Alexis Garretson

Graduate Research Fellow, George Mason University


And - Research Associate, Mohonk Preserve Department of Conservation Science

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Try it. One of the ways I found my place in science was through exploring a lot of science places that weren’t for me.

What do you do?

I work to make scientific data and information more accessible and available, both to the public and to other scientists. At the moment, my work focuses on making non-traditional historical data - like field notebooks, pressed leaves and flowers, and journals - collected by scientists over the past 200 years more available to modern scientists. These data help us better understand how our environment is changing and helps us predict how these changes might impact animals, plants, and our own health. I also spend a lot of my time teaching other scientists and researchers how to code and analyze their data, and I love the ways my work lets me support other scientists and their work.

Why did you choose this field?

I always knew I loved science, but it took time to find the parts of science I was most excited about. I explored a lot of options through research experience, internships, and work study jobs. I participated in an undergraduate biology research program, where one week we read papers about the challenges of reproducing scientific findings and the difficulties scientists face making their data publicly available. Reading about these concerns sparked an interest in information management in the biological sciences. Ever since, I have devoted my research work to improving transparency, documentation, and openness in the biological sciences. This introduction led to my involvement with the Earth Science Information Partners https://www.esipfed.org/get-involved/collaborate, a distributed community of data management and information scientists. For the last two years, I’ve served as a community fellow with the Data Stewardship Committee which has helped me connect to a community of other scientists that care about how scientific data can be made more accessible and reusable. I am excited about the ways my interests continue to change as I learn more, and I try to be open to new ideas and opportunities to continue discovering my place in science.

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

Last year, I was awarded a graduate research fellowship from the National Science Foundation. I wish even me two years ago would know that was possible, it’s given me a new sense of confidence in my work and competence as a scientist and it’s enabled me to dream even bigger about what my career could look like in the future. I wish I could tell a younger me: “you deserve to be here as much as anyone else, and your voice and vision are valuable”.

Why do you love working in STEM?

One of the things that I love most about working in STEM is that you’ll never be done learning. Every day, we learn new and exciting things and we collect new data to help us better understand the world around us. The constantly evolving and growing world of science and technology is an exciting thing to be a part of. Every day, I get to look forward to learning, discovering, collaborating, and communicating new things.

Best advice for next generation?

I would say “try it.” One of the ways I found my place in science was through exploring a lot of science places that weren’t for me. Every work-study job, internship, volunteer position helped me separate the things I want to do for the rest of my life from the things I never want to do again. Now, “try it” has morphed a bit into “apply for it.” I have received opportunities, fellowships, and awards I was sure I would never get. So now I tell all my friends and colleagues that the only way to be sure you won’t be selected is to not apply. Applying for opportunities also gives you the opportunity to practice telling your story and to practice learning how to explain your voice and your work to a new audience. In that sense, even a ‘failed’ application is a success in practicing communicating yourself and your science.

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

“You know... no matter what you do, people are going to expect you to be someone you're not. But if you're clever and lucky and work your butt off, then you get to be surrounded by people who expect you to be the person you wish you were.”
― Charlie Jane Anders, All the Birds in the Sky

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” ― Marie Curie

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