Liz Miernicki joins the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) as a wetland soils specialist. Miernicki earned her B.S. in natural resources and environmental sciences with a concentration in resource conservation and restoration ecology at the University of Illinois, where she also completed her Master's degree in crop sciences. As part of her graduate research, Miernicki studied the long-term effects of raised-beds and similar soil management systems on soil biological, chemical, and physical properties, crop yields, and ecosystem services such water and nutrient retention. This led her to travel to Ecuador in 2018 to assist with plant biomass and soil sampling in a coffee agroecosystem under different management practices. "I’ve worked in farming operations ranging from urban to rural, but this was my first time in a tropical system," she said.
Miernicki answered a few questions about her new role with INHS, what advice she has for women in science, and starting a new role during a pandemic.
What sparked your interest in science?
A series of events are responsible for sparking my interest in science. Growing up my family took my sister and I to a recreation club in Wilmington, IL each year that my father had been going to since he was at least five years old. Here I had my first encounter with non-urban wildlife, from catching and releasing bluegills to observing a water moccasin snake. Another notable family activity would be visiting the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee. The changing topography on the car ride down was the coolest thing in my little mind. The true catalyst of it all would have to be the fact that I grew up in the era of Steve Irwin. His enthusiasm and for animals and the natural world will always stick with me.
What does your day to day schedule look like as a wetlands soils specialist?
It comes down to splitting time 50/50 between fieldwork and being in the office. I also plan to participate in outreach opportunities when available.
What’s it like starting a new job in the middle of a pandemic?
I feel incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to begin a new role during this weird time. It has allowed me to create a new daily routine which helps switch things up a bit – I moved my desktop to a different part of the house to mark the beginning of something new.
What do you like to do on your days off?
My fiancé and I take super long walks – like downtown Champaign to downtown Urbana and back. Lately, I’ve been into a farming video game called Stardew Valley. My virtual farming operation reflects my future goals like owning bees and chickens. I also like to bike and bake!
What project are you currently working on and/or most proud of?
I’m currently working on a wetland project in Christian County which includes a bridge assessment for bats. All the fieldwork has been completed, so now it is just a matter of entering data and creating a report.
What is a question you get asked most frequently about your job?
The question I get asked most frequently is to explain exactly what it means to “describe” a soil core. My spiel includes defining a wetland and hydric soil as well as explaining how certain soil features develop due to anaerobic conditions.
What advice would you give to future female scientists?
My advice for future female scientists is to seek out people who align with your career goals or general interests. For example, Twitter has a huge presence of women in the soil science community. But above all be kind to yourself, and remember this: “You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should” - Desiderata by Max Ehrmann.
What is the first thing you would buy if you won the lottery?
I would first pay off my car loans. The first fun thing I would buy is a dog…or two…or three. In order to buy a dog, I would first have to buy my own place because my current rental doesn’t allow pets of any kind.