Wildlife Vocalizations: Krysten Zummo

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

What’s the biggest lesson that life in wildlife conservation has taught me? There are opportunities awaiting you that you do not even know exist.

By the end of our first year as undergraduates studying wildlife conservation and management, we all have a preconceived notion about what our path to becoming a professional should be. We’ll take our classes, apply for as many summer positions as possible, maybe go to graduate school, and in the end, we’ll land that idolized job and title of “wildlife biologist.” We’re groomed to believe this, and we’re thrilled!

The reality is that the field of conservation is just as diverse as the species and habitats we study. As I progressed through the “planned” path of the wildlife biologist, I found there were aspects of the jobs that I loved deeply, but there were also aspects that, in my gut, didn’t seem to fit what I wanted to accomplish. After a while, it becomes easy to question whether or not you’re in the right field because you no longer fit the mold.

Krysten Zummo conducting annual monitoring on conservation easement protected land in the Driftless Area of southwest Wisconsin. Credit: Krysten Zummo,

As a person, and as a professional, I have always struggled with following the path that was right for me, rather than that which was laid out for me. And for me, it took way longer than it should have to shift that mode of thought. I followed the path that was laid out, and each step took me in a direction that felt a little more … wrong. By the time I had stepped into my first professional job after completing a master’s degree, I was seriously questioning my career choice. A year and a half into this job, I was sent to a training course, where I was introduced to an aspect of conservation that I had never heard of—land trusts. After a 20 minute presentation—only 2-3 of which described what a land trust was—I felt as if my whole world had changed. Imagine a cartoon lightbulb going off above my head.

For over a decade, I’ve advocated for students and early career professionals of The Wildlife Society. And in this time, I have met many young professionals who are struggling to find their place. These young professionals often express a concern that they may be in the wrong field, not because they’ve decided they don’t enjoy the birds, or the mammals, or being in the field, but because they don’t fit the mold.

Krysten Zummo carrying walk-in scaled quail (Callipepla squamata) traps and bait during her master’s degree research with New Mexico State University, in south central New Mexico. Credit: Krysten Zummo

It is my everlasting fear that the conservation profession loses passionate conservationists simply because we don’t highlight the diversity of opportunities the profession has to offer, all of which are just as important as the “wildlife biologist.”

Every path to becoming a wildlife professional is unique, and special, and full of your own personal adventure, so find your own personal niche. In 2-3 minutes, my path in the conservation profession changed forever, and I knew I was in the right place.

So what is my title now? I am a Stewardship Associate.

(Curious what that means? I’d be happy to tell you!)

Learn more about Wildlife Vocalizations, and read other contributions.

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For questions, please contact Jamila Blake.

Header Image: Krysten Zummo using a drip torch to conduct a prescribed burn on Holland Sand Prairie, one of Mississippi Valley Conservancy's public nature preserves north of La Crosse, Wisconsin. Credit: Carol Labuzzetta