Networking for Wildlife

By Sarah Toner December 9, 2015

Winnipeg. Photo by Emma Doden

This week’s post is written by Dana Neufeld, a sophomore at Michigan Technological University. Dana has participated in several ornithological research projects with university chapters of The Wildlife Society. In mid-October, Dana was fortunate to be able to attend The Wildlife Society Annual Conference in Winnipeg, which offered hundreds of presentations about recent studies and conservation topics relating to natural resources and ecology.

       When I was in elementary school, my favorite day of the year (tied only with Halloween) was the day of the science fair. Students would glow with pride as they told the class of their experiments and showed off their cardboard displays in the cafeteria, sharing new findings: eggs float better in saltwater than in freshwater, oak and hemlock bark contains more tannin than maple and ironwood, and Nutrigrain bars puff up when you take them to higher altitudes. Presenting my discoveries to the class led me to wonder how real scientists shared their discoveries. As it turns out, they have science fairs too.

Two months ago, I had the opportunity to attend one of these adult science fairs: The Wildlife Society’s Annual Conference. The Wildlife Society’s mission statement is  “To inspire, empower, and enable wildlife professionals to sustain wildlife populations and habitats through science-based management and conservation.” To achieve these goals, TWS hosts conferences to aid in communication between professionals, sends out newsletters, and certifies Associate Wildlife Biologists and Certified Wildlife Biologists. TWS also has student chapters at many universities that give students the opportunity to do research and connect with others in their field within the university and at conferences. I’ve been involved in both the University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point and the Michigan Tech University student chapters, which have given me the opportunity to learn banding and trapping through a study on woodpeckers and also to participate in a study on bird window collisions.

     The Wildlife Society National Conference gives wildlife professionals the chance to network and to share research with their peers, and it also gives students the opportunity to learn about cutting edge research and to answer the question we are always asking: what the heck sort of job can I get with this degree anyway? Our conversations with professionals introduced us to the wide variety of jobs available in the field, from field researchers studying Swainson’s Hawks flocking at a fire to scientists sitting behind a computer creating models, from managers deciding how to protect and take care of large tracts of land to teachers interacting with eager science fair participants. The number of biologists, educators, and rangers was vast, and each had advice to offer the budding wildlife professional.

Swainson’s Hawk. David A. Mitchell, Flickr Creative Commons

    The majority of the event was focused on current research. There were about a dozen rooms where scientists spoke about their research. Each room had a theme: Conservation and Management of Birds, Ecology and Management of Greater Sage Grouse, Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza in North America, Ecology and Habitat Relationships of Birds, Understanding and Mitigating the Effects of Development on Birds, and many other bird-related, as well as broader, topics. One presenter discussed his project counting hawks in an area before and during a prescribed burn. He discovered that some species, such as Swainson’s Hawks, flocked toward the fire, while others, such as Northern Harriers, left the area. A student of ecology could find a room dedicated to talks about almost any subject of interest, and the floor above these presentations featured posters about an even wider variety of research.

           Networking events at the conference encouraged a dialogue between professionals and students. The conference lured in even the most introverted of us with the promise of free food (we are college students, after all) and events so packed with experts that great conversations were inevitable. At the first mixer, “Night at the Museum,” being surrounded by researchers, students and professionals dedicated to studying and understanding wildlife sparked great exchanges about the exhibits.  

           The Wildlife Society National Conference was a phenomenal event. I was able to learn about cutting edge research while making connections and getting advice from wildlife professionals. I learned a lot there, and I hope too see you all at the next one!

Sarah Toner