"I think my field chose me!" says Laura Keefer. "I always wanted to be like Jacques Cousteau, but geology caught my interest as well."
Keefer received a bachelor's degree in geology and later a master's in fluvial geomorphology, which means she studies streams and rivers and how they shape and interact with their surrounding landscapes. "So even though I’m not working in the ocean, I still get my feet wet!" she says.
Keefer has worked at the Illinois State Water Survey since 1986 and now leads its Surface Water Hydrology & Hydraulics Section, which generates historical and spatial scientific data, investigates watershed processes, and provides state-of-the-art scientific and engineering analyses to policymakers, planners, and resource managers so they can develop and implement sustainable watershed programs.
"I absolutely love the applied nature of my work," Keefer says. "I get to work with so many different people, from heads of federal agencies to a farmer in Piatt County. I learn so much from them and reciprocate with research that assists them in such an impactful way. I’m most proud of projects that help people to understand their environmental and water resource issues so they can make decisions based on good science."
Keefer advises female scientists to "find a passion. Find mentors. Prepare for opportunities you never dreamed of and follow them."
"You will have to work harder than everyone else—all the time—for your entire career; get used to it. Respect and appreciation will come from quarters you won’t expect, and those are the ones that will fuel your passion."