The gap between the science classroom and a real-life career in the sciences can seem distant for some students. The 5 Questions for a Scientist interview series was created to bridge this gap! We aim to inspire students to pursue careers in the sciences by showcasing the incredible diversity of STEM careers by talking to scientists themselves. See all of the interviews here.
Get to know Chris
Occupation: Climate change biologist and Ph.D. student
Institution: University of Connecticut
Field: Ecology and evolutionary biology
Focus: Spatial ecology (the study of how and why species are distributed within a habitat) and climate change ecology and evolution
Chris, who holds degrees in natural resources from the University of Arizona and Cornell University, studies the potential impacts of climate change on species populations around the globe using simulation modeling, field observations, and experiments to help predict where species might be most vulnerable to climate change and how conservation organizations can mitigate negative impacts in their region. He also studies avian monitoring and management techniques, with a focus on rare and elusive wetland birds.
Chris spent nearly a decade as a wildlife biologist in Arizona and has work published in Global Change Biology, Restoration Ecology, and Wetlands. In 2017, he co-hosted a workshop on "Connecting Ideas Across K–12 Science Education to Prepare Students to Think about Biodiversity and Climate Change" at the 2017 RiSE Center Conference. Chris is currently a Second Century Stewardship Science Research Fellow.
1. Explain what you do in your work in one sentence (or two!).
I try to understand how species, ranging from bacteria to birds, are coping with rapidly increasing temperatures due to climate change. My research helps determine what we can do to save threatened species from extinction.
2. When did you first become interested in your field?
I have always loved animals and being outside. As a teenager, I spent most of my waking hours fishing, boating, hunting, and hiking. I was amazed to learn I could make money working outside with animals. My interest in science grew out of my passion for wildlife and my first few jobs working outside as a wildlife biologist.
3. What is your favorite part of being a scientist or of science in general?
Freedom! As a scientist, I am free to investigate anything in the natural world that interests me. Working to solve problems that excite me makes the day-to-day grind of a full-time job highly enjoyable.
Evidence and Argument! Being a scientist is like being a detective. You spend your days collecting evidence for or against particular ideas. Often, you discover surprises that change the way you think about the world. When you are done, it is extremely satisfying to argue your case based on the well-supported facts you've acquired over time.
4. What is a typical day like for you as a scientist?
There isn’t a typical day. Some days, I'm outside on the rugged coastline of Acadia National Park catching bugs from rock pools. Other days, I work at a lab bench conducting experiments on bacteria or identifying critters under a microscope. And other days, I'm in front of my computer with a cup of coffee writing papers or analyzing data. Often, I'm able to choose what I do on any given day to match my mood.
5. Do you have any advice for young people interested in science today?
Don't be intimidated. It's not too hard for you. Trust me, I never thought I could be a scientist, but here I am soon to be Dr. Chris Nadeau. You’d be surprised to know how many scientists were just as intimidated as you are. If you like mysteries and problem solving, then science could be for you.
It's never too early to get involved. Contact a scientist in your area to see if they have opportunities for you to volunteer. You can find scientists (i.e., professors and graduate students) on your local university's website. Scientists love to know that young people are interested in what they do. They will likely be glad to get you involved. Scientists are also very busy, so don’t be put off if they don't respond right away. Keep trying, or try other people.
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