Toad-ally Wicked: interdisciplinary ecologist Kirsten Hecht curates Real Scientists

Real Scientists is in Florida, USA this week with Kirsten Hecht (@HellbenderHecht). Kirsten is completing a PhD at the University of Florida in interdisciplinary ecology. Her current research focuses on public engagement in the field of herpetology (the study of reptiles and amphibians). Kirsten is active in diversity and inclusion initiatives both on campus and at the national level and also manages social media accounts for several organizations including the Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC) and the Foundation for the Conservation of Salamanders (FCSal). We caught up with her to hear more about her excellent work:

Welcome to Real Scientists! Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I am an interdisciplinary ecologist who uses mixed methods (both quantitative and qualitative approaches) in wildlife conservation. I am currently investigating how and why herpetologists participate in public engagement. The field component of my aquatic ecology work primarily examines the shifts in ecology that happen over the course of fully aquatic salamander lifespans (also called ontogenetic shifts).

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Interdisciplinary ecologist Kirsten Hecht at the office

How did you get into herpetology?
My High School biology teacher inspired me to be scientist. I originally wanted to be in biotechnology but I ended up in the field of ecology/conservation after discovering I was less than adept in a lab. I’ve loved herps (reptiles and amphibians) since I was a kid. When I realized I could do this as a career when I needed to switch majors, that was it. As I got deeper in the field, I started realizing just how important people and society were to the conservation reptiles and amphibians, so my work has become more interdisciplinary in recent year.

What motivates you about your work?
1) My public engagement research will help us understand what scientists need to better communicate with the public, allowing science to be integrated better into broader society.

2) My field work focuses on aquatic salamander species. These species are sensitive to water quality. Therefore, the presence or absence of salamanders can help us understand how healthy our water supply is. What happens to them happens to us all.

What do you do when you’re not in the lab?
I’m a mom to an awesome 9 year old. I manage the @herpetALLogy account for the Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Inclusion, Equity, and Diversity Task Team. I take silly selfies with over-sized and interesting animal statues or replicas. I love making bad pun/jokes (bonus points if they are herp related). I also enjoy thrifting and low-quality cosplay.

If you’re having a perfect day off, what does it look like?
Omelette to start, a nice relaxing hike with a snake or two, Bubble Tea, followed by some Doctor Who binge-watching.

Kirsten Hecht, welcome to Real Scientists!

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