Forestry, Fisheries, & Wildlife ‘22
Tonra Lab of Avian Ecology, Southern Sierra Research Station, & Montana Fish and Wildlife Co-op
Gautam is currently a senior majoring in Forestry, Fisheries, and Wildlife. During his time in SENR, he has been involved in the Ornithology Club and participated in research through the Tonra Lab of Avian Ecology, the Southern Sierra Research Station in California, and the Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit. After graduation, Gautam plans to work as a wildlife field ecologist.
Read the full interview with Gautam:
A Glance at Gautam’s Research
On campus, my undergraduate research project is working with song sparrows at the Wilma H. Schiermeier Olentangy River Wetland Research Park. I’m replicating a study done by an ornithologist about 90 years ago named Margaret Morse Nice. My advisor and I are looking into anything that may explain the migratory tendencies of these birds since they are partial migrants, which means that most birds migrate north in the spring and then south in the fall, and then others don’t migrate at all. In the population at the wetlands research facility, some of the song sparrows do migrate north in the spring and return in the winter, and some stay at the wetlands all year round. As of yet, no one has been able to find why certain individuals of the same species and same population will either choose one migratory strategy over another or switch their migratory strategy from year to year. Together, we’ve been studying the song sparrows and trying to decipher if there are any morphological factors that can help us figure out their migratory tendencies.
Outside of class, I’ve worked a few different research jobs over the summers. For one summer, I worked for a PhD candidate at the University of Tennessee. We worked in the Daniel Boone National Forest in eastern Kentucky, where we mapped territories of breeding birds throughout different habitats. We were evaluating the response of Cerulean Warblers to different levels of forest management, including a strategy where timber can be harvested while creating habitat for certain species.
I then worked for a long-term study for the US Bureau of Reclamation for a Yellow-billed Cuckoo monitoring program conducted by the Southern Sierra Research Station. I worked in desert riparian habitats along the lower Colorado River in California and Arizona and monitored populations and nest success under the ESA recovery plan for the species.
Last summer, I worked for another PhD student at the University of Montana. In this project, we were monitoring populations of birds in specific high-elevation sagebrush edge habitat. Due to conifer encroachment into sagebrush habitats, we were monitoring nest success of breeding birds between habitat types. Some of the bird species we monitored were Brewer’s Sparrow, Sage Thrasher, and Green-tailed Towhee.
How did you hear about this opportunity?
For the wetland research, I had a class with my advisor, Dr. Chris Tonra, and after having a conversation with him about his research, I realized it was something I’d be interested in. I then reached out to him and he was willing to work out the details for me to participate in this research. For my other experiences, I found some online wildlife job boards that would post employment opportunities. In addition, one of the advisors for an on-campus research project I participate in through a student org was a very helpful resource in finding opportunities.
What aspect of your research do you feel was most valuable in your professional development?
My first field job in Kentucky was valuable and gave me an idea of what it’s like to work in this field. I know that when you first start out, it’s not really clear what it’s like to do fieldwork and wildlife ecology, but I think the first summer actually doing it I learned a lot as I definitely had some misconceptions about the field of wildlife biology. As a result, I was able to pick up a lot of skills and talk to my boss, who had been in the field for a while, to reframe my perspective regarding fieldwork.
Were there any challenges you faced in getting involved in research, and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge was that it’s pretty difficult to find a professor who is willing to work with you since they may be busy or have full labs. For a prospective student who is looking to get involved in research, I recommend reaching out to as many people as possible. Even if you don't connect with the professor that you wanted to connect with, I would still recommend you take another opportunity because you may discover new interests.
Another challenge is that it’s difficult to get an entry level job related to research in this field. Unfortunately, you have to gain a lot of volunteer experience before employers are willing to hire you. It’s difficult to get your foot in the door in terms of paid work experience, so I recommend doing as much as you can on your own, or with opportunities available to you here at OSU, to build up your skill set and resume to maximize your chances of getting that first job opportunity.
What advice would you give to someone who is hoping to get involved in research?
Apply to a lot of jobs! Don’t get discouraged if you don’t hear back or if organizations don’t hire you. I think it’s really important to just apply to as many jobs as possible. Even if you think it might not work out, reach out and ask the employer if they’re willing to make something work. A lot of the companies hiring right now are interested in giving young people an entry level opportunity, so take advantage of that.
College Life and Beyond
What else have you been involved in during college?
I’ve been an officer for the Ornithology Club for three years. I manage our window strike program on campus, which is part of a nationwide initiative. The program is called, “Lights Out Buckeyes,” and we monitor buildings on campus to prevent window collisions and collaborate with campus buildings to make them safer for migratory birds.
What are your career aspirations at this time?
I’d like to work for another few years as a wildlife field ecologist. I have a job surveying birds this summer in Nevada. After that, I’d like to work as a field technician, probably at a migration station in this coming fall, documenting fall migrant bird species. Then, in 3 - 4 years, I’ll probably reconsider because these are seasonal jobs and I’d like something more permanent in a while. At that time, I would either pursue a full-time position in some capacity as a wildlife ecologist or consider attending graduate school and a master’s degree.
What skills are you learning now that you could transfer to those career aspirations?
All of the classes that are built within the FFW major are really helpful to work in the field and see what it’s really like. I found that the Wildlife Ecology Methods course provides exact experience on fieldwork and learning those skills definitely transfers to work in this field. There are also more theoretical courses and specific research-focused classes that are really helpful for actually understanding research. They are necessary if you’re thinking about positions that involve analyzing the research or going to graduate school.
How to connect with Gautam:
Post created March 2022