Hi everyone! I’m Jenny Howard, and I’m a 5th year PhD student at Wake Forest University in Winston Salem, North Carolina. My path to grad school wasn’t exactly linear; after graduating from my undergraduate institution, Kenyon College, I explored a variety of science fields by doing seasonal field work for the government, academia, and non-profit organizations. I bounded through wetlands in Ohio and Colorado, forests in Guam and South Carolina, and remote seabird islands in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Ultimately, I found a driving passion for seabirds, these incredible long-lived species who inhabit both terrestrial and marine environments. I decided to pursue graduate school because I wanted to dive deeper into a focused project and data for a longer period. This led me to study seabirds in Galápagos as a PhD student at Wake Forest University.
My first exposure to the Galápagos Islands occurred when I studied abroad in Ecuador in 2008 and I was immediately enchanted with the islands. In 2011, I jumped at the opportunity to volunteer as a field assistant working with Dr. David Anderson’s long-term project studying Nazca boobies on Isla Española in Galápagos. Now, I work in this same system to study how individual (like age or sex of a bird) and environmental variables (like sea surface temperature) affect the foraging behavior of these long-lived seabirds. We study the birds using GPS units and accelerometers, similar to technology found in a smartphone or activity tracker that counts steps walked. Wearing these small tags, the bird can fly freely and give us a window into each bird’s life. Once we download data from the biologgers, we can see where a bird traveled and then can add in satellite data to figure out how a bird was deciding to forage in a specific area.
Recently, I have become very passionate about using effective science communication to bridge the gap between what we do as scientists with non-scientists, particularly in this polarized political climate. Producing evidence-based articles that invite non-scientists to learn and engage in science research is critical for our future. I started writing for Massive Science, an online consortium that trains scientists to translate science for non-scientists, and am continuing to write when I have time.
Spending so much time on remote islands, I got into photography and birds in the Galápagos make easy subjects! Check out my website to see photos from different places I’ve worked or visited, links to my science communication, or more information about my research.
In my free time, I’m all about being outdoors. Also, I’ve found that it is really important to have some way to de-stress and chill-out during grad school — it improves overall mental health. My favorite ways to de-stress have been running and baking!
This week, get excited for all things seabird and foraging-related, science communication, and managing overall health during grad school!