Kelly Estes was very involved in 4-H while growing up and hoped to pursue a career in Extension. She went on to earn a B.S. and M.S. in Crop Sciences from the University of Illinois, with a focus on crop protection and entomology.
Kelly joined INHS in April 2006 as state survey coordinator of the Cooperative Agricultural Pest Survey Program—a joint effort between several state and federal agencies, including the Illinois Natural History Survey, Illinois Department of Agriculture, and USDA-APHIS-PPQ.
Q. How old were you when you first became interested in science? What sparked your interest?
A: I think I’ve always been interested in science, but I didn’t really know it when I was younger. Growing up on a farm, we were always outside. As kids, my sisters and I loved to play and explore outdoors. Getting older, that shifted to working on the farm—helping with the crops and cattle. That transitioned into internships in the crop protection industry and eventually college.
Q. Who has been a mentor to you in your science career?
A: It would be hard to single out just one person that has helped shape my career. I think it all started with my mom and dad, and from there I’ve had various ag instructors that have all contributed to who I am now.
Q. What is the best part of your job, and what work are you most proud of?
A: While I focus primarily on invasive species, I also coordinate more traditional insect pest surveys, too. I love gathering information and sharing it with people. One of the best things about my job is that it’s always changing. New pests are always around the corner, so there is always something new to learn. I also get to work with lots of different stakeholders, state and federal partners, researchers, and the public. I meet someone new all of the time.
Q. What advice would you give to other female scientists?
A: It’s very cliché, but find something that you love to do and go for it. There will be struggles, but the reward is so very worth it.