Name: Annette Evans
Website / Twitter Handle / Instagram: @annetteNZevans (Twitter)
Where do you work? University of Connecticut
Position: Graduate Assistant
How did you get there? I am originally from New Zealand and was first introduced to herpetology in 2010 when I was a field assistant on a reptile-monitoring project on some of NZ’s offshore islands. I was a field assistant on the project for three consecutive summers and thanks to that experience (and the contacts I made through that work) I became pretty involved with a variety of reptile monitoring and translocation projects around Auckland. I encountered my first wild geckos during this time and proceeded to fall in love with them and ultimately studied sugar resource usage by two endemic NZ geckos for my Masters.
After my Masters I wanted a break so I moved to Connecticut in 2013 on a 1-year exchange visitor visa. This visa is part of a reciprocal exchange program between New Zealand and the US and it allows post-secondary students or recent graduates from each country to work/travel in either country for up to 12 months… (It’s a pretty awesome visa option… tell your students/colleagues/friends!). I moved to Connecticut because my partner was a graduate student at UConn at the time. I worked for 6 months as a field technician/ecologist for the CT DEEP monitoring forest interior bird nesting success (amongst other things) and in the winter I worked part-time for Dr. Dave Wagner at UConn. During this time I met some UConn EEB faculty and grad students and thought the EEB department was awesome and would be a good fit for me! I cold-emailed different faculty about PhD positions, and ultimately found an interesting project with my now PhD advisors (Dr. Elizabeth Jockusch and Dr. Mark Urban). I started my PhD program in the Fall 2014 (and am finishing up soon - hopefully!)
Was there any particular hardship that you had to overcome to work in your position? It has been challenging forming new research contacts here in the US herp/science community – especially while also transitioning into a new study system (I speak more to that below). Honestly though one of my biggest hardship has been visas… visas in America are terrifying! I’m fortunate in many ways, including that I’m pretty pedantic when it comes to organizing and research things relating to travel. So that has helped me be organized enough to complete the mountains of paperwork and transition relatively smoothly between the different visas I have needed over the past few years. I now have a green card, which relieves some pressure (but going through that process was extremely stressful and pretty emotionally draining – especially while simultaneously juggling PhD research, teaching, course work, etc.). The EEB Department at UConn (and the UConn community in general) have been a great support and really do a lot to support their students – particularly international students.
What advice do you give to someone interested in your profession? What advice might you have for someone from an underrepresented group who is interested in entering your field? I would not be in the position I am today if it wasn’t for the 12-month exchange visitor visa travel program. While it may not be an option to everyone (you have to cover flight costs and some visa costs), it is a great way to get experience working overseas and it’s a relatively less-well known visa option. I encourage others to check it out as it has literally changed my life!
One thing that anyone who is interested in herpetology can do is networking – both with other students, faculty and professionals in general. As I mentioned earlier, I found it hard not having any professional contacts here (and found it hard to keep up with the contacts I had formed during my Masters back in New Zealand). Networking is so important in nearly all disciplines and I was lucky that my advisors were great at introducing me to people at conferences (advisors keep doing that!). I’ve also found social media - particularly Twitter - to be a great place to start building up my academic contacts. It is generally accessible to everyone and I have found it really useful for networking and meeting new colleagues in a less-intimidating arena. It’s a great place to showcase the diversity of herpetologists and has been great at conferences as an icebreaker and to help promote your own research/talk!
What’s your favorite herp? Can I have a favorite from NZ and the US? Salamanders top my US list, as NZ doesn’t have any. I have a particular fondness for spotted salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum)… but also like Batrachoseps campi because I saw them for the first time this year and I can’t get over the thrill of finding salamanders in the desert.
But my first herp love has always been NZ geckos. I worked with Duvaucel’s geckos (Hoplodactylus duvaucelii) for my Masters, which are really awesome but I have always had a fondness for the New Zealand black-eyed gecko (Mokopirirakau kahutarae). They have alluring dark eyes and are the highest-altitude lizard species in New Zealand, living up to 2,200 m above sea level. I hope to one day have the opportunity to see and work with them in person.
Why are you an HL member? I joined HL in 2015 because I was already a member of the New Zealand Herpetological Society and SRARNZ (Society for the Research of Amphibians and Reptiles in NZ) so I wanted to also join the herp societies now that I was doing research in America. I enjoy meeting other members at conferences and the student calendar is top notch! I hope to get more involved with the society in years to come.
Is there anything else you would like to add? If you can, volunteer for pretty much everything and anything you can as an undergraduate – this really helped me build contacts and also help me narrow/affirm my research interests. Also, don’t be afraid to randomly email (or tweet) professors or students (anyone really) whose work you admire; and be persistent…emails easily get lost so you might have to send a follow up email (or two!).
On a more personal note: 1) I am finish up my PhD later this year and I am currently searching for post-doc opportunities and/or general research positions. I have a background in biosecurity, conservation and evolutionary biology but I am interested in doing work in the future with disease ecology of herps as well as genetic sampling. And 2) Follow me on Twitter!
Is there a good caption for your attached photograph? Braving storms and torrential rain during a herp field trip in NC was well worth it for this great find: my first Pseudotriton ruber (red salamander). Happy HERper!