Katrina Cotten recently joined INHS as a terrestrial ecologist. She received her B.S. in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. During her undergrad and after graduation, she worked in the Human-Wildlife Interactions Lab, where she was first introduced to working with bats. She completed a summer research project examining predation risks at natural versus artificial roosts in southern Indiana. She also contributed to a literature review examining the temperature buffering capacity of tree microhabitats at a global scale.
She recently answered some questions about her work.
What is your background before coming to work at the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS)?
I graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with my bachelor’s in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences in December. Before and immediately following graduation, I worked in the Human-Wildlife Interactions Lab on campus for Joy O’Keefe, where I’ve done hibernaculum surveys, netting, and bat handling. I’ve also gained experience with data entry, GIS, R studio, and working on a literature review. In previous summers, I worked with high school students doing restoration work, and I’ve also worked as a forestry intern.
What are you looking forward to the most in your new role at INHS?
I’ve always loved working outside, so I’m excited to be able to continue doing that this summer. I also don’t have much experience with bat acoustics, so I’m looking forward to gaining skills in that area.
How old were you when you first became interested in science? What sparked your interest?
I think I’ve liked science for as long as I can remember. I was always interested in working with animals and wildlife. I wanted to be a marine biologist when I was younger. However, my family didn’t really go outside much or spend time in nature. I just chose my science major kind of on a whim. I knew there was a lot we need to fix when it comes to conservation, and I wanted to be part of the solution. I’ve been making up for lost time the last couple of years, and I’m always so excited to see an animal I don’t see super often.
Who or what drew you to this field?
I was actually working as a forestry intern in Cook County two summers ago. We had cut down a tree that had some storm damage and was hanging over the trail. We were standing around for a bit, and I noticed there was something fluffy hanging onto the tree, and it turned out it was an eastern red bat. She flew off pretty shorty after I noticed her, but it got me thinking about my interest in wildlife. I knew Joy O’Keefe had started at the university recently and worked with bats, so I emailed her and worked with her until I started at INHS.
What question do you get asked most frequently about your career?
I guess I most commonly get asked by my family why I would want to work with bats because some think they’re creepy and dangerous. However, I’ve always been fascinated by animals that don’t necessarily do what they’re supposed to do, like flightless birds or the only mammal capable of true flight. I feel a lot of empathy for them as well. I think a lot of animals, including bats, are more afraid of getting eaten or killed by something than they are interested in harming us.
What are some challenges you’ve faced in your career?
Funny enough, I’ve worked with bats for about a year now, but I don’t like to stay up late, so net nights can be a struggle.
What advice would you give to future scientists?
If you want experience in a particular field, sometimes all you have to do is ask for it. I worked in a soil microbiology lab during my freshman year of college because I was interested in microbiology at the time, and I was able to do that by just reaching out to a professor and expressing my genuine interest in that subject. I started working with bats because I reached out to a professor about a bat I found and was able to start a dialogue with her. There are important skills to learn through a formal education, but it’s also essential to gain experience applying those skills.