Susan McIntyre joined the Illinois Natural History Survey in June 2012 as a wetland plant ecologist with the Wetland Science Program (IDOT). Though she's currently working with plants, Susan is fascinated by nature in all its forms.
Q. How old were you when you first became interested in science? What sparked your interest?
A: I don’t even remember. I think I always have. I grew up with several sets of encyclopedias, including Children’s encyclopedias, on a bookshelf in the hall and I loved to go through them. I also liked to ramble in the woods around my house and would bring back treasures to identify. We didn’t have many channels out in the country, so I watched a lot of PBS; I really enjoyed the science shows. I suppose my interest was formalized by my fifth grade science teacher, Ms. Hughes, who introduced us to the scientific method and “real” science, but the interest was already there for sure.
Q. Who has been a mentor to you in your science career?
A: I suppose I had several strong influences. My freshman college advisor helped me figure out what I was interested in (I started Undecided because I was interested in so many different subjects). Conversations with my Mammalogy and Wildlife Management professor helped me narrow my focus and plan out how to pursue it. An internship supervisor after college re-introduced me to the many facets of ecology and broadened my horizons beyond live-trapping little furry critters.
Q. What work are you most proud of?
A: I'm proud of the outreach I’ve done. I love teaching people about nature and ecology.
Q. What advice would you give to other female scientists?
A: Get as much experience as you can. Talk to people, ask questions, make connections, volunteer and do internships or odd jobs. Read up on the subject(s) you're interested in. Find out what you love doing. Learn about people in the field and what paths they took to get there. Consider contacting them for an informational interview (you can find tips online on how to do that).
About being a female in science: I was lucky that there were a lot of females in my field, but there were still a few cases where I felt I had to prove myself in a “man’s world.” Stick with it! Don’t doubt yourself. Develop a thicker skin if you must, but maintain your dignity, be sociable, and do your job well and they should come to respect you. (If they don’t, it’s okay to talk to your teacher/supervisor/HR about it.) It’s the same balance that anyone should learn in a field, regardless of gender; it’s just harder when you’re starting out “different” in some way. Learn about other women who work/have worked in fields that interest you; there’s probably an amazing but little-known legacy there. And you can become a part of it!