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Lynn Von Hagen

Conservation Biologist

Auburn University

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Never believe that because you are lacking in one area that makes you ineligible to pursue your dreams or goals.

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WHAT DO YOU DO?

I am a conservation biologist and PhD candidate conducting research in the Tsavo ecosystem of Kenya that focuses on mitigation of negative interactions between wildlife and people. Elephants are the primary focus as they enter small shareholder farms at night and consume or trample crops. This creates food security issues for impoverished rural people and conservation threats to elephants, as farmers may retaliate. My past work has focused on testing deterrent methods and/or fences to help prevent crop raiding. I am now transitioning my focus to look at more complex socio-ecological systems dynamics that prevent coexistence between people and wildlife. This includes community adaptive capacity and resilience and the attitudes and behavior of people and their relationship with conservation.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS FIELD?

I was always interested in animals and nature and became obsessed with conservation when I was in high school. I was intrigued by elephants, their complex communications and close social bonds, never imagining I could one day work with them. I ended up on a different career path, but always felt unsettled in doing what was necessary but not what I was passionate about. Eventually everything aligned and I returned to school to pursue my original passion which was fighting to protect ecosystems and the biodiversity within. I continue to be inspired by scientists like Jane Goodall who helped to pave the way for other women working in remote field conditions and today’s young climate warriors who refuse to rest until the world’s leaders listen.

HOW DO/DID YOU TACKLE OBSTACLES?

Returning to academia after a huge education gap left me behind on many subjects, but I made sure to take a deep breath and do the extra work necessary to bring myself up to speed. When problems occur, the main thing is to keep yourself focused on the long-term goal, break down issues into small surmountable tasks, and surround yourself with supportive people. There will always be more failures than successes for most people but understanding that makes all the small victories glorious and helps you keep things in perspective.

WHAT DO YOU LOOK AT & THINK, "I WISH YOUNGER ME WOULD HAVE KNOWN THIS WAS POSSIBLE?"

At some point before going to college, I apparently didn’t believe I was capable of pursuing a career in STEM. Even though I was passionate about conservation, at that time there weren’t a lot of women going into the field. I thought I lacked the math skills to be successful and had very little self-confidence in my abilities. While I wish I had made different choices and am disheartened by the prior lack of guidance for “smart girls”, I am invigorated by the current movements across the world to make sure that no girls are left behind when it comes to STEM fields. I never would have dreamed before that I could go on to be Dr. Von Hagen and travel to amazing places and interact with such amazing species and cultures. So I wish my younger self then could have envisioned what I was obviously capable of. I know now it is never too late to pursue what you love. Now I am determined to pass these lessons on and make sure I spread the word that STEM is for everyone!

WHY DO YOU LOVE WORKING IN STEM?

I love that I get to be in a career when I am so often in Nature. When I am doing field work, I look forward to hearing the birds sing me awake in the morning and the sounds of animals like lions or elephants moving in the night. For me, it is also about making a difference. Even if I can’t completely solve a problem, at least I get a chance to say that I made a contribution.

BEST ADVICE FOR NEXT GENERATION?

Never believe that because you are lacking in one area that makes you ineligible to pursue your dreams or goals. You can’t be good at everything, and there will always be someone better at it than you. So give yourself a break and know that some roads will be longer than others but it’s all still an important part of your journey.

INSPIRATION

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, that is the only thing that ever has" ~ Margaret Mead