My Journey to Pesticide Safety Education
That quote “Not all who wander are lost” comes from J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (The Fellowship of the Ring, to be precise) and is very fitting for my career trajectory. I realized I have been writing these blogs and not taken the time to introduce myself at all. I felt it was time to share about how I came to be the person writing these blogs. Being diminutive in stature it seemed only fitting to turn to a story about hobbits for inspiration for my own story…so how did I get here?
My introduction to pesticides, was like much in life, a happy accident. I was on a camping trip in Indiana with a group of fellow spelunkers enjoying hopped beverages, when I mentioned I was looking for a summer internship in marine biology and not having any luck. I had lived in Florida as a child and LOVED the ocean and, like many, wanted to work on the ocean for my job. However, being in college in Indiana presented few of those opportunities, so I made the best of what I could. Someone on that camping trip mentioned they worked for a company that did something similar, they controlled invasive species in the lakes and ponds throughout Indiana, Michigan, and into Ohio. Well, it wasn’t saltwater and beaches, but water is water, right?
During my summers as an undergrad, I worked with that company, each year digging deeper into the why and how of invasive aquatic plant management. Near the end of my time in undergrad it became clear that my interest had shifted. Partially because it was a PAID internship instead of one, I would have to PAY for, but also because invasive plant management was interesting. I had settled in my mind that it was invasive plant management I would like to further explore and study in graduate school. This interest finally led me back to what I always considered home, north central Florida. As I attended graduate school for my masters and PhD at the Center for Aquatic Invasive Plants at the University of Florida. My time in graduate school settled it for me, aquatic invasive species is where it was at and I was hooked. As much as I LOVED my time in graduate school (so much that I never moved away from Alachua County) it was time for the next adventure…a JOB.
After graduation I worked for a company that specialized in aquatic management and mosquito control. There I worked to help train the operational staff about aquatic invasive plants and pesticide use and safety. It was during those 7 years I shifted more towards pesticide safety and understanding how to teach folks pesticide use and safety “according to the label”. I also spent nearly a year working for a manufacturer of algae and aquatic weed management products. This helped me even better understand label writing and the production of pesticides. All that time learning prepared me for the next leg of the journey…the return to what I always considered HOME.
After almost 8 years away from the greatest institution around (Go Gators!) I was back at the Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants, but now with the Pesticide Information Office (PIO). I started in November of 2019, and as we all know 2020 would change the journey for EVERYONE. We all had to learn to adapt to the new realities presented by COVID. I chose to harness this time as an opportunity for creative thinking and rapid innovation that will likely stick with me for the rest of my career.
Although I would not have predicted my journey taking me to the University of Florida to work in Pesticide Safety Education, looking back it makes so much sense.
My time as an applicator help root me in the realities of being in the field working with pesticides. My time in graduate school helped shape a thirst for knowledge and applied research.
Honing those skills took me to private industry to begin the training and teaching process, while understanding the realities of how businesses work. Finally, those skills all came together to help support and train the nearly 60,000 licensed (or in training) pesticide applicators in the state of Florida. The journey was not a straight path, nor traditional trajectory, but much was gained in the “wandering”. My advice for students, applicators…just about anyone, is to always keep moving, but be open to the opportunities you may never have considered. For those who have followed the story in this blog, or have read the other blogs, thank you, I am glad to have fellow travelers to wander with on this journey. Always remember “Not All Wander Are Lost”.