William & Mary

Emily Thompson '06 Began Lifelong Passion with ENSP 101

Emily Thompson '06 surveys turtles on Lake Matoaka, during her undergraduate days. I've often heard the statistics about the large percentage of college graduates whose careers are unrelated to their undergraduate majors.

A college education is valued for refining thinking and communication skills necessary for success in most careers, and, for some people, a four-year affair with their subject of choice is enough for a lifetime. I can't explain the phenomenon, but I can tell you that I am an exception.

I began building my career during my very first semester at William and Mary when I took ENST 101, the introductory course for the Environmental Science and Policy track. The academic decisions I made over the next four years were influenced by both the material I learned in ENST classes and by the guidance I received from the department's interdisciplinary group of professors.

By graduation, I had finished majors in biology and environmental science, studied abroad for a semester taking field ecology courses, and interned in environmental research for three summers. I was unsatisfied with only four years of these experiences, and imagined my future filled with more classes and field work. Consequently, my life post-WM is an extension of my life as an undergrad, and I'm still expanding on the knowledge base I acquired as a William and Mary student.

I'm a first-year grad student in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at SUNY Stony Brook, where I'll be a student for another six years. I decided to go straight for the Ph.D. after undergrad, without taking a year off and without getting a master's. I am currently taking classes, teaching undergraduate biology labs and planning my dissertation. The interdisciplinary approach of the environmental science track required that I learn not only the principles of ecology (the biological component and my primary interest), but also those of geology, chemistry, math, and even sociology and philosophy. I gained a 360 degree view of environmental issues that facilitates my success today as a student, teacher and researcher.

As a teacher, I've had the opportunity to sneak in environmental examples while covering basic topics in biology. For example, while lecturing about pH and buffers, I explained to my students how limestone foundations in lakes and soils can buffer the effects of acid rain. I remember struggling with chemistry only three years ago and wondering how any of it was important for my planned career. Now I am in a position to motivate environmentally-concerned students like me, while of course trying not to irk all of the pre-meds.

As for my own research, I'm in the process of writing a review paper on exotic forest pathogens and plan to spend my summer in California working in a lab that studies an introduced fungal disease attacking pine trees. After finishing my doctorate, I plan to remain in school and become an ecology professor, ensuring the immortality of my undergrad academic life!