Q&A: Lizard-Loving PhD Student Earyn McGee

July 10, 2018

Get to know Earyn McGee, a PhD student who studies the effects of stream drying on lizard communities.

Earyn McGee holding a lizard in a dry stream bed in the Chiricahua Mountains

McGee's fieldwork takes her to perennial and ephemeral streams in the Chiricahua Mountains, where she collects data on lizard communities. McGee catches the lizards using an instrument she designed based on a fishing pole. (Photo: Mari Cleven/RDI)

Earyn McGee is a PhD student who studies the effects of stream drying on lizard communities.

Major: Natural resources with an emphasis in wildlife conservation and management

Year: 1st year PhD student


What problem do you hope to solve as a researcher and why do you care about it?

Over the course of my career, I hope to help with the conservation of species in such a way that promotes local indigenous cultures. It’s easy to focus on conservation when you don’t have to focus on your own survival, but across the world, the areas and people that are most threatened are those impacted by western colonialism and its lingering effects.

What do you like about the process of doing research?

I really enjoy collecting data and working with my undergraduate students. Coming up with projects and figuring out what is or isn’t feasible can be incredibly frustrating, but also oddly satisfying.

What or who inspired you to do this work?

My second semester of my undergraduate studies at Howard University, I was accepted into the Environmental Biology Scholars program (EBS). EBS scholars are matched with faculty mentor advisors who we worked with for two academic years and one to two summers. I was matched with Dr. George Middendorf, a herpetologist.

During my first field season, I realized people were still asking natural history questions that I thought were already answered. It amazed me that there was still so much to learn about animals and the natural world.

It was then that I decided I wanted to try and answer some of the questions that always fascinated me.

If you could have a dinner party with any three guests of your choosing (dead or alive), who would you invite?

  1. Steve Irwin, because I grew up idolizing him
  2. Danni Washington because she has a science TV show and I would like to do something similar
  3. Beyoncé because who doesn’t want to meet the Queen?

What’s been your best, most memorable moment at UA so far?

My Master’s defense was an amazing experience where I was able to share my research with my family. I also really appreciated all the love and support from my friends, colleagues, and mentees. It really emphasized that the work I had been doing for the previous two years had a positive impact.

What advice would you give to an incoming freshman?

I would urge incoming freshmen to explore their interests. You don’t have to stick with the first thing you try but do try something. Talk to professors. Most of them will be flattered you’re interested in their work. Make those connections so in the future you can get experience in their labs or they can recommend you to work in other labs. You may have to step out of your comfort zone because closed mouths don’t get fed.

What do you do outside of academics and research?

I like to go hiking and hang out with my friends. I also enjoy reading, makeup, fashion, and art.

If you were giving a speech at graduation, what message would you give to your peers about the future?

I would encourage them to follow their passions because everyone deserves to feel fulfilled in life. I would hope that in the quest to bring meaning and happiness to their own lives they would also do that for others, whether in big or small ways. Good people doing good things can make the world a better place for all.

Who is your adviser and how did you meet them? Any other important mentors you’d like to talk about?

My graduate advisor is Dr. Michael Bogan. I met him through my undergraduate advisor, Dr. Middendorf. Right as I was beginning my grad school search, Dr. Bogan reached out to Dr. Middendorf asking him if he knew of any students interested in grad school. Dr. Middendorf put us in contact and the rest is history.

What tips would you give to students trying to get research funding?

Start early and do not give up. There is not enough funding available for everyone and so many qualified applicants get denied. There’s a great deal of luck that goes into it. You cannot take rejections personally. You just have to incorporate the reviewers’ comments and resubmit.

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