What is it like to be a researcher and an academic? What advice do you have for choosing an area of research? What skills are necessary to do research? These and other questions were recently posed by senior-level high school students at State College Area High School when they had the opportunity to meet with zoologist, Yvonne Buckley from Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.
Buckley had been invited to deliver a public lecture through the Science Achievement Graduate Fellowship (SAGF) program, and during her time in State College, she gave the bi-annual SAGF Lecture, met with SAGF fellows over lunch, and visited with members of Danielle Rosensteel’s Advanced Zoology and Research classes at State College Area High School.
In the SAGF lecture, Buckley presented her research on the fundamental drivers of animal and plant population performance. She showed that key traits, such as how long a species lives and how frequently they reproduce, can explain much of the variation we see across the tree of life. She emphasized the importance of understanding variation within a single species and across multiple species, especially when making large-scale predictions. With a few personal stories and a sprinkle of humor, Buckley shared her compelling science and its wide-reaching implications for biodiversity conservation, invasive species management and habitat restoration.
Over lunch with the SAGF Fellows, Buckley shared her experience as a female scientist and her perspective on the balance between self, family, and career. Suggesting that these three aspects can work synergistically, she encouraged the Fellows to think creatively about the ways they can accomplish goals from multiple spheres of life at once. She advised them to be open to new people and ideas, to embrace their discomfort, and to actively manage their time, their schedule and their workload. Buckley left the Fellows with a practical and positive mindset.
While at State College Area High School, several students shared their research project protocols and hypotheses with Buckley who was very supportive and readily offered insight and suggestions. Approximately 20 students then attended a question and answer session with her. She enthusiastically explained her journey as a scientist to the students, and how she made her decision to study Biology instead of English when she was their age. She talked about her field travels to numerous continents to study different plants and animals, some of her many research projects, and the classes she currently teaches at Trinity College.
Among some of her advice for the high school students, Buckley encouraged them to study areas of science that interest them and keep their minds questioning. Some of the tools Dr. Buckley has found most useful in her research are statistics and computational biology, as well as her love of problem-solving. She explained, however, that research tools are often developed along the way, either through practice and doing, or by learning from other people. She joyfully admitted to learning several life skills throughout her adventurous career, such as pulling trucks out of holes, pitching tents and communicating with people who spoke different languages. Traveling to other parts of the world, seeing various species, and gaining new perspectives from diverse people were also integral parts of her research career, and she encouraged the students to attend post-secondary education that would allow them to study abroad to expose themselves to all the world has to offer.
We’d like to extend a huge thank you to Dr. Buckley for sharing her insight and experience with Penn State and greater State College community!
Written by Emily Howerton and Carol-Beth Book