Wildlife Vocalizations: Morgan Mark

Mark is currently conducting a long-eared owl (Asio otus) roost site selection study with Tyler Christensen and Connor Tracey. She catches, bands and GPS tags owls to pinpoint their daytime roosts. Credit: Tyler Christensen

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

Every time I step through my front door, a plaque in my foyer whispers:

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams!

Live the life you have imagined.”

– Henry David Thoreau

It was not until recently that I took this mantra to heart and realized it was penned by someone who shared my love for naturalism. My childhood dream was to become a stuffed animal zookeeper, then a veterinarian, then a marine biologist, before delving into paleontology, and finally settling on herpetology—at least for a little while.

Headshot. Credit: Morgan Mark

As I grew older, my career focus shifted from naturalism to engineering, and I spent more time at my desk completing calculus homework than exploring the winding trails and woodlands in my backyard. Without even realizing it, I had lost most of the curiosity that sparked my desire to observe caterpillars munching on milkweed and collect ferns to build terrariums. As I progressed through high school and college, it seemed more and more certain that everything I did worked toward a future career in engineering.

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic struck and everything was turned upside down: Rutgers University shut down overnight, and everyone was berated with horrifying statistics and commands to adjust to virtual life. I was crushed when my dream engineering internship was canceled and I was trapped in educational, career and life limbo. Not even a week prior, I had everything figured out, from the engineering master’s program I would apply for to the company that would offer me my first job. Now, the only certainty was that everything was uncertain.

Mark helps a spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum) cross a busy road to safety. This is part of her volunteer work for CWF’s Amphibian Crossing along Waterloo Road in Stanhope, New Jersey.
Credit: Morgan Mark

Even though it seemed like all was lost, I remembered that there is always a silver lining. Attending asynchronous classes gave me more time to revisit old hobbies, and having a free summer let me explore other exciting opportunities. I applied for a position with Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey (CWF) despite there being no connection to engineering. The day after I was hired, I was up to my hips in a marsh cataloging plant communities and looking for state endangered bog turtles. Every day after that was like realizing my childhood dream: I roamed the Pinelands filming carnivorous plants catching unsuspecting insects, ran through the rain helping amphibians cross busy roads, and traversed moonlit beaches tracking foxes emerging from their dens. Interning with CWF was a pivotal experience because it rekindled my passion for conservation and set me down a path I knew I wanted to explore. Now, I study bats, snakes and owls. I’m working to become a wildlife epidemiologist who studies how disease impacts both humans and animals.

Learn more about Wildlife Vocalizations, and read other contributions.

Submit your story for Wildlife Vocalizations or nominate your peers and colleagues to encourage them to share their story.

For questions, please contact Jamila Blake.