Environmental Sciences – The Megaphone
On January 28, SU alum Bianca Perez ’16 visited, talking about her career in wildlife management, working with endangered species. She gave the students her perspective on working in the local area, as well as a bit about how she got to where she is today. Through a Q&A session, Perez told us about her story of navigating from graduation to her current position, with all the internships and experiences that brought her there, while giving the students in attendance the advice she learned from her own struggles and accomplishments.
In general, Perez’s line of work boils down to carefully studying threatened species and their environments – such as the number and diversity of species in decline, the prevalence of damaging factors like invasive species, and also the analysis of factors such than water content – to better understand the status of species in need of support and how best to preserve their numbers in the wild. Bianca herself has focused primarily on aquatic species, ranging from fish to freshwater mussels and salamanders to snails. This doesn’t always mean focusing only on the endangered species themselves, often forcing conservation experts like Bianca to focus on problematic species, such as fish that regularly feed on the eggs of endangered frogs. , or invasive plant species that disrupt the delicate food web that native species depend on. Historically, this type of work involves a lot of “down and dirty” outdoor field work as one might imagine; however, Perez noted how the impact of the pandemic has led to a lot more remote office work instead; many of his peers also had their field studies delayed.
Perez’s personal career path has seen her do internships at many different organizations across the country, as well as more local positions here in Texas. One of the connections she has made is her work experience at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge in Philadelphia in the field of agricultural management. Much like farm management, her conservation work at the refuge has led her to control invasive plant species in the environment, mitigating their spread and damage to the ecosystem. Perez also recounted his extended field research experience during an internship at Yosemite National Park, while reintroducing a species of pond turtle to the park’s rivers. While there, she and her colleagues slept in tents for three months straight and were only able to shower once a week!
Perez also recounted a time when she felt discouraged by her career trajectory. During her graduate studies at Texas A&M University, she struggled with an advisor who never gave her a full contract and cut her funding. So she was forced to either pay the rest of her tuition herself or leave. Although she chose to leave without her master’s degree, her career still took off. Despite her setbacks, Perez has since returned to Georgetown, where she was lucky enough to land a full-time job with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality as an ecological risk assessor. It’s more of a desk job for his admission, writing frequent little journals about animal and plant species that would need some form of protection. Either way, she is more than happy to be in the position she is in today and to have the past experiences that got her there.
The discussion of Perez’s experiences came with plenty of advice for students in the field of environmental studies, about where they can get their education, where to look, and what to prepare for. One recommendation she has for those looking for paid internships is the Student Conservationist Association (SCA); one can probably find opportunities like the ones she had in Yosemite or the John Heinz Range. She cautioned, however, that it can be difficult to secure full-time positions with SCA. She also warned that with most funding sources, “jobs priorities can change with state priorities.” As for more general sage advice for SU students, she explained that it doesn’t help to be shy about asking others at your experience level how much they get paid; when it comes to realizing her full earning potential, Bianca therefore urges students to “be your own advocate.” If she had the chance to give advice to her past, she claimed she would say “don’t limit yourself” and “[not] looking too closely” as far as environmental science can lead. In this regard, Bianca claimed that Southwestern “prepared me to do well”, allowing her to achieve the full range of what the discipline has opened up to her.