My name is Julia Hampton and I work as an aquatic ecology technician at the Great Rivers Field Station (GRFS), which is part of the Illinois Natural History Survey. During the field season, June through October, I work on a team conducting fish surveys on the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. Our team samples fishes that live in the rivers through a variety of ways, one of which is electrofishing, where we send an electric current through the water which stuns the fish so we can scoop them into a net. It’s important to note that this does not kill the fish. We bring them into the boat, weigh and measure them, and release them back into the river. Some teams also collect DNA samples by taking a clipping off of the fish’s fin before releasing them. Scientists at our field station, and field stations along both the Illinois and Mississippi rivers, have been sampling fish populations for over 25 years in the same ways. We take that long-term data and use it to ask research questions to help us learn more about fish populations and to aid in the management of our rivers. During the off-season, November through May, I assist lead scientists with their research by performing literature reviews, which means I survey the existing literature that relates to our research questions. I also run our team’s social media (Facebook) and use it as a tool to share educational material about species that live in our rivers or projects our team is working on. My favorite part of the job is that I get to spend so much time outdoors learning about different species in our area (Missouri Native Species, Illinois Natural History Survey Native Species).
Before starting at GRFS I finished my Bachelor of Science in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences from theUniversity of Illinois-Urbana Champaign (UIUC). A Bachelor degree or college coursework is required for most ecology technician jobs. I took most of my general education classes, like math and english, at community college. Once at UIUC, I took higher-level math courses and many ecology classes like: Population Dynamics, Ornithology, Dendrology, and Fisheries Ecology. My favorite part of college was getting to study abroad. In Greece I studied dietetics and learned about the Mediterranean diet, and in Tanzania and New Zealand I studied wildlife. While in Tanzania I conducted mammal line transects, a way to survey the mammal populations of an area, and those data were used to inform management on how to aid giraffe, zebra, elephant, and gazelle populations. From this experience, I learned more about the scientific process and the different career opportunities in biology.
When I first took biology in high school I was mildly interested in it, but it wasn’t the perfect fit for me. Then I found ecology, a branch of biology that focuses on organisms and their interactions with each other and their environment. I found my career by focusing on what I really loved to do, spending time outside and learning about wildlife. I love my career and I’m excited to be taking the next step as an ecologist, as I’ll be starting my master’s this year to lead my own research projects in aquatic ecology!
Photo Descriptions and Credits
Featured photo of Julia holding a Smallmouth Buffalo
Photo of Julia holding a Blue Catfish sampled via electrofishing near the St. Louis Arch
Photo of Julia during her study abroad hiking on Mount Olympus, Greece
Photo of Julia harvesting a tree during a chainsaw safety and felling techniques class at UIUC
Photo of Julia holding a whale vertebrae in a mammalogy class
All photos are courtesy of Julia Hampton