This issue David Steen of Wildlife Research was kind enough to spend some time answering our questions for the Staff Spotlight. Thank you, David!
FWRI Section and Location
Wildlife Research / Reptiles and Amphibians / Gainesville
BS – University of New Hampshire, MS – SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Ph.D. – Auburn University, Postdoc – Virginia Tech.
Lead Research Technician – Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center
Assistant Research Professor – Auburn University
Executive Director – The Alongside Wildlife Foundation
Board of Directors – The Wildlands Network
Research Ecologist – Georgia Sea Turtle Center
What are you working on now?
I see my job as an opportunity to help ensure things are running as smoothly as possible for the folks in my subsection while they work on important projects to understand the imperiled amphibians and reptiles of Florida. Our projects include restoring ephemeral wetlands for rare amphibians in the panhandle, assessing the status and distribution of Diamond-backed Terrapins along the coast, evaluating behavioral shifts of American Crocodiles following translocation in south Florida, and figuring out if Carpenter Frogs are still hanging on in the state, for just a few examples.
How is this information beneficial?
Instead of listing all the usual reasons why it is important to protect and conserve biodiversity, I’ll say that Florida’s wildlife isn’t just a part of our natural heritage, it’s part of our culture too. Florida is changing; to keep our species around today and into the future, we need to understand where these animals are and how they are impacted by our actions. The data we collect feeds directly into management actions and policy recommendations, and we want both to be fully informed by the latest science.
What is your typical workday like?
Most of the responsibilities associated with my position require time in the office, things like brainstorming research plans, checking budget numbers and revising scientific manuscripts, although I’m lucky in that I often have the opportunity to visit the other folks in the subsection as they get dirty outside and do the real work to find and understand Florida’s amphibians and reptiles.
What is your greatest career accomplishment?
I feel as though my greatest career accomplishment is that I’m still here. After a long winding road that almost took a turn right out of science, I have somehow found myself with a job I find rewarding, helping out on projects I feel are important and fulfilling, and surrounded by bright and passionate people working hard to conserve the wildlife of Florida, ground zero for amphibians and reptiles in North America.
What are some of your biggest challenges?
There are so many species that we need to understand better and so many conservation questions that need to be resolved sooner rather than later, it can be a challenge to decide where to focus my efforts.
Was this your original career interest? Why or why not?
I’m lucky in that I’ve always been interested in wildlife, amphibians and reptiles in particular, and have been working toward this career ever since I understood what that means.
What would you be doing if you weren’t involved in science?
If I wasn’t directly involved in science, I would probably pursue science-adjacent writing opportunities (check out Secrets of Snakes, published by Texas A&M University Press late last year) and bartend.
What advice would you give someone interested in pursuing a career in your field?
Recognize that there is no One True Path to obtaining satisfaction and security in this field. Work hard, keep your eyes open for unusual or serendipitous opportunities, and don’t compromise your mental and physical health now because you hope it will pay dividends later.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I like to take it easy with a slow coffee in the morning; I also like movies and doing nothing in particular. Kayaking and hiking are very satisfying, as is spending time around my property thinking about how to restore and maintain it in a way that is beneficial to local wildlife.