Herpetologist Highlight

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Herpetologist Highlight

Name:  Brian J. Halstead

Age:  42

Website / Twitter Handle / Instagram:  https://www.usgs.gov/staff-profiles/brian-halstead?qt-staff_profile_science_products=0#qt-staff_profile_science_products

Where do you work?  I work for the U.S. Geological Survey, Western Ecological Research Center, Dixon Field Station in Dixon, California.

Position:  Research Wildlife Biologist

How did you get there?  I grew up on a farm in Wisconsin catching frogs and snakes with my brother. When I was eight years old, I knew I wanted to be a herpetologist. Then a well-intentioned high school guidance counselor steered me away from that career path and toward a career in medicine or physical therapy where I could “find a job.” Fortunately, I went to Carroll College (now Carroll University) because I wasn’t quite sure that was the path for me and I thought a small liberal arts college would keep more options open. Was that ever the right decision! The professors there got to know me and encouraged me to pursue my interests, but it still took until the second semester of my junior year to find the right path. I was a bit behind on my ecological coursework, so in my senior year I took every ecology and conservation class that I could, and I applied broadly to positions in ecology to make sure that’s what I wanted to do. One of these was as a volunteer intern for the Milwaukee Public Museum radio-tracking head-started juvenile Blanding’s turtles (Emydoidea blandingii). I really enjoyed that and ensuing herpetological work and decided to pursue a Ph.D. in the joint lab of Henry Mushinsky and Earl McCoy at the University of South Florida. While there, I studied spatially-structured predator-prey relationships between coachwhips (Masticophis flagellum) and Florida scrub lizards (Sceloporus woodi), but Henry and Earl’s large lab gave me the opportunity to help on diverse projects ranging from the effects of groundwater pumping on amphibians in wellfields to gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) translocation and sand skink (Plestiodon reynoldsi) genetics. Other than continuing research, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to with my Ph.D. as I neared the end of graduate school, so I applied broadly to postdoctoral positions, small universities and colleges, and government jobs. The position that best matched my interests and skills coming out of graduate school was analyzing data and writing papers using a long-term dataset on giant gartersnakes (Thamnophis gigas). I saw the position as an opportunity to beef up my experience and publication record, and I initially treated the position as a postdoc. I ended up really enjoying working for USGS, and I stuck around and kept writing proposals (to keep my position funded!) and papers. Eventually I was hired to a permanent research-grade position.

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