30 July 2021

Finally getting a Footing

Written by: Gwyneth Daunton

Working in the Directorate Fellows Program (DFP) has opened so many doors for me. At the start of 2019 I was working at a startup company working to sustainably grow culinary mushrooms. I didn’t really think I would be able to find full time employment in my intended field, which was conservation biology.

Straight out of undergrad I participated in internships working with different wildlife species including Burmese pythons in the Florida Keys, sea turtles in Georgia, and piping plovers in New York. These positions gave great experience and were a lot of fun. Who doesn’t like holding baby sea turtles?! But these positions also only lasted around six months. It’s called the wildlife shuffle. You get a cool job in your field in a beautiful part of the country and you’re there just long enough to get the feel of things, then it’s over. Time to apply for another job. You rack up experience, you gain some networking but so does everyone else around you. This field is competitive, and you need to want it in your gut in order to make it. I almost didn’t.

Luckily since then I’ve been able get into a master’s program which then led me to getting my DFP. Since my fellowship started, I have felt the dread of not having a job after graduating lessen. It’s been incredible being a part of a team who is so passionate about conserving species. I’ve been able to go into the field on several occasions. I’ve hiked up mountains looking for the world’s fifth most endangered salamander, with experts in the field. I’ve held and helped to measure a small Jemez mountain salamander, which I personally found under a lichen covered rock. I finally feel that I’ve made it, or at least close to it.

Through this fellowship I have seen what’s involved with being a biologist within the Fish and Wildlife Service including writing the biology portion of the Jemez Mountain salamander’s species status assessment. This document will be used as a guideline to help manage this endangered species in the future. I’ve also met with a few salamander experts and learned how they made it in this challenging field. We even found salamanders in areas where they haven’t been recorded in years. Even though the end of my fellowship is near, I know that it’s not the last time I’ll hear from individuals I met during my fellowship (including my supervisor). I only have one more semester left of my master’s degree and after that, my next step will be getting the full-time position with the Fish and Wildlife Service that I’ve always dreamt of! I’m extremely excited for what’s to come, just need to write my thesis. 

Agency: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Program: US Fish & Wildlife Service - DFP

Location: New Mexico Ecological Services Field Office

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