By Denise Hawkins, USFWS
My interest in nature, wildlife, fish, and all things outdoors began very early with much time spent outside with my mom. She took us on walks, hikes, camping, swimming, etc. and made it fun and informative, always naming different trees, pointing out various birds, singing hiking songs, and generally instilling in us respect for the natural environment and also a very strong interest in learning.
This early learning led me to pursue college immediately after high school. I started at the local community college and was fortunate enough to be able to live at home, take a few classes and work two jobs. One of the jobs was as a lab tech at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which I learned about through one of my community college instructors.
Working in the lab. (Photo: USFWS)
This job made it clear to me that I really enjoyed lab work, and so after three years at the community college, I transferred to University of California at Davis to complete a Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry. During this time, I began to spend time with my folks fishing and, although I have never been a true 'fish in any kind of weather' angler, I found that I really enjoyed freshwater fishing.
After getting my degree, I worked as a lab tech and was eventually promoted to lead the lab. I learned a lot about various lab techniques and ways to approach molecular biology.
But I felt as though something was still missing.
I realized that what I really wanted was to continue learning and find a way to apply my lab skills to the world outside. I went back to school to pursue a Ph.D degree at University of Washington in Fisheries, using molecular genetic techniques to answer questions about fish.
From this point, I again was fortunate enough to be offered a job at the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife Molecular Genetics Lab. Through various projects, I found that the missing part of my career had been fulfilled by the ability to use lab methods in an applied setting. The final step that brought me to where I am now came through the opportunity to join the staff at the Abernathy Fish Technology Center.
As you can see, it took a supportive family, some lab time, some school time, some hard work, some luck, and a lot of time outdoors to finally discover what I really wanted to do. But all these things together were needed for me to get where I am today.
Denise Hawkins is a Regional Geneticist at the Abernathy Fish Technology Center in Washington State