Auriel Fournier joined the Illinois Natural History Survey in June 2019 as the director of the Forbes Biological Station. She did her PhD with the Arkansas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at the University of Arkansas Fayetteville, studying tradeoffs in wetland management for migratory rails and waterfowl in Missouri. She then spent two years as a postdoc at the Coastal Research and Extension Office of Mississippi State University, working on structured decision making to support the Gulf of Mexico Avian Monitoring Network.
What are you looking forward to the most in your new role at INHS?
Tough question, so many things. Top of the list is probably using the skills I’ve developed in decision science to tackle new problems here in Illinois to help inform better natural resource management.
How old were you when you first became interested in science? What sparked your interest?
There is a photo of me around age 5 standing near a bird at a county park program, and it's pretty clear by the look on my face that I was already totally enraptured. I’ve wanted to be a scientist for as long as I can remember and was very fortunate to have amazing parents that nurtured that in a wide variety of ways, from taking me to county park programs to dropping me off to go bird banding on their way to work.
What drew you to your particular area of study?
I was very fortunate in high school to get to help with a project trapping and banding rails with Black Swamp Bird Observatory in the Lake Erie marshes of Northwestern Ohio. I fell in love with rails' elusive ways and big personalities. They are always a puzzle, and I love a good challenge.
What are common misconceptions about your career?
The group of birds most of my work to date has focused on are the "rails," and most folks have never heard of them, and some folks think I study trains, including at times Google Scholar alerts.
What do you wish more people understood about science or being a scientist?
Not all scientists are stuffy old dudes in lab coats holding beakers of green liquid. Scientists come from as many places, backgrounds, and ways of life as you can imagine, and science is better for it.
What advice would you give to future scientists?
Build a network of mentors--no one person, be it your boss or advisor, can be all things to you. By building relationships with a broader network of folks you’ll be better prepared and supported for some of the weird curve balls that a science career can throw your way.