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National Forest Service

Heather Hillis, B.S. Biological Sciences ’13

Q.  Okay, first, tell me a bit about your current work in California.

My job title is Biological Science Technician (Wildlife). I work for the National Forest Service. Specifically the Stanislaus National Forest.

It is a temporary position scheduled to last 5 to 6 months depending on funding and whether they run out of work for me to do

Q.  And what kinds of things have you been doing for the National Forest Service?

I am working on a crew with 7 other people. So far we have done spotted owl surveys, northern goshawk surveys, elderberry surveys, oak surveys, and set up camera traps for carnivores, but mostly focused on the first two.

Q.  Sounds cool! Do you have any future academic or professional plans in the field of Biology?

Definitely. I’m not at all sure exactly what I want to do in the future, but I really enjoy working for the Forest Service. I hope to continue working for them for a while, and exploring the kind of work that is available here. I’m not sure where it will lead me but for now I am gaining a lot from the experience. Depending on where my exploration leads me I am definitely considering getting a masters degree relating to biological science.

Q.  In your current job, is there one experience you’ve had that has been particularly meaningful or interesting to you?

Part of my job is finding out whether the owls are nesting by offering them mice and watching to see what they do with them (If they have young they will usually take at least some of the mice back to their nest). The owls are not overly shy of people so you can put a mouse out 15 feet from you and the owl will take it. The first time I saw and owl swooping down out of the sky was amazing.

Q.  Sounds interesting! I know you’ve said you’re still undecided in your current career, but if you had a dream job in Biology, what would it be?

Working somewhere beautiful out in nature doing research, spending maybe half my time out in the field and the rest in an office finding meaning from the data I collected. I’d like to work with a few colleagues that were partners rather than leaders or followers. Oh and this might be difficult to arrange but if I could take my dog with me to work that would be amazing.

Q.  Tell me a little about your experiences at UMBC. What degree did you graduate with, and did you change your degree path at all while you were at UMBC?

I got a BS in Biological Sciences. I think I’ve pretty much always been interested in biology and so I never changed my degree. The only class that made me question my degree path was actually the last class I took at UMBC. It was an intro to community psychology. I’ve done a lot of volunteering with my free time and I care a lot about helping people in poverty to find opportunities to improve their situations. The class was very interesting and it’s cooperative approach to community improvement really spoke to me. It is something I want to explore but I am still just as interested as I was before in biology. I don’t see this as a choice I have to make.

Q.  In what ways did your classes and experiences at UMBC prepare you for your current job and interests in Biology?

The classes I took helped to strengthen this great curiosity I have about the natural world. They answered many questions I had but they also raised a lot more. I loved genetics when I took it (at another college actually) but it raised so many questions. The developmental biology classes I took began to answer many of those. This curiosity is a big part of what motivates me in my work.

Q.  Awesome! Last question: What advice would you give for current undergraduates just starting in Biology?

Get an internship! Get lots of internships. Now! They are a great opportunity to explore your career options and now is the perfect time to start. After you graduate you will be worrying about making money and paying off student loans if you are not already. Internships don’t usually pay much if at all but they are invaluable learning opportunities. They are a chance to figure out what work is like and what you enjoy.