Robbie Emmet joined the Illinois Natural History Survey on August 24th as a postdoctoral research associate. He received his bachelor's degree in mathematics/statistics and classical studies from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. He received his Ph.D. in quantitative ecology and resource management at the University of Washington, where he worked with Dr. Beth Gardner and Dr. Robert Long on estimating demographic rates like survival and group size for monitoring highly mobile species. When he is not thinking about developing or applying statistical models for wildlife populations, Robbie enjoys reading, cooking, hiking, and playing board games.
What is your background before coming to work at the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS)?
I went to a small liberal arts college where I studied statistics and classical languages. I started studying wildlife ecology in earnest when I started my Ph.D. at the University of Washington.
What are you looking forward to the most in your new role at INHS?
I am looking forward to working with INHS researchers and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources staff to answer management-relevant research questions and combine the multiple amazing data sets that IDNR has collected for decades.
How old were you when you first became interested in science? What sparked your interest?
I was very interested in wolves when I was younger. After thinking about a career as a Latin teacher for a while, I got back into science by way of math and statistics, once I realized that I could use these tools to help the wildlife I was so interested in as a kid.
Who or what drew you to your field of study?
A lot of my study species have been a result of being in the right place at the right time. With all of my study species, I'm driven by two questions - how can we tailor a general statistical model to fit the life history and ecology of this species, and how can we make sure that this research can be used by wildlife managers? Those are the questions that get me to my desk in the morning.
What question do you get asked most frequently about your work?
I studied wolverines during my dissertation research, and I was most frequently asked whether wolverines live in Michigan. I'm afraid they don't (that we know of), though they used to!
What are some challenges you’ve faced in your career?
The biggest challenge for me has been setting ambitious but realistic goals for research. And understanding that there are going to be risks and failures and that that's OK!
What do you wish more people understood about science or being a scientist?
Scientists get things wrong, a lot, and that's all part of the process! If the story of our research changes, we're not trying to trick anyone - we've just come to some new understanding of the thing we're studying!
What advice would you give to future scientists?
Remember that you're a human first. It's OK not to know some things, it's OK to take breaks, and it's OK to have interests and hobbies outside of science.