Wildlife Vocalizations: Fabiola Iannarilli

Wildlife Vocalizations is a collection of short personal perspectives from people in the field of wildlife sciences.

Fabiola Iannarilli. Credit: Daniele Esposto

I recently realized I am a first-generation student. Of course, I was well aware that I am the first in my family to successfully pursue a university degree, but, being born and raised in Italy, the concept of ‘first-gen student’ was completely new to me. However, despite not having a word to label it, I dealt with it my whole life, still do. Without people to guide me or act as examples, it took me years to understand that my passions could become my work, even more time to learn how. Nowadays, I am still often dealing with the feeling that, given my upbringing, there is not a place for me in the scientific world. Where I grew up, there were not many wildlife professionals; actually there were none. The closest things were hard-core hunters that saw the nature with a very utilitarian vision: take whatever you want, kill your enemy — the predators — and use the (public) mountains as your private propriety. Not surprisingly, when it came time to decide whether to go to university and, if so, what to study, I was a little bit lost (we do not have school counseling in Italy). Keeping the university option open for consideration was already a great deal and it was possible only thanks to my parents’ mind openness. The default option for kids with my background was to go to a technical school and find a job, whatever job. Nothing wrong with it, but I knew it was not enough to make me happy. Two things were clear in my mind: I loved nature and I loved learning about it. Full of doubts, I decided to enroll in biology; nature fits somewhere in there, doesn’t it? It took me more than two years and a little bit of luck to put a name on the job I always dreamed of. It happened during the first lesson of a course required for the ecological track I chose. I went in without even knowing exactly what the class was about and came out thinking:

Fabiola Iannarilli performs small mammal surveys at Radicondoli, in Siena, Italy, 2014. She was working at Fondazione Ethoikos on a project to study how forest management affects population dynamics of small mammals. Credit: Daniele Esposto

“This is what I want to do in my life!” The sense of relief I felt is indescribable. The class was Conservation Biology and was taught by Professor Boitani. I had finally found the path I wanted to follow and from there on … it wasn’t easy, but at least I knew where to put all my effort! Over the years, I learned that it does not matter if nobody you know has already done something; you can be the first. It will likely require effort, determination, luck, and some trials and errors, but can be done. You will find peers and allies along the path. Just do not be too harsh on yourself if it takes you a little bit more than other people, or if you are not the best in the world. You can still be part of the conversation. What you experience along the way will come useful in the most unexpected ways.

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Header Image: Fabiola Iannarilli sets up cameras for her PhD project in northern Minnesota. The goal of the project was to help the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources design a camera trap survey to collect information on medium-to-large carnivores in the state. Credit: Daniele Esposto