This month we’re celebrating Women’s History Month so I present: Earyn McGee, MSc.
Earyn McGee, MSc is a PhD student in the School of Natural Resource and the Environment department at the University of Arizona. Her research focuses on if lizards are eating emerging aquatic insects from streams in arid environments. She is also interested in using social media as a tool for science communication to increase the representation of Black people in natural resource careers.
You’re a herpetologist, but not everyone knows what that is. Could you explain it for the readers and give a bit of insight into what got you interested in this field?
Sure! A herpetologist is someone who studies reptiles and amphibians (herps) like snakes, lizards, or frogs. When I was an undergraduate student at Howard University one of my mentors introduced me to my soon to be advisor Dr. George Middendorf. He’s a herpetologist and I worked with him all throughout undergrad. When I graduated I decided to just stick with it!
Did you encounter any difficulties as a woman of color trying to get into a field that traditionally doesn’t have many people who look like you?
When I first started in this field there really wasn’t anyone for me to look up to who looked like me. I always felt like I had to put in 200% because I was both Black and a woman. I had to show that I belonged. Unfortunately not much has changed now but through networking I have met other Black women and other POC herpetologist.
You’re very active on Twitter with more than 5,000 followers, what made you decide to bring your work to that particular platform and how do you keep so many people engaged?
I first started my Twitter account because I saw how much networking my graduate advisor Dr. Michael Bogan was doing. My main goal was to showcase that I can do the work of an ecologist/herpetologist so that when I finished grad school someone might want to hire me.Most of the things I tweet/retweet are interesting, funny, or relevant to my experiences as a Black Woman in STEM. My science communication (aka scicomm) content reflects my expertise and interests as well as the things my followers tell me they like. I try to respond or favorite all responses so that my followers feel seen. I appreciate them following and all the feedback they give.
Do you have any advice for other scientists who want to get into science communication with the public but don’t really know where or how to start?
You just have to start. Most of my content when I was first starting out was from my freshman and sophomore years. Then as I interacted with more scicomm people I was able to get in where I fit in. Somewhere I was comfortable and able to be true to myself and share my own perspectives. Then I began to generate content. My big scicomm break was tweeting about Goliath the giant tadpole and when I started #FindThatLizard. Both of those incidents were complete accidents. I was just sharing stuff I thought was cool.
I’ve noticed that you mention in your Twitter bio that you want to host a natural history tv show one day (just like me -- twinsies!) What would be your ideal show to host if you could plan it yourself?
I would love to travel the world searching for herps and recording what I find whether they are herps or not. I’d want to also highlight local culture, indigenous peoples, and conservation efforts that are led by the people who live in the areas I visit because I’d just be there for a week or so while they live there so they’re really whose important.
Now this might be controversial in the herpetological world, but I just have to ask… which do you prefer: amphibians or reptiles? Why?
Yikes lol. I’d have to say reptiles because I work mainly on lizards!
What are some parting tips you can leave readers with that they can use to help conserve the local reptiles and amphibians that live around them?
I would say to join your local herpetological society. Check out their events and the conservation efforts. Look for any citizen science opportunities with local colleges and universities. Keep your cats indoors and don’t let pets harass wildlife in general. And finally find out about the herps in your area, fall in love with them, then help someone else to fall in love with them too!