left my last job, I wasn’t really leaving the job; I was leaving the region. The Florida panhandle is ecologically fascinating, especially if you study salamanders, but culturally so conservative. I went back to school for ecological restoration rather than wildlife conservation because it seemed there would be more jobs near urban areas. I will be reluctant to look for jobs out in the boonies when I finish grad school, because I’m just tired of dealing with the culture.

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

I haven’t been 100% out to everyone I’ve worked with, because of the areas I worked. But I was always out to the folks I saw outside of work, and I assume a lot of others figured it out. Reactions were mostly shrugs. A few wanted to talk about it because I was the first queer person they’d met, and one or two tried awkwardly to bond with me by talking about issues. I appreciated the effort.

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

I had a cousin who was gay, and my (straight) sister and I thought that was incredibly cool. She got out of having to deal with boyfriends by having a girlfriend instead! What a clever solution! As for STEM: My parents had only finished high school, but they were very intelligent and interested in the natural world. They had just moved to a little off-the-grid farm in the woods in West Virginia when I was born, and they were still learning about their surroundings when I was little, and I learned along with them. My first book was a field guide to birds. They both showed me that you keep learning new things as an adult; it wasn’t just for school. My dad was very good at picking up information and new skills from books. I’d love to see what he could’ve done with the Internet. My mom went to nursing school after he died — she graduated the same year I graduated high school. So it didn’t seem strange to me to start grad school after ten years out of college.

What are your plans for the future?

Finish my degree and go to work in ecological restoration. I’d like to work for a government agency or a nonprofit, doing restoration projects. If it gives me a chance to play around with maps and/or fire, all the better.

An Interview with Christopher A. Schmitt

Current Job: Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, Boston UniversitySchmittCA_pic2

Scientific Discipline/Field: Biological Anthropology – Behavioral ecology and genomics of non-human primates

Country: USA

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

Website:

http://www.evopropinquitous.net

http://evopropinquitous.tumblr.com

http://www.twitter.com/fuzzyatelin

What does your job involve?

My research explores mechanistic and adaptive aspects of developmental variation using techniques from behavioral ecology, physiology, morphometrics, and genomics. In other words, I use a few different perspectives to study the biology of growing up, from infancy to adulthood. I currently focus on two nonhuman primate models: New World atelins (woolly and spider monkeys) and Old World vervets. Although my work with atelins is primarily conducted in the field (Jane Goodall style, if that helps you picture it; see #fieldworkfail for some prime examples), my work with vervets involves the integration of both wild and captive studies to seek out not just the genomic underpinnings of complex traits (like developmental patterns and obesity), but also how those traits evolve in the wild. As an Assistant Professor, I also do a fair amount of teaching, and in my courses I like to emphasize not only my research, but also how biology informs (and doesn’t inform) traits relevant to societally important identities (such as those we associate with race, gender, sex, and sexual orientation).

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

I attended Milwaukee Public Schools growing up, and while at Rufus King High School was fortunate to win an Earthwatch Scholarship to study wild howler monkeys with Dr. Govindasamy Agoramoorthy in Argentina (which was clearly a life-shaping experience). From there, I did my undergraduate degrees in Zoology and English Literature at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, after which I worked for a year as a field assistant on Dr. Susan Perry’s Lomas Barbudal Capuchin Project in Costa Rica. I then did my graduate work at New York University with Dr. Anthony Di Fiore at the Tiputini Biodiversity Station (which involved spending about a year and a half in the Amazon following monkeys around, collecting their poop and writing down everything they did). After my doctorate, I did postdoctoral research with the International Vervet Research Consortium under Dr. Nelson Freimer through the Center for Neurobehavioral Genetics at UCLA, with fieldwork in South Africa, The Gambia, and St. Kitts & Nevis. I then taught for a year in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Southern California. Finally, I worked for a year as a postdoctoral scholar with Dr. Leslea Hlusko in the Human Evolution Research Center at UC Berkeley, after which I was offered my job at Boston University.

Academic job paths are rarely, if ever, straightforward these days.

Do you feel being LGBT has affected your career decisions?

Most definitely. When I was younger it fueled a kind of defiance in my decisions: I felt that I needed to show that a queer guy could do the hardcore field work that my career requires (at the time, there weren’t many visible queer role models in my field, or at all, although it’s getting better). I’ve also not applied for or withdrawn applications from some positions for fear that I’d be putting myself in mental (e.g., having to hide or stay firmly in the closet) or physical danger (e.g., working in areas of the world where being queer carries harsh or life-threatening penalties). I was more willing to take those risks when I was younger, out of some sense of defiance or hazardous glamor, but now I’m more circumspect.

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

The majority of the reactions I receive from my colleagues have been very supportive, even celebratory. By and large, biological anthropologists are wonderful and welcoming when it comes to making out colleagues and students feel welcome (a good example here). There are, of course, some circumstances (primarily in the fieldwork, where prevailing cultural attitudes may be less welcoming towards LGBTQIA folks) where reactions have been more mixed, and at times negative.

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

I suppose I had quite a few. My family served as role models while growing up in a number of indirect ways that have influenced my career: my dad was a park ranger, my mom was a very savvy and hard-working entrepreneur (she founded a day care center), and my older sister took a lot of risks growing up that I didn’t, all of which have inspired me. The only real queer role model I had before college was Ms. Celichowski, our freshman year Health teacher: an out and proud, sex-positive bisexual biker who refused to shy away from discussing taboo subjects and respected the intelligence of her students. Aside from Ms. C, there weren’t a lot of visibly queer role models for me when I was a kid, but Milwaukee Public Schools (whose student body was and continues to be predominantly African American) were strongly invested in teaching us about the Civil Rights Movement, which provides quite a few amazing role models for intelligence, perseverance, and strength in the face of overwhelming adversity. As for STEM, I have to admit that my role models have shifted with my career and the roles I’ve taken in science. It all started with my third grade science teacher, Mrs. Krause, and has peaked at the moment with my last postdoctoral advisor, Dr. Leslea Hlusko. Everything Leslea does is wonderful; if I can be even a fraction of the scientist and mentor she is I will feel like I’ve succeeded immensely.

What are your plans for the future?

I’m just settling in at BU, so I’m really looking forward to going back to the field in South Africa while continuing my research and teaching. In my personal life, although I’m currently single I would eventually like to make a family (in whatever form that will eventually take).

Anything else you’d like to add?

If you’re at least 14 years old, you should probably be reading Fiona Staples’ and Brian K Vaughan’s ‘Saga’. Just sayin.

An Interview with Val Knapp

Current Job: Database development officerIMAG0034

Scientific Discipline/Field: ICT / Computer Science

Country: UK

Pick some letters (L,G,B,T,Q etc.): I ID as gay, but technically I’m a lesbian.

What does your job involve? 

Working with people, writing specifications, writing and testing code, writing, testing and optimising reports, lots of email, lots of phone calls and lots of learning.

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

I used to work in a secondary school, where I taught myself how to use Google docs and the school database to organise a complex structure of meetings and related documents. I used those skills to get this job. I am actually about to start a new job as a developer, which I have been able to get from the skills I learned in my current job.

Do you feel being LGBT has affected your career decisions? 

Yes, I moved to England from America because I was married to an English lady. My degree background is in running summer camps from the USA but when that wasn’t an option as a career in the UK, I had to take what was on offer and I have learned loads in the process.

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

Mostly really positive things. I have been in meetings with people who were really horrible about LGBT issues and I have tried to stand up for myself and my peers but I mostly just try to set a good example. I’m very open and resourceful so I would often point people in the direction of more information about a topic if I feel like they would be open to learning more.

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

Not really…

What are your plans for the future?

Be a great developer! Learn loads all the time! Maybe meet another nice lady (I’m divorced now).

Anything else you’d like to add?

If you aren’t getting smarter, you’re getting dumber in my opinion. Go to lectures, read read read, do everything you can to broaden yourself! It’s the best advice I can offer. You will meet others with bright, sparkly minds and they are the best people.

An Interview with Philip Rodenbough

Current Job: PhD Student _DSC9231 - Copy

Scientific Discipline/Field:  Chemistry / Materials Science

Country: USA

Pick some letters (L,G,B,T,Q etc.): G – Happily married gay man

Websitehttp://about.me/philip.rodenbough

What does your job involve?

Synthesizing metal oxide materials, characterizing them, testing their catalytic capabilities, occasional trips to Brookhaven National Lab. Research, Research, Research!

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

I applied after my undergraduate degree majoring in Chemistry.

Do you feel being LGBT has affected your career decisions?

My dream is to open a gay bar in West Africa – this was inspired by my time there in the US Peace Corps and the gay West Africans I met there – including my husband!

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

A supervisor once told me to remove from my desk a personal picture of me with my husband because she thought it was inappropriate.

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

Growing up I knew I wanted to excel academically and make an impact, but didn’t really have specific role models. I currently draw inspiration from my West Africa friends who stay so optimistic in the face of so much hardship (poverty, homophobia, political corruption…).

What are your plans for the future?

Graduate, get a job in the city, apply to AAAS/S&TPF and/or PMF/STEM, work for USAID in West Africa on science advising or LGBT advocacy. Open up that gay bar!

Anything else you’d like to add?

Tweet me! @prodenbough

An Interview with Beth Hellen

Beth Hellen

Current Job: Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Rutgers University

Scientific Discipline/Field: Computational Evolutionary Genetics

Country: Currently USA, but I’ll be going back home to the UK soon

Pick some letters: L, Q

Website? https://wordpress.com/post/montaguehellen.wordpress.com/

What does you job involve?

I’m a Computational Evolutionary Geneticist. This means that while I am interested in researching evolution, I work using a computer rather than at a lab bench or out in the field. As a postdoc I mostly work on projects that other people have come up with the initial idea for and obtained the funding for. Currently I’m working in Andrew Kern’s lab at Rutgers in the USA, a lab which specialises in population genetics. I’ve been out in the USA since November 2013, but before that I was based in various different locations around the UK.

At the moment, the projects I’m working with are involved in comparing the genomes of different species and seeing how they have diverged over time. One of our projects is looking at differences between humans and other apes, to attempt to identify the human differences that led to the things we think of as human characteristics, such as language. The other main project is looking at a number of damselfly species (Enallagma) and looking to see whether differences in gene expression (which genes are switched on when) are responsible for the ability of different species to evade different predators.

I also do some research into transposable element evolution (segments of DNA which move about the genome and replicate with no known consistent advantage to the host organism). I was introduced to Transposable Elements in my last postdoctoral position at the University of Nottingham and this is where my interests really lie. However, at this point in my career I think it’s important to gain experience working in other systems as well.

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

I went to Manchester University to study Molecular Biology as an Undergraduate, the program had a year out in industry which I was very keen on as I thought it would improve my career prospects (probably right in that regard). In hindsight, I wished I had changed my degree to Genetics, I was never very good at the practical side of Molecular Biology, some people love long involved practical sessions involving pipetting solutions you can barely see, but I wasn’t one of them.

I loved Manchester though. I came originally from a small market town and I was very keen to try myself out in a big city. I love cities now and one of the great things about working in Universities is that so many are in them.

My year in industry was at HGMP-RC which was on the same campus in Hinxton, Cambridgeshire as the European Bioinformatics Institute and the Sanger Institute. Unfortunately it no longer exists, but it introduced me to Bioinformatics and if I hadn’t gone there, I probably would be doing something very different now.

After my undergrad I went to the University of York to do an MRes in Bioinformatics for a year and then did a PhD at the Sussex and Brighton Medical School where I was researching genes possibly involved in human response to the BCG vaccine. After this I worked for 3 years at the University of Nottingham as a Postdoc in John Brookfield’s lab, a job which I really loved. It was my introduction to the field of evolutionary genetics and was where I think I really found my niche.

Do you feel being LGBT has affected your career decisions?

I think in some ways it affected the places I wanted to move to. I moved to Manchester partly for the course, but partly because I liked the idea of a large, cosmopolitan, gay friendly city. I came out in the Summer between school and University and was keen to start a new life that was more me! Equally, the fact that my Phd was in Brighton definitely added to it’s appeal.

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

I’ve never had any really obvious bad reactions, the ones I have had have mainly been from people who’ve liked me as a colleague, but are quite religious and can’t quite seem to square my sexuality with their religious beliefs. I tend to think this is their problem not mine though!

One of the things that does happen to me quite often in a work context or at conferences or on twitter, is that people come out to me when they aren’t necessarily out to other people. I think it happens because I’m quite butch and therefore quite easy to identify! It definitely make me feel like there’s a need for visible LGBT people in STEM subjects. Often these people who confide in me are either quite worried about what other people’s reactions are going to be, or they’re just a bit bemused as to where all the non straight people are and can end up feeling quite alone because of it.

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

My Dad’s an engineer and he used to do science demonstrations (the eclipse one sticks in my mind particularly) with me & my sister when we were little and I think that was what always drew me to science.  In my later teenage years the person who probably had the most influence on me was (the fictional) Willow Rosenberg, so I guess I have to partly thank Joss Whedon and Alyson Hannigan  for my scientific career.

What are your plans for the future?

I’m looking at coming back to England in the near future, I’ve got a few irons in the fire, but nothing definite yet. I’m hoping to continue working in the academic sector and in the next few years to have funding to work on projects I’ve initiated.