Sara having just grabbed a milksnake in Belize, 2018. Can she be any happier? (the answer is clearly no!).

Herpetologist Highlight

  1. Name: Sara Ruane
  2. Age: 36
  3. Website / Twitter Handle / Instagram: @sara_and_snakes on twitter,
  4. Where do you work? Rutgers University-Newark
  5. Position: Assistant professor
  6. How did you get there?


Well, I’ve always been pretty wild about animals, being out in nature, and especially catching snakes. I can remember going to the local library when I was in elementary school and taking out the same couple books they had on herpetology over and over and over (specifically Carl Kaufeld’s books like Snakes and Snake Hunting). I can also recall repurposing my uncle’s putting iron as a snake hook, despite only ever really seeing Storeria and Thamnophis locally. What really solidified my future was working with Al Richmond at UMass-Amherst as an undergraduate, where it was clarified to me that if you like herps, there are multiple career options available to you, not just something like being a veterinarian or working at a zoo, but professor jobs or museum jobs that have a research focus.  My senior year of college I applied to a bunch of herp related intern positions and ended up in Florida radio-tracking ratsnakes and cornsnakes for four months, as well as putting PIT tags into all snakes on the study site. It was a pretty awesome experience. I then did a master’s degree at the University of Central Arkansas, which involved radio-tracking Blanding’s turtles to gain some insight on their nest-site selection. But when I started looking at PhD options I knew with certainty I wanted to really focus my studies on snakes, and while I love ecology, I had so much enjoyed all the systematics classes I had taken over the years that I thought that might be time to switch gears to a new avenue to explore and focus on. I ended up working with Frank Burbrink at CUNY on just what I wanted, snake systematics, and continued that focus into a first postdoc at the AMNH, a second postdoc at LSU’s Museum of Natural Science, and ultimately what I do now as an assistant professor.

  1. Was there any particular hardship that you had to overcome to work in your position?


There is a lot of computer programming and math that was a pretty steep learning curve for me with respect to phylogenetic inference and at times that can be a struggle. But you just have to stick with it and figure it out in order to make progress!


  1. 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?


In my experience, being persistent and working hard gets you the farthest in this field, sure you’ve got to be relatively smart but it’s the hard work of writing papers and getting them published that gets you a job-you need an actual product. In addition, you should take the different opportunities that present themselves to you and not be afraid of them! Even if they are a little outside your normal comfort zone. For anyone who feels like maybe they aren’t the typical herpetologist for whatever reason, I think people (at least the people I hang out with!) are very welcoming to anyone with a passion for these animals and want to make it their career focus. So if you bring that shared passion, you’re going to fit right in no matter who you are. That isn’t to downplay that there are struggles for underrepresented groups in this field, but it’s also important to emphasize that there is a shared common interest driving us all and that it can be used to help foster connections in all sorts of professional settings…so don’t be afraid to use it to your advantage.


  1. What’s your favorite herp?


Well, any snake is going to win out over anything else, but among snakes I typically like snakes with some sort of attitude when you catch them. Something I am really hoping to see on an upcoming trip to Europe is Malpolon, they seem incredibly cool with major attitude.


  1. Why are you an HL member?


I think being part of the societies is an important part of professional development and a great way to be involved at the meetings and direct how the future of the society is going to be played out, plus it’s a good way to meet people who have a shared interest. It’s also a great way to meet students and other early career people and possibly help them along their trajectory.


  1. Is there anything else you would like to add?


Snakes are the best! If you’re not sure what group you want to work on, there’s so much we don’t know about snakes and need more snake focused research!


  1. Is there a good caption for your attached photograph?


Sara having just grabbed a milksnake in Belize, 2018. Can she be any happier? (the answer is cleary no!).

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