Data Manager at BOLD (Barcode of Life Data System)
I was born/grew up in: Boston, Massachusetts, United States
I now live in: Guelph, Ontario, Canada
I completed my training/education at: BSc (Hon.) University of Toronto (St. George) - Specialist in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, MSc University of Guelph - Integrative Biology/Molecular Biology
Describe what you do at work.
As a student, I learned a lot about the ecology and evolution of many different types of organisms. I also learned the history of how these organisms evolved. I use this knowledge on a daily basis at work. One of my duties is to keep the records of the animal species on the BOLD database correctly organized. To do this I need to use my understanding of how organisms are related, how they evolved, and where they are found in nature. With almost 200 thousand animal species in our database this is no small task! As a result I spend time talking with people who are experts in how certain animals are classified and organized, as well as reading research articles about how species are classified.
Thanks to my training as a scientist, I also learned how to solve problems and think critically about my surroundings. These are necessary skills for my position at BOLD. This is because every new set of data entered into the BOLD database leads to a new set of problems. I also provide remote support for BOLD database users. This requires a great deal of creative troubleshooting to solve users' problems. Finally, my education taught me to observe and ask questions about the natural world. This has been very valuable to my ongoing education and has enriched my life in many ways.
When I was a student I enjoyed:
How does your job affect people’s lives?
The BOLD database is, at heart, a storehouse for species' DNA sequences. What makes BOLD different from other databases that store DNA sequences is that it also provides other information on these species. The BOLD database provides information on the range the species lives in, photos of the species, and a detailed description of how the species is related to other species. Having all this information in one place speeds up the identification of species based on their DNA sequence. This is very useful for identifying and preventing wildlife crime and illegal seafood trade.
What motivates you in your career?
What motivates me to work at BOLD is the knowledge that I am helping to create a database of life that will continue to grow and be useful for decades to come. There are many applications for the data that we collect and curate. This includes the quick identification of illegally traded wildlife products, helping scientific research, and preventing seafood fraud. I find this career rewarding not only because I am able to engage with interesting and new subject matter on a daily basis, but also because I am able to apply the skills and knowledge that I learned in school. I also really enjoy being around and working with people who are interested in the same subject material as I am. Having a positive work space is critical for being productive.
When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:
Describe your career path to this career.
When I was in high school, I wanted to work as a doctor with Doctors Without Borders, so I went to university with this intent. However, in university I discovered my passion for the study of evolutionary biology. I found that asking questions about why things in nature are the way they are (e.g., why do humans get cancer, but some other species don't?) was in line with my inquisitive nature. I have also always been very committed to the cause of environmental sustainability and stewardship. So, this new path fit perfectly with my other interests and passions in life. After I completed my undergraduate degree, I studied how plankton are affected over time by long term exposure to metals, such as the metals contained in waste from the mining industry. Although my experience in scientific research was not entirely smooth or straightforward, I’m happy to know that my research efforts helped add to a growing body of work that is documenting how humans are changing the natural world around us.
What activities do you like to do outside of work?
I have always believed that volunteering and giving back to your community is a responsibility that everyone shares equally. As a result I try to volunteer at as many organizations in the community as possible, as often as possible. When I'm not at work or volunteering, I spend most of my free time reading or writing for my blog. I also love painting, and dedicate a few hours each week to doing art. I practice yoga and play tennis to keep active, and I spend time with my friends as often as I can.
What advice or encouragement would you give others seeking a similar career?
I would suggest to anyone with a goal or ambition that they should not let a few bad experiences prevent them from achieving what they want to do. Every problem has a solution with the right mindset!