Career Story: Ecology Research Associate

Ecology Research Associate

Job Title: Research Associate

Type of Company: I work at a public research university.

Education: BS, Biology, University of Illinois •• MS, Limnology, Michigan State University •• Ph.D., Environmental Engineering, University of Illinois

Previous Experience: I have held research and teaching positions at several universities and research organizations.

Job Tasks: My job is to conduct research to find environmentally friendly technologies to manage wastes from animal agriculture. Many of the technologies that we study aim to recover energy and/or nutrient resources from the waste. One recent project was an evaluation of an anaerobic digestion technique, which produces methane (natural gas) from animal waste. Another project involves working on a technology to recover nitrogen from the waste.

My job sometimes involves working in the field, to collect samples and measure environmental parameters in water, air and soil. It also involves analyzing data to determine the effectiveness of the technologies that we study, designing technology applications for specific farms to make use of scientific information, and developing mathematical models to predict the impact of implementing those technologies. I frequently work with economists to determine the economic impact of the technologies as well as the environmental impact. Since I work at a university, these projects often involve working with students and helping them develop skills in field work and data analysis. We frequently present our results as written publications and/or presentations at scientific meetings.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best parts of my job: I like working outside, working with numbers, working with students, and doing things to protect the environment. I especially like being able to pursue projects to develop a deeper understanding of the processes and impacts.

The worst parts of my job: I do not always get to decide which projects to pursue. Often, the projects we do are determined by which ones we can find money to fund.

Job Tips:
1.) This work is multi-disciplinary, and you will benefit from learning something about a number of different subjects.

2.) Expect that you will need an advanced degree, although not necessarily immediately after your undergraduate degree.

3.) Look for opportunities for internships or co-op experiences while you are in school. Hands-on work experience is extremely valuable in developing your skills, as well as your resume.

Additional Thoughts: This career involves using a lot of science and math, but it also requires being able to think, write and communicate clearly. Any effort you make in developing the ability to organize your thoughts in a clear, logical sequence will be well worth it.

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