Ornithologist Tara Beveroth always knew she wanted to be a biologist and work with wildlife. She earned her bachelor’s and master's degrees in Biology from Western Illinois University. As an undergraduate, Tara decided that she would like to study terrestrial wildlife. It was not until her graduate advisor suggested a bird project that she became hooked on birds. From then on, solo birdwatching adventures filled Tara's free hours, and she began to learn all she could about bird natural history.
Tara joined the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) in April of 2004 as an Avian Specialist for the Medical Entomology Lab. She traveled around the state capturing, banding, and collecting blood samples from birds for a West Nile Virus serosurvey project. Currently, Tara conducts bird surveys for the Critical Trends Assessment Program.
Q. How old were you when you first became interested in science? What sparked your interest?
A. As far back as I can remember I have always been curious about nature. Most of my time as a child was spent outdoors and camping and fishing were considered very normal things to me. I remember getting my first bug barn and being so excited to go and fill it with insects. Finding snakes and chumming wildlife was also a common occurrence. In 5th grade my interest was further enhanced by my science teacher Mrs. Reisenbigler. She made science fun and I remember dissecting my first owl pellet and thinking “this is the coolest thing ever”. Shortly thereafter I decided I wanted to be a Marine Biologist, because I idolized Eugenie Clark (the Shark Lady) and loved the water. During high school I had another great teacher, Mrs. Christianson, and she introduced me to evolution and I upgraded from pellet dissection to pig dissection. My partner at the time did not want to touch the pig at all—her loss was my gain.
Q. Who has been a mentor to you in your science career?
A. As I mentioned before, I had a couple of science teachers growing up that fed the flame of my passion to be a biologist. Once I was in college I specifically remember having a couple of professors that taught the importance of field work and that in the field you had to improvise when problems arose. Much of my learning has also been self-taught, which I think most scientists probably find is one of the best ways to learn. That being said you can save a lot of time if you have a mentor to help guide you. After joining INHS I felt like I had hit the jackpot. The survey is so unique in that there are so many different fields of expertise that you usually don’t have to go too far to find the answers you need. One particular individual I worked with was the late Arlo Raim. Arlo was like no other person you will ever meet. He taught me the value of asking questions, even if you think they don’t matter, how to track birds over long distances, how to be patient, and many other things I will always be grateful for. He truly respected and loved wildlife.
Q. What is the best part of your job, and what work are you most proud of?
A. The thing I like best about my job is being a part of a variety of research projects that allow me to collaborate with others, while also increasing my exposure to different field conditions and a greater diversity of wildlife. Having a wide array of experience has allowed me to engage diverse audiences when presenting on topics such as wildlife conservation, avian ecology, and biological monitoring. I think engaging and educating the public is critical in a rapidly changing environment.
Q. What advice would you give to other female scientists?
A. Before taking on a full time career or starting graduate school go out and gain field experience. There are many short-term science jobs out there that mainly involve assisting graduate students on their projects. Working on these different projects involving different fields in science will allow you to gain experience that will not only help you narrow down what you want to do with your life, but also give you many life skills that will be invaluable. It will make you much more competitive when you do go to find a full time position. Also, never be afraid to speak up and ask questions, it shows you are interested and you will also help someone else in the process.