Heather McKenny

Aquatic Ecologist, Yosemite National Park

MS, Forestry
BS, Biology


What attracted you to your chosen field?

I grew up exploring the woods and wetlands of northwestern Vermont. One of my favorite childhood memories was watching salamanders congregate in a pool during the spring. My brothers and I would watch the eggs develop and eventually hatch. My love of conservation is founded in these childhood memories. As I have gained more experience, my interests have become more focused on balancing conservation through natural resources planning and research.

What do you like best about the field?

Educating the public about our resources is the key to long-term conservation. I really enjoy reaching out to the public both one-on-one and in large groups. It is a lot of fun answering questions and can be very challenging when people have very different views from my own. I like finding common ground so that even if our opinions havenít changed, we leave the meeting respecting the other personís views.

What are some personal challenges you have faced in your field?

The most challenging part of my work is balancing priorities. I have always had a large workload regardless of the agency or position and everything we do is important. The other challenge with my position is that I am funded in part by projects and therefore, I spend a fair amount of time writing funding proposals rather than working on existing projects. I am learning to be better about prioritizing and staying focused on priority tasks.

What does the future hold for your chosen field?

Management and conservation of resources is going to continue to be a very important element of land management in the future. Sadly, we are losing species at an unprecedented rate due in part to habitat loss and disease. We will need new ideas and new energy from young people to ensure that we have healthy ecosystems in the future.

What advice would you give to students considering this field?

My number one recommendation is to do independent research while during your undergraduate program. Find an advisor who will help you develop a research proposal, write a grant, implement the study, and do the analysis. Look for opportunities to present your findings at a professional meeting, and consider writing up your study for submission to a scientific journal. Strong communication skills are highly sought after. Take a good writing course and work on your presentation skills.