Conservation resource specialist Chris Miller first joined the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) in June 2020 as a stream research technician, and since January 2021 has been working with the Illinois Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP).
"I am most looking forward to leaving a lasting mark on Illinois conservation efforts," Chris said when asked about his new role at INHS.
"This new role will allow me to foster new connections between landowners and the lands they steward, and those connections have the potential to transcend generations," he continued. "Many of the easements I help to enroll in CREP will never be put back into crop rotation. It is going to be very rewarding to look back and count the acres that are healthier because of our team’s efforts."
Chris's initial interest in science started young.
"I was 5 years old when I first told my parents that I wanted to be a paleontologist when I grew up," he said. "I can’t point to a specific moment that kicked off my love of knowledge and discovery, but as a child, I read anything and everything I could get my hands on."
But it wasn't until pursuing his undergraduate degree that Chris decided that a career in conservation was for him.
"When I started my studies at University, I had every intention of becoming a biochemist," explained Chris. "In the beginning, I took classes in zoology and ecosystem function to fill out my schedule, but the more I studied the beauty and diversity of life on this planet, the more I knew that my calling was to help preserve it."
Chris went on to specialize in ecology and environmental education. He earned his BSc in zoology from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, where he conducted population ecology and skeletal morphometric research; specifically, he analyzed the skeletal morphometrics of a population of Soay Sheep. Chris is also a certified interpretive guide.
After graduating, Chris worked as an animal care specialist and a conservation educator at Fossil Rim Wildlife Center in Texas prior to joining INHS.
One of the questions Chris gets asked most often about his career is whether he's had any crazy experiences with landowners. "Unfortunately, I have to disappoint people. Every person I’ve interacted with on the job has been friendly and polite," he said.
However, Chris does wish that more people understood that science is dynamic and collaborative. "The wealth of human knowledge is constantly being expanded and revised, and people disagreeing is not a failure of the system, but a sign that it is working," he explained.
Though Chris really enjoys working in the conservation field, it has had its challenges!
"The biggest challenge I’ve faced is getting a foot in the door," Chris said. "Sending off application after application and never getting responses was very disheartening during the earlier days of searching for jobs."
His advice to future scientists: "Stay curious, examine your own biases, and don’t get discouraged. Just keep applying."