Herpetologist Mentee Highlight

I’m holding a water snake who was not very happy with me at the time!

Name: Andrea Fondren

Age: 21

Where do you go to school? What is your position (undergrad, grad student, etc)?

Iowa State University, undergrad

What are your interests (research, career, or hobbies)?

In terms of research I’m interested in community ecology and predator-prey interactions. Though I’ve become excited about coloration and non-vocal communication, it’s just interesting to think about the different ways in which species communicate via coloration and patterns! In terms of hobbies I like camping and hiking along with cross-stitching!

Are you working on any research projects, and if not, would you like to?

Currently, I’m finishing up my last semester as an undergrad, so I’m trying to write and submit for publication any work that I’ve done in the last couple of years! I’m working with my field mentors from this past summer, Dr. Putman and Dr. Swierk, to submit a manuscript on water anoles. It’s been a lot of fun but was and continues to be a learning process!

Was there any particular hardship that you had to overcome in academics or in research?

One of the obstacles that I’ve had to overcome is the lack of representation within my field and academics. I think that sometimes it’s difficult to be in a classroom and not see people who look like you, which can be isolating. Though I’ve been fortunate enough to have a great support system and a lab group who have always supported me in my endeavors.

What advice do you give other students interested in joining a lab? What advice might you have for someone from an underrepresented group who is interested in entering your field?

I would suggest that if there’s a lab or labs that you’re interested in to just reach out, send a letter introducing yourself and why you’re interested in the lab. Most PIs are more than happy to offer research experience especially when you are enthusiastic and excited to learn new things. Also, before joining a lab it may be helpful to think about some of the goals you want to achieve while in the lab, so that you have clear expectations for yourself and can begin a conversation with the PI about increasing your responsibilities within the lab later on. For anyone from an underrepresented group, I would first like to say that you belong here and are deserving of respect! I would suggest that you build a support system of people who care about you and your career aspirations. Keep your goals in mind and realize that you will achieve them as long as you put in the work!


Have you ever attended a professional conference? What did you enjoy about the experience and what was challenging? What advice would you offer to other students about your experience? 

I have attended the Society for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science (SACNAS) National conference three times, two of which I had the opportunity to present a poster on my research! I can’t recommend the SACNAS National Conference enough for scientists and students at any level, especially undergraduates. The conference is pretty huge, which was incredibly intimidating at first but it’s such a great opportunity to interact with so many amazing scientists, while also getting the chance to attend some fun and helpful seminars along the way! I would suggest being open-minded about meeting new people and taking every chance you have to talk to someone you may have never meet otherwise. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions, someone will be happy to help you out!

What are your future goals (career or otherwise)?

I want to be a professor of ecology or herpetology! I really love to teach and find new ways of explaining concepts. So, the ultimate dream would be to be a professor and have the opportunity to create programs with the goal of getting underrepresented groups interested in STEM.

What’s your favorite herp?

This is a bit of an unfair question, so I’ll give my top two favorites! I love the western hognose snake (Heterodon nasicus) and the box turtle (Terrapene ornata). My first research experience was the Turtle Camp Research and Education in Ecology (TREE) program with Dr. Fredric Janzen, which is where I discovered my love for reptiles and ecology based research. Both are super cute and sweet herps but a bit dorky…through that could just be me projecting!

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Whatever it is that you’re passionate about find a way to make into a career that you love! It’s going to take a lot of hard work and there will be ups and downs but if you’re always working towards something you care about you will find a way to do it. Also, prioritize your mental health, I cannot stress this enough!

Is there a good caption for your attached photograph?

I’m not very good at remembering to take pictures in the field but this was one from my last summer at Turtle Camp. I’m holding a water snake who was not very happy with me at the time!

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