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Our Scientists Are Active in the Field. Here's What's New:


While being a principal investigator (PI) can be the epitome of a "be your own boss" scenario, this plays out differently depending on the overall demands of the institution in which you are housed and how you manage your time and energy professionally and personally. Which type of institution type you end up in, along with ways to navigate advancement, are other critical pieces to the science and conservation career puzzle.

I have navigated this with a classical tenure-track job, as a research scientist at a private company, a non-profit research and conservation job, and as a non-profit founder at Remote Ecologist. All came with specific challenges for advancement, some of which were inextricable from the success and trajectory of the program at-large. Leadership changes always had the most profound impact on productivity and direction, and how well the team was able to stay committed to the departmental/organizational continuity. Maintaining institutional knowledge, and a daily commitment to small wins, lessened those leadership upheavals. Getting the "lightning in a bottle" scenario has happened a few times for me, and I can boil it down to a few (non-exhaustive) components that worked in these scenarios:


In all the times where we have experienced this phenomenon, trust has been engineered between the team through informal bonding (true, not the cake-in-the-office scenario). Life is what happens in between the larger structured events - it is a colleague taking a photo when one is selected to carry a gavel for a university event to have that for a tenure portfolio, or meeting up as a team after a division-wide meeting for food at a local restaurant. It bears mentioning that this does not always happen - and while it may seems simplistic, it is these times outside normal scenarios that help to build trust as much as formal mentorship actions. Trust was an important factor in seeking advice for constructing my pre-tenure and tenure portfolios as a tenure-track professor, as I was able to lean on more senior personnel, resulting in a portfolio that recommended tenure from the tenure committee. Being able to have trusted colleagues made the advancement process less opaque, and allowed me to focus on our main mission. In the non-profit world, this functioned much the same way, with the first assumption being that we were all rowing the boat in the same direction. As long as that remained intact, our teams functioned smoothly and with deference to one another's expertise and intention toward the benefit of the organization and those we served.

Autonomy - With Mentorship

I'll define autonomy loosely here, particularly since we all need to work in collaboration with others in order to get anything meaningful accomplished. Autonomy, in this case, is working to directly find your specific niche in the team and organization, and being able to be a part of how that will change as the organization's strategy toward accomplishing its mission inevitably changes. By having an independent, but integrated, framework, you can balance the alignment of activities within the organization with those for external collaboration - both of which are important to achieving the organizational priorities as a whole. This is the Japanese ikigai concept in philosophy, taking into account the social contexts of our being, where one attempts to find that point of overlap between 1) What you love; 2) What you are good at; 3) What the world needs; and 4) What you can get paid for. Autonomy is great - but it needs to be in context with social and organizational needs to make that synergy happen.

Codeveloped Growth Plan and Assessment

Keeping agency in one's growth is a critical piece to acknowledging how individuals' growth influences and is aligned with organizational growth. One of the most useful evaluations I have had as an employee has been a twice yearly meeting with my manager to discuss what I plan to accomplish in the coming year, and what I accomplished in the previous year as aligned to our codeveloped plan for my output. Having attainable goals and objectives in mind is important for the communication of expectations between manager and employee. However, complacency can be avoided with a few stretch goals (e.g., not just applying for 5 grants, but 10) that can improve the overall arc of your or your employee's professional development. Those can be assessed separately, especially if their completion depends heavily on outside factors.

Clear Institutional Direction and Buy-In From Staff

Institutional direction is critical. Having a leader in place with an effective vision, who understands how to engage their team with trust and collaboration, is what sets the tone for the work to be accomplished. This institutional strategy needs input from all senior staff to be effective, taking into account comments from front-of-line employees. In a laboratory setting, this includes laboratory managers, postdocs, graduate students and undergrads, and is generally well-understood given the size of those teams. On an organizational or departmental level, it can be more complicated - but that is where alignment with the broader macroeconomic landscape can be incorporated into decisions. Which thematic researchers do we need, for example (so, which PIs), or how can we best position our offerings to train students for jobs both inside and outside academia? In a non-profit setting, those questions are partially related to revenue growth around the organizational mission - which gets back to the point of feeling out the institution's place in its field, geography, and social context. When those are aligned, staff can see what their daily efforts produce.

Professional Growth and Networking

When organizations I've been a part of have encouraged individual and team skills development and networking, I've experienced some particularly productive professional moments. This is a critical area - collaborations integrate new technology into the projects we are completing as scientists and conservationists, and much of that is developed by need. Those networks are critical to bringing together a team of multiple organizations to finding funding to achieve a goal, as different groups can tap into their expertise and resources to both fund and direct personnel towards a project.

Growing professionally leads to innovation, and connecting disparate areas of knowledge to create something new, and often, highly insightful and valuable to the tactical day-to-day. Networking and learning new skills have personally allowed me to implement new techniques into my work, whether that is cheap submersible cameras on reef and seagrass restoration sites, modeling future species distributions in geographic software, or measuring physiological capacity with aquatic respirometry. I was empowered each time to learn something new, collaborate with the makers and inventors, and give our programs further insight into how we should proceed. Those growing collaborations have meant that the efforts are sustained over time, making the programs more eligible for grants and donations year over year.


While not exhaustive, this piece was meant to be written as a partial road map from both the perspective of the worker and manager. Building synergy and great culture on a team is dependent on both, and having a purposeful plan helps to account for life's inevitable wrenches and side-paths. In the end, working in conservation and science is as much an exercise in working with fun and passionate people as it is the action and scientific work itself. Finding that group, and keeping it together and growing, is a professional achievement that pays dividends for all.

Stay positive!


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When I first considered a career in marine ecology, I did so with no real contacts in the field. That trajectory was truly due to personal interest and exposure to the topic as I was growing up. However, I was fortunate to have good mentorship as an undergraduate and found online resources with paid internship opportunities. Luckily, I came into my undergraduate program with an expectation to build skills and academic ability both inside and outside of the classroom, and my program (University of Rhode Island) provided a good roadmap for how the four years should progress along with some built-in on-campus summer research programs and other ancillary opportunities. However, the stepping stones to a full-on career were still obscured, as if fading into a fog.

So, how do you build this career? How far ahead can you even plan?

To make it in a career in science and conservation, grit and stick-to-itiveness combined with a career development plan implemented as early as possible are necessary ingredients. For the career plan, it is important to see how far you can plan out – four years of university is fairly easy, but a ten-year plan beyond that is imperative to allow for at least some structure. Being flexible, noting that you will meet new collaborators and become interested in new topics and questions along the way, is also recommended. Be open to those spontaneous meetups that could be career-defining. I am extremely fortunate to have large network of collaborators, centered around certain topics, that continues to expand. That was not built overnight, and one has to show both competence in the topic and in dealing with people and their idiosyncrasies. It is also important to recognize that some collaborations take time to mature, and those will progress at different rates.

What a career development plan helps to define are the skills, experiences, and topics which will be important to focus on, taking into account that you often are the victim of unconscious incompetence (that is, you don’t know what you don’t know). This last point is why it is so important to seek advice from professionals who are further along in their careers – and to seek advice from a variety of sectors of the science and conservation world. If I had sought out advice from a conservation scientist at an aquarium, for instance, perhaps I would have come to that point in my career a bit earlier. Instead, I was fortunate to land a tenure-track position, having also considered consulting and government work. I never thought I would be in the non-profit NGO (non-governmental organization) space, but I also never consulted with anyone in that area until I was well into graduate school. My plan stopped with completing my Ph.D., and the hazy idea of a postdoc and perhaps a tenure-track position. I now realize what could have been done to make that a clearer professional path.

All this is to say: make a plan, seek advice, and execute that plan with grace and openness to what life may bring you. This is what we offer through Remote Ecologist to scientists in different career stages. If you are interested in more personalized and customized career advice, feel free to reach out to us via DM or to schedule a session.

Dr. Dave Hudson

Founder, Remote Ecologist

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So you are a freshman, and made it through your first semester of college! Congratulations. However, to make it in a career in science, you need to have the academic capability, work experience, and the professional network. This is critical regardless of whether your goal is to stay in academia, work for a non-profit, or do consulting work. The latter two areas are often ones that lag when it comes to advice from academic advisors.

There are two main discussion points here:

  1. Internships, volunteer opportunities, and skills development

  2. The importance of professional conferences

Internships, Volunteer Opportunities, and Skills Development:

As a freshman, you are usually not considered trained enough for the laboratory or field. However, there are are still a few opportunities out there. Though it is no longer updated, the following is a qualified list of paid internships in the sciences, and always a good link I gave advisees of mine: Another great resource is one that aligns students with companies’ ESG interests, like Montclair State University’s Green Teams:

Additionally, there are usually two types of opportunities on campus: working in a professor’s laboratory and summer opportunities tailored to your campus. The former is almost always able to be completed as part of a work-study program, so you can be paid, or is available as research credit which will count toward your degree plan for graduation. The latter is important to explore, as programs are developed to make sure that on-campus students are afforded access to professors’ laboratories first, much like the University of Rhode Island has a whole Coastal Fellows program only available to internal students - that is paid for the summer!

If you cannot find a paid opportunity, are those which will cost you time or money. They CAN be valuable, but you need to put a bit of work into whether they would be worth it. One option is volunteering. Non-profit organizations are always looking for volunteers, and often places like zoos and aquariums look to their volunteer pool first when it comes to selecting internships for the animal husbandry department or summer (paid) educators. Volunteering can also be rife with problems, particularly since you need to make sure it is the right opportunity for you.

The other option is a field course somewhere. Good examples are those at the Isle of Shoals ( and Marine Biological Laboratory (, which both offer financial assistance to make those opportunities a better fit. Consider that these also lead to expansion of your network, by getting outside your institution for additional experience that may lead to more opportunities for collaboration with those institutions later on. An additional consideration is developing adjacent skills, like language immersion, which would help you work in places that do not speak your primary language. For instance, Fulbright Colombia offers this one:

The Importance of Professional Conferences:

After you have a bit of experience in a laboratory and doing field work, it is important to present that work. In my field, two great conferences to consider for students are the Benthic Ecology Meeting ( and the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology meeting ( Societies that are focused on specific taxa or habitat types, like The Crustacean Society ( and New England Estuarine Research Society ( area also fantastic places to meet colleagues and connect, often with travel support available for students. Presenting work at a conference during your time in undergrad is CRITICAL to developing your network.

Concluding, it is important to keep in mind that these opportunities and events are cyclical, and that many summer opportunities are often posted in the winter of the previous year (November or December), with application dates as early as February. Students that take an approach that “the early bird gets the worm” and who are the most prepared in looking to the following year will typically be those who are most competitive for those opportunities. Good luck!

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