Sara Sawicki joined INHS on August 16th as a water quality specialist with the Illinois River Biological Station (IRBS) long-term resource monitoring program. She earned her bachelor's degree in environmental science from Dominican University. During her studies, she was a water quality testing intern at the Brookfield Zoo. Sawicki also worked with the Illinois EPA Lake Monitoring Volunteer Program and worked on prairie restoration at Glacial Park, Illinois, and took classes at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago while in college. She got her Master’s degree in environmental science from Alaska Pacific University, where she performed water sampling and analysis work for a USGS project involving a glacier and its watershed.
She recently answered some questions about her work.
What was your background before coming to work at the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS)?
For the past two years, I have been working for environmental consulting companies in Wyoming and Colorado, where I mostly did stormwater inspections for gas and oil clients. Before that, I worked on my Master’s degree in Alaska. During college, I had many jobs ranging from theater to prairie restoration and beyond.
What are you looking forward to the most in your new role at INHS?
I am very excited to work with such a kind and welcoming team. It will also be great to get back into science after a few years away!
How old were you when you first became interested in science?
I first became interested in science in elementary school. I believe it was famous scientists like Bill Nye who first showed me that science is not just interesting, but also fun.
What drew you to study water quality?
I first became interested in studying water through my love of glaciers. Glaciers are just giant rivers of frozen and moving water, so connecting them to water quality felt natural. I began studying water in college, when I interned at the Brookfield Zoo under John Kanzia, who showed me how cool and fascinating collecting and analyzing water could be.
What question do you get asked most frequently about your career or the subject you study?
Because my graduate studies focused on glaciology, the number one question I get is: glaci-what? For some reason, people don’t seem to know what glaciology is even when they know what glaciers are. Other than that, people don’t realize that glacial ecosystems are full of living things, nutrients, and running water.
What are some challenges you’ve faced in your career?
It was a real challenge finding a job that allowed me to be a scientist and involved something I was passionate about, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. I feel blessed that the University of Illinois replied to my application!
What do you wish more people understood about science or being a scientist?
Most people think science involves running around a lab and creating concoctions akin to magic potions. Real science always involves a lot of computer and fieldwork, but it also gives the opportunity for constant learning and networking that never gets represented in movies and tv shows.
What advice would you give to future scientists?
Never give up! It took me years after graduating to get this opportunity. If it can happen for me, it can happen for you.