Reflections on the NatureNet Science Fellowship

Gravuer kneeling on crops holding soil between her hands, wearing sung glasses, smilingBy Kelly Gravuer As I boarded the plane to Washington, D.C. to take on new science policy challenges, my thoughts drifted to the NatureNet Science Fellowship I had just wrapped up and how it had prepared me for this new adventure. Through NatureNet, I had the incredible opportunity to work closely with scientists and conservation practitioners at The Nature Conservancy in California and the Center for Biodiversity Outcomes at Arizona State University. As my first postdoctoral research experience, the fellowship provided the high-quality continuation of scientific training that any scientist would want: honing my skills in taking leadership of projects, scoping to the available resources and timeline and effectively making a broad range of decisions, all under the mentorship of truly amazing scientists. At the same time, I gained more unique skills in conducting research that would be directly applied on the ground, such as building models that quantified likely outcomes and uncertainties over defined time frames. Through working with TNC, I also gained an appreciation of how the organization set priorities: not simply seeking to answer whatever feasible questions had the potential to advance conservation, but instead thinking very strategically about the science and collaborations that could enable the biggest conservation wins. This insight will shape how I evaluate my own projects as my career moves forward. Moreover, through the CBO community, I obtained an interdisciplinary perspective on my research topic by gauging the viewpoints of farmers and other agricultural professionals, with mentorship from a CBO-affiliated social scientist. A better understanding of how these stakeholders see the topic has profoundly shaped my subsequent work. On top of all this, the fellowship itself provided valuable professional development opportunities such as science communication training and connected me to a supportive community of similarly inclined fellows. Overall, the fellowship significantly built my confidence in applying scientific methods and results to real-world problems – including navigating the complex scientific and people challenges that are part of this work. Landing in D.C., I felt ready to take on these challenges in new contexts and tremendously grateful for the NatureNet experience that brought me there!