Wild Careers: Janell Brush
Alumna Janell Brush (WEC MS ’06) is an Associate Research Scientist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. She was advised by Dr. Wiley Kitchens.
What did you do in the years immediately following your master’s?
I was fortunate to be hired by the FWC about six months after I graduated, and have been working there ever since.
What do you do with FWC?
I am in the research division, and I primarily design and implement shorebird and seabird projects. I am also currently heavily involved in the statewide shorebird monitoring program. I am the lead of the research arm of the program.
What does that entail?
We have built a foundation we know works for the conservation, protection, and management of our coastally-dependent shorebirds and seabirds. Recently, we acquired a substantial grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. It is part of the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund, which was put in place following the BP oil spill.
The grant primarily helps support positions that manage, protect, and conserve breeding shorebirds and seabirds in Florida, and to grow the populations of our state listed species.
Did you have a big gap between your bachelor’s degree and your master’s?
I graduated with my bachelor’s in biology, which is incredibly broad field, from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. The semester before I finished, I discovered I could blend my love of research with wildlife ecology, which I hadn’t previously experienced in my studies. At the University of Nebraska, you get a degree in wildlife management, if you’re interested in wildlife, or you get a degree in biology, but the biology degree is very focused on pre-med studies.
I was initially interested in genetics, and that was what I was preparing for with my biology degree, but somewhere along the line, I decided that wasn’t what I really wanted to do.
I ended up, in my last semester, taking ornithology, ichthyology, and limnology at a field site in western Nebraska, and discovering that this is what I wanted to do, but I didn’t have the framework and education I needed at that time to get a permanent job.
I was able to work a few temporary field jobs. One was in Northern California doing work for The Institute for Bird Populations, then in 2000, I got a field job in Florida working on snail kites.
This was 18 years ago and when I moved here I never thought I would stay in Florida. The job was through the FL Coop Unit, and it led to working on projects in Savannah, GA, the Everglades, and the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes. This seasonal job working on snail kikes turned into four years of learning valuable skills and gaining experience designing and implementing research projects. The job at the Coop Unit also allowed me to make connections within the FWC and with UF faculty and graduate students. Having Dr. Kitchens as a mentor was really priceless.
How did your work at the Coop Unit lead you to graduate school?
The work that I did as part of the Coop Unit was my education in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation and provided incredible experience in the field prior to going back to school. Eventually one of the projects I was involved with on Lake Tohopekaliga in Central Florida became my master’s project.
Do you have a go-to tool?
My (human) resources are my go-to tool! I don’t think that I alone am the expert on anything and I value the perspective, knowledge, and experience others have and how they can contribute to research projects and solving conservation challenges. I have had the opportunity to work with brilliant people who have contributed to the success of research projects and ultimately the conservation of the species work with.
My resources are my greatest tool. This is definitely something I learned from my mentors at the Coop Unit. Dr. Kitchens and Dr. Franklin Percival, were pros at finding interested, knowledgeable, research collaborators and identifying the best resources for graduate students. They facilitated meeting people that were sometimes outside the University that, as a student, you would never cross paths with.
What’s a great wildlife or outdoor experience you’ve had outside of work?
I have to say Florida has some of the most incredible places that I’ve ever been. I live north of Gainesville, near the springs. This area of Florida has more large springs than any other state in the nation. Having that appreciation for what Florida has to offer, beyond the beaches (which are also incredible)., Florida is such a unique place. I love that I get to explore and work in some amazing natural areas of this incredible state. I appreciate that I witness something spectacular everyday I’m in the field.
I’ve had a similar experience, traveling from Florida, then coming back, and realizing this place is pretty cool.
I’m from Nebraska, and I grew up there thinking that everybody had Sandhill cranes in their backyard during March. It wasn’t until I left that I realized how special my hometown was. This HUGE Sandhill crane migration was right outside my door growing up, and I had no idea how special that was!
Now, I try to go back in March to see the phenomenon. Now they market the arrival of the cranes better and do a good job with the message about how unique can critically important the Platte River is for the cranes.
It provides perspective to go somewhere and come back.
If you could call yourself when you started undergrad, what advice would you give yourself?
Be open to the possibility that you don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing.
What you are supposed to be doing will eventually find its way to you.
Trust that it will evolve and be exactly what you need to do.
Last question: Is there anything else you’d like to
I’ve learned, over the years, that any opportunity to experience something firsthand whether in the field or from a subject matter expert is just as valuable as learning things in school.
To students in Gainesville: there are two FWC research offices in town. There is the Florida Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit, which is on campus, and there are many graduate students who always could use an extra hand in the field and can provide opportunities for you to get experience. If you’re interested in working with species in Florida, seek out these opportunities and
give someone your resume. Once you have a foot in the door and you work hard you will get places.
This interview by Rhett Barker, and lightly edited by Rhett Barker and Claire Williams for clarity.
Thanks to Janell Brush for sitting down with us.