Christine Parker joined the Illinois Natural History Survey in spring 2015 as a PhD student in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Q. How old were you when you first became interested in science? What sparked your interest?
A. I’ve had a lifelong interest in nature, which for me, was a gateway to science. My passion for wildlife science began at Paul Smith’s College in upstate New York, where classwork was truly a hands-on experience. From delineating lakes by canoe to sampling small mammals, we spent a lot of time in the field. Some professors even held lectures outside when the weather was warm enough.
Q. What is your field of study, and what made you decide to pursue that field?
A. I study avian ecology, primarily forest species. I fell in love with birding during an ornithology class at Paul Smith’s. I spent all my free time watching birds on my walks at the nearby nature center, around campus, or other good birding areas. During the summer prior to graduation I took an internship with the Klamath Bird Observatory in Oregon. I couldn’t believe someone would pay me to hike around such beautiful areas and map birds.
Q. Who has been a mentor to you in your science career?
A. Two professors from Paul Smith’s College, Dr. Janet Mihuc and Dr. Jorie Favreau, were incredible role models for me. Janet taught ornithology, and her enthusiasm for birds was contagious! Jorie was my undergrad advisor and taught wildlife management. She had a fascinating background of field work that made me aware of the possibilities that were open to me as someone interested in wildlife science.
Q. What is the best part of your job, and what work are you most proud of?
A. The best parts of my job are those that get me out of the office, which currently include bird surveys and capturing turkeys. I am most proud of my turkey project. I feel really fortunate to have been chosen for this project, and excited about all the potential questions I can try to answer with the data we’re collecting.
Q. What advice would you give to other female scientists?
A. Volunteer or apply for temporary positions to see what kind of things you like to do. There are many different science-related jobs out there, so take time to figure out what you enjoy doing. It is okay not to have a specific career plan, and it is okay to not know where you will be in 5 years. Talk to other women in the field about their career path to help get ideas for yours.