Photograph by Andrea Reid
Photograph by Nick Schofield
Current City: Montreal, Quebec, Canada
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
Without a doubt, I wanted to be a vet. I adored interacting with animals from the very start and loved the idea of one day making it my job to look after animals in need.
How did you get started in your field of work?
In my third year of college at McGill University, I mustered up the courage to approach my primatology professor, Dr. Colin Chapman, one day after class. Not two weeks later, I began volunteering in his primate lab and developing the seed of an idea for my first field research project. Colin's passion for tropical ecology quickly rubbed off on me, and the following summer I found myself in the thick of Kibale Forest in western Uganda tracking monkeys through the bush. This is also when I got to know Colin's wife and my current master's supervisor, aquatic ecologist Dr. Lauren Chapman. It is thanks to the Chapman duo, plus some good fortune with research grants, that I can now consider myself a tropical ecologist!
What inspires you to dedicate your life to tropical ecology?
Tropical ecosystems are some of the speciose in the world, but are also some of the most threatened. I want future parents to be able to say to their children, "Isn't it beautiful?", not "You should've seen it when ..." I want to improve our understanding of tropical ecosystems today so that we can ensure their existence in the future.
What's a normal day like for you?
Like most field biologists, I have two kinds of days. During the academic year, I'm based out of McGill's Redpath Museum of Natural History. Among the fossils and taxidermied specimens, my typical day consists of writing papers, analyzing data, and applying for grants. A normal day of fieldwork in the Lake Victoria basin of East Africa couldn't be any more different! My field crew and I live on the shores of our study site and spend most daylight hours out on the lake capturing and identifying fish.
Do you have a hero and, if so, why is this person your hero?
In the field of tropical ecology, I do have one heroine. Although it's not difficult to admire Dr. Jane Goodall's work, she was an original source of inspiration for me to pursue scientific research as a young female. Jane is the world's foremost chimpanzee expert and travels more than 300 days a year to promote tropical conservation issues. I was fortunate to be among her Reason for Hope audience in 2009 and was awestruck when she welcomed us not with words but with a hearty chimpanzee greeting that boomed throughout the auditorium. I hope to have her spirit and energy when I'm 77!
What's been your favorite experience in the field? Most challenging?
It was during my first week in Kibale Forest, Uganda, that I made a seemingly harmless but potentially life-threatening mistake. Living in a cabin within a rainforest that boasts 13 primate species, 4 wild felids, as well as forest elephants and the occasional lion, it is rather unwise to leave your door open and food accessible. As I prepared lunch one afternoon, I realized my mistake when I reached into a basket of fruit and suddenly spotted a second, much furrier hand edging toward mine. Imagine my surprise when I looked up to see an adult female olive baboon in my kitchen! Knowing that she would likely show her canines if she felt cornered, I cautiously backed away into the next room, and she unexpectedly backtracked outside, took a big bite of mango and then vanished into the forest. This is one of my closest encounters with a wild jungle animal, which was both frightening and unforgettable.
What are your other passions?
I love spending time outdoors. Whether I'm at home or in the field, I jump on any opportunity to hike, bike, or swim. I also love photography and have recently made the jump from my stepfather's old 1971 film camera to my first digital SLR. Visual media is such an artistic and effective way to share my work.
What do you do in your free time?
One of the great things about grad school is that you get to make your own schedule and be your own boss. Setting aside time to exercise, eat well, and be with friends is a definite priority of mine.
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In Their Words
I want future parents to be able to say to their children, "Isn't it beautiful?", not "You should've seen it when ..."
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