On March 8th, the IGC’s Professional Development Series: Alternative Careers hosted Susan Cook-Patton, PhD. I invited Dr. Cook-Patton to speak with the group because I was familiar with her nonlinear trajectory to her current position at The Nature Conservancy as a Forest Restoration Scientist. Interested in a broad range of topics, Dr. Cook-Patton graduated from Indiana University Bloomington with three undergraduate degrees: Biology, Psychology, and English. After graduation she worked as a naturalist and fell in love with ecology, ultimately earning a PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University. Before landing her dream job at The Nature Conservancy, she worked with AAAS, Smithsonian Institution, and US Forest Service.

Our group of 18 IGC fellows had plenty of questions, which filled the hour we had with Dr. Cook-Patton. As someone who has worked in academia, federal agencies, and NGOs, she gave us insights on the different workplace cultures of each. She spoke on the geographic and logistic challenges of relocating with a partner, as well as work-life balance. Dr. Cook-Patton provided tips for current graduate students on skills and experiences we should have to be competitive post-grad applicants, including both people skills and data manipulation. She addressed the worry of “over-educating” ourselves out of positions, but reassured us that our degrees will most likely make us more competitive rather than hinder us. Overall, the discussion left us with a positive outlook on life after graduate school!

Lauren Maynard is an IGC fellow working with Dr. Susan Whitehead in the Department of Biological Sciences. She is interested in species interactions: how plants, animals, and humans intertwine to form intricate communities. She is currently studying the chemical ecology of seed dispersal and fruit defense, as well as the multi-trophic interactions among plants, insects, and bats.