Working at Glen Canyon National Park I’ve had the opportunity to meet dedicated scientists from all parts of the country. During our long days out in the field, I enjoy listening to their past adventures studying wildlife from the seas of Alaska to the tropical rainforests of Hawaii. While I consider all of my coworkers to be influential, today I’m writing about Grace Carpenter.
From the beginning of my internship, Grace has always been welcoming and supportive. She takes the time to answer my questions and does so with patience and encouragement. As a woman in STEM, I admire her passion to protect wildlife and I’m inspired by the sacrifices she makes to build her career. I wanted to learn more about her experiences working with the National Park Service and what advice she may have to those looking to start a career with the agency. So, I asked her some questions!
Where do you work and what is your position?
I am a Biologist with the Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division of the National Park Service Natural Resource Stewardship and Science Directorate. I represent the Division for the southeast region, so that’s where I’m based. I’m duty stationed at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
What are some of your major duties at your place of work?
I provide technical assistance for any/all nps units in the southeast region that need help with soundscape or night sky issues. That encompass a wide range of topics, like noise/light pollution mitigation, compliance, dark sky recognition, and overflight management to name a few. A lot of my time is spent helping parks measure baseline acoustic conditions.
Could you talk about your educational background and what made you pursue your degree? When did you realize you wanted to work in the natural sciences?
I have an associate degree in photography from Washtenaw Community College, bachelor’s degree in biology from Eastern Michigan University, and a master’s degree in wildlife and fisheries science from the University of Tennessee. I have been passionate about nature ever since I was a child. My mom is an art teacher and I thought I’d pursue a career in art using nature as my inspiration. But while attending WCC for photography, I was very inspired by one of my biology instructors. I felt compelled to pursue a career in conversation instead.
How long have you worked for the National Park Service and what inspired you to pursue a career with the agency? What National Parks have you worked in?
I began working for NPS as a seasonal wildlife technician in 2018. While I was in school, I learned that conversation does not happen in a vacuum, and we need to work with stakeholders to be successful. I decided my personal mission would be to help find solutions that serve the needs of both humanity and wildlife. The founding legislation of the NPS (organic act 1916) says that it has the dual mission to conserve park resources and provide for their use and enjoyment in such a manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for future generations. This mission aligns really well with my own. NPS also has a high profile and there is lots of opportunity to effect meaningful change. These are the things that really attracted me to a career with the agency. I Have worked as an employee at Glen Canyon and I did my masters work in Great Smoky. In my current position, I physically work at Great Smoky, but I work on projects for many parks in the southeast region. At some point (in a post-covid travel restrictions world) I will do field work in those parks.
What has been your hardest struggle working in this field and/or with the National Park Service?
The hardest struggle was getting a permanent job. It’s extremely competitive and I’m one of the lucky ones that got a permanent position after only 2 years of seasonal work within the agency. However, I did seasonal wildlife work for about 5 years prior to my masters, so I definitely put in my time. But for a more work-related answer, it’s a struggle trying to prioritize tasks. There are so many worthy projects that need to be done but we have very limited resources. So I often have to turn down requests for help because we just don’t have the capacity.
What is your favorite part about working with the National Park Service, do you have a favorite project?
I love the people I work with. The teams I’ve been a part of have been full of intelligent and passionate people.
What advice do you have for people who are looking into a career with the National Park Service or other related agencies?
You must get your foot in the door. Whether it be volunteering for a nearby NPS unit or other federal resource management agency, we look for people who have “institutional” knowledge, and often look for people who have experience with the exact techniques that will be used for the job. I’m not an HR guru but I’ve heard that volunteer experience counts the same as work experience!
What advice would you give to high school and college students pursuing a degree in the natural sciences, what can they do to prepare for a career in this field?
High school students: volunteer with local parks doing habitat restoration, weed/pest removal or any other type of natural resource activities. When looking for schools to attend, look at what types of research the professors are doing. Contact the ones that interest you and see if they take on undergraduate research technicians.
College students: Work or volunteer with natural resources/biology professors. Ask your counselor for help identifying professors that do work with undergrads. Do a thesis project and present at a school symposium. Publish research if you can. Make good relationships with professors and others who will be good references for you.
Experience begets experience, so begin building up these little things on your resume while you still have contacts at school. That’s what they’re there for!