By Megan T. Cook, USFWS
Like many of us in the field, my journey to becoming a wildlife biologist and scientist began as a kid and developed with the help of fantastic teachers and mentors throughout my life.
I grew up in urbanized Stockton, California, but my family spent every summer camping at the beach and in the mountains. When I was younger, I used to let slugs from our backyard crawl all over my hands. I also remember literally embracing a boa constrictor at a local zoo.
Even as a kid I went for the slimy and scaly!
My mom was a science resource teacher, so curiosity about the natural world was always present and seemed completely normal to me. My high school biology teacher also took us on great field trips to the redwoods and tidepools
But my career in wildlife conservation actually started with math.
I get up close and personal with a green sea turtle near the San Diego Bay. (Photo: Megan Cook/USFWS)
In 11th grade, I was one of the winners of a math competition sponsored by a national lab. I thought I might win a graphing calculator, but instead was offered a paid summer internship! This temporary job led to a more permanent position, and I subsequently spent my college summers banding songbirds, surveying amphibians, and teaching environmental education and outreach.
After that, I was hooked. Working outside with cool critters? Sign me up for life!
I went to college at UC San Diego and completed a B.S. in Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution with a minor in Environmental Studies. I studied abroad in Australia, focusing on tropical ecology and marine biology. During and after college I focused on a variety of wildlife jobs, including sea turtle work, hawk banding, small mammal trapping, and more amphibian and reptile surveys.
Graduate school took me to Oregon State University where I did a Master’s in Wildlife Science researching invasive bullfrog management -- and my paper about this will soon be published!
I had the great fortune to be hired directly out of grad school by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through the Presidential Management Fellows program.
I’m normally based in the Office of the Science Advisor in Washington, D.C., where I help coordinate teams working on issues like bats and wind energy, and strengthening science capacity throughout our agency. For the next few months, however, I am at our Washington Fish and Wildlife Office, working on the historic Elwha River dam removal project in Olympic National Park.
Along with a great team of collaborators, I am developing the monitoring and adaptive management guidelines for the bull trout, one of the threatened fish species in the Elwha. I am also working on a topic that has interested me for a long time – integrating habitat conservation concerns for fish and frogs.
In short, I am learning a ton and excited to be here!
Megan T. Cook works in the Office of the Science Advisor at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Headquarters in Arlington, Va.