Inga Parker La Puma
Postdoc, Forest Landscape Ecology
University of Wisconsin, Madison
What inspired you to pursue a career in STEM?
I became a scientist via my environmentalist leanings. As an undergrad in Geography I worked at an outdoor education center where I led nature walks and taught cooperative education outdoors. I gained a deeper appreciation for the tenuous state of the environment while there and was driven to learn more about how the landscape was changing. I have been able to use my spatial analysis and fieldwork skills to share that information with others in ways that are useful to managers and to larger climate challenges.
What is the coolest project you have worked on and why?
I would say the project I worked on for my Master’s was in the “coolest” location: the North Slope of Alaska. I spent 3 summers from May through October at Toolik field station studying how soil warming and lengthening the summer season affects the carbon flux and reflectance of tundra plants. It was a close scientific community in a wild place with caribou loping past my field site and several bears encountered on hikes in the Brooks Range.
One of my role models is Monica Turner. She is a prolific landscape ecologist who has contributed SO much to the field.
Why do you love working in STEM?
I feel that I’m actually working towards a purpose, which is the understanding of the natural world and how we rely on ecosystem services of all kinds; including carbon sequestration.
Advice for future STEMinists?
Don’t get discouraged by all the dudes. They aren’t smarter than you and they have plenty of life events that affect their productivity just as you do. The exception of course is having kids. It is easier now to have a family after you get tenure (hopefully that will be more flexible in the future), so if you think you are interested in an academic STEM career, don’t dilly dally too long in your 20s! Get advice and GO FOR IT so you are at that stage at the right time in your life!