In GradLife 601, we’ll share the achievements and insights of WVU graduate students and faculty. We’ll discuss their experiences and how they came to be passionate about their research. We’ll also talk about life beyond the lab and academy.

For GradLife 601: Research and Beyond, Dr. Nancy Caronia talks with Associate Wildlife Biologist Hannah Clipp, a PhD Candidate in the ​WV Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit and Division of Forestry and Natural Resources at WVU. Hannah is an NSF Graduate Research Fellow and a WVU Ruby Fellow. Her doctoral research is focused on the effects of climate change and landscape-scale forest management on bird communities in the Appalachian Mountains. She’s co-written more than 10 peer reviewed articles and earned over $300,000 in scholarships and fellowships during her entire academic career. Hannah will discuss her research, how to apply for funding, and her birding hobby.


Welcome to GradLife 601: Research & Beyond, a podcast supported by West Virginia University’s Provost's Office of Graduate Education And Life. I'm your host, Dr. Nancy. Caronia a teaching associate professor with the department of English at West Virginia University. Today, I'll be speaking with associate wildlife biologist, Hannah clip, a PhD candidate in the West Virginia Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit and Division of Forestry and Natural Resources at WVU.

Hannah is an NSF graduate research fellow at a WVU Ruby fellow. Her doctoral research is focused on the effects of climate change and landscape scale forest management on bird communities in the Appalachian mountains. She's co-written more than 10 peer reviewed articles and earned over $300,000 in scholarships and fellowships during her entire academic career.

And avid birder. Hannah has seen at least 570 different bird species in the United States. Welcome Hannah. I'm so glad to speak to you today. How are you? I'm doing all right. How are you? I am well, thanks for asking. So let's dive right in. And I want to start with the success that you've had, earning fellowships and awards, right?

From the beginning of your academic career as an undergraduate, what pointers could you give potential graduate students and even undergraduate students as they apply for programs to make sure they're optimizing their opportunities. Yeah. Generally apply to any, any scholarship or fellowship that you're eligible for.

You know, you won't maybe get them all or probably most of them, but even just getting one makes all those hours spent on applications worth it. And don't be afraid of failure or rejection. It took me two tries to get the Udall scholarship. Two tries to get the NSF. I wasn't selected at all for a bunch of other scholarships and opportunities.

So you just, you have to put yourself out there and just understand that you're not going to get them all. And then for specifically for graduate students or potential graduate students definitely apply to the national science foundation, graduate research fellowship, which is what I have. If you can, if you're in a stem.

At the personal stipend is probably higher than most graduate programs will offer. And it gives you the freedom to kind of shape your own research. So you don't have to come in on a research program that's already been developed and kind of the directions already laid out. You can come in and, and forge your own direction.

So that's a really good. Really good opportunity. Especially if you want that freedom to kind of shape your and research. Thanks, Hannah. What do you think is the most important part in terms of facing an application and sitting down and writing? Which part of it do you think might be the most important?

I think the writing I think writing skills are so critical. And I kind of credit those like that. Just some of my successes, I'm a pretty good writer. And so just being able to. You know, lay out your argument for why you deserve that fellowship or scholarship in an eloquent way, in a convincing way.

I think is a really valuable skill. And even if maybe writing doesn't come naturally to you I would say, you know, have other people read your application materials? If there's a writing resource center that you can go to have them read it and help you. Cause I think that. That's probably one of the most persuasive things to be successful.

Thank you, Hannah. As someone who works in the department of English, I appreciate these words

and I helped my undergraduate students. I mentor them through application processes and I tell them all the time it's a process. The first time you hand me a piece of writing, it's not done because we need to work on finding your voice. And that seems to be what you're saying is to be able to be convincing, you have to find your particular voice that makes you unique for, for the NSF, since you applied for it twice.

How many times do you think you wrote your materials? How many times did you just out of curiosity?

Let's say for the first time so with NSF, there's your personal narrative and then there's your research plan? So the first time I applied was as a senior and I was working with, I was, I was a senior at West Virginia university. So I was working with the aspire office, which as an aside cannot recommend them highly.

They are amazing and awesome and deserve all my face. I think. Oh, a lot of drafts. And for the second time, second time was actually probably fewer drafts since I, you know, I had the meat of the content that I wanted and just needed to update and refine. I did change my research plan the second time and re rewrote that. So that went through a few, a few more revisions.

But yeah, the first time, you know, You have to figure out, like, how do you want to open? How do you want to have, what, what do you want as that hook? And then what is, how can you make the content tailored to what NSF is asking for? So yeah, it wasn't through a lot of revisions. And like you were saying, the first draft does not have to be perfect and it will be and that's perfectly normal, perfectly fine.

It'd be amazing if your first strap was ready to go. Thanks, Hannah. I try to tell students all the time that your first drafts are really part of your compost pile to get to the place of where your flowers come and that's your application. Right. And it's really good to hear you talk about the process of that.

That it's a process. And I like this idea of understanding that there's going to be a lot of rejection and. Get one thing out of 15 that you apply for it. But that one thing is the thing that you need to get. So I really, I really appreciate that. What's the one thing Hannah, that you wish you'd known when you started graduate school that might be helpful for incoming graduate students or people who are contemplating graduate school to know.

Yeah. I think it's important to keep in mind. That is not a competition. You don't have to be perfect. You shouldn't be comparing yourself to other people. And like, especially when you're first starting out in graduate school. So for me, when I was a master's student, almost everybody has imposter syndrome.

Almost everyone feels like they're out of place out of their debt falling behind. It's probably not true. You can't constantly compare yourself to other people. Like it's, it's your journey. And I think another important thing to keep in mind is you have to take care of yourself. So it's not, it can't just be research all the time.

You have to take care of yourself mentally, physically, socially, emotionally you know, make sure you're making time for your needs. And don't be embarrassed to reach out for help if you need. That's perfectly normal and almost everyone is happy to help you if you need that help. Thanks, Hannah. I think the first thing that you said about imposter syndrome is so important for graduate students to understand, because I know from experience.

That if you get caught up in that loop, then it becomes difficult to ask for help. So I'm really grateful that you, that you mentioned that I think it's important for graduate students. And for those that are thinking about graduate school, to understand that everybody has that on some level. So thank you.

Can you, can you talk about your current work right now and, and how it relates to West Virginia? Because it's here in West Virginia. So can you talk about the work and then what's most fulfilling about it? Yeah, so for my dissertation, I'm looking at. Long-term changes in bird communities, populations, and nest success in the Appalachian mountains in relation to climate change and forest management.

So for my dissertation, because of the NSF fellowship, I was able to dictate many of the elements of the research in collaboration with my co-advisors. Peter would increase. And I definitely wanted to take advantage of the long-term dataset that Pietra had. So she had years of bird survey data, mostly from the Monongahela national forest, which is in West Virginia from previous students from technicians.

And so I had access to a data set that went back to the early 1990s which is. A pretty rare thing. So I definitely wanted to take advantage of that and look at long-term trends because that's, that can be so hard if you, because of the data just doesn't exist in most cases. And I wanted to tackle topics that would be relevant for bird conservation management.

So like climate change, forest management. So, and then one of the chapters. I actually was out collecting data myself in the monotony and the Monongahela national forest. So it was continuing the long-term dataset and visiting historic sites that had been visited previously again, going back to the 1990s.

And then I was also collecting new data at new sites for one of my chapters. And so I spent three years from spring to summer doing that Fastly. And so all of that was in the Mar national forest, all relevant to West Virginia. And from some of that data, actually, I just. Like just days ago, published a paper about bird communities in red spruce forests in West Virginia.

So looking at what species and, and, and overall bird communities are strongly associated with our rights resource, which had been something that’s been quantified before. Really? So, wow. Congratulations. Now, what, what's your favorite card? You know, where do you feel like you're most fulfilled in doing this research?

Yeah, that's a great question. The most fun part is probably being out in the field and, and just, you know, Being out with the birds in the forest and the wildlife. So you're cause you're seeing much more than just birds, which by themselves is, are amazing. But like there's black bears. I have granted a little mouse at one point, just along a trail.

I found a blue crayfish cause they're just like the. The kind of naturalists in me gets excited about being outside and just experiencing nature. But as a, I guess, a scientist the thing I like most is having results that can be applied. So these are results that can be used directly by land managers and conservationists to directly guide management actions or conservation.

And this was in part drilled into me from my time as an undergraduate student, because there's one professor who would always ask, what are the management implications of this research? So why are we doing this? How does this help? And that kind of really stuck with me. So, wow. So, so what do you plan on doing once you finish your PhD?

What are your career goals? So the dream goal is to be a federal research wildlife biologist working in a research station with either forest service or the geological survey. So I'd really like to do federal research. So would that be outside of West Virginia or could it still be in West Virginia?

I am I'm open to the possibilities. I definitely would not be opposed to staying in West Virginia, but I wouldn't be opposed to, you know, going where the jobs are. Just for a practical sense. Totally. That totally makes sense to me. We're going to take a break for just a minute. Let's hear from WVU provost's office of graduate education in life.

Okay, welcome back. Thank you, Hannah, for talking with me, I'd like to move our conversation just a little bit right now. I noticed that you do something called letters to a priest scientist. There's a program. How did you become involved in that? And why do you stay involved even now as you're working on your PhD?

Yeah, so I actually. I heard about it a few Twitter, which is not what you would think from just, you know, social media. But I follow a lot of scientists on Twitter. And one of them had mentioned this, this cool new program that had just started, I think, within a few years. And it's a pen pal program where you exchanged letters with.

I think a middle schooler from like a disadvantage area. So what you do as a scientist is you talk to them about yourself, who you are, what your journey was, how you became a scientist and kind of open up there. Eyes and mind to what a scientist can be because we come in so many different flavors.

And so I thought that was really a really cool thing. So I saw. Immediately after, after I saw that. And I think like, just personally it's valuable because I didn't know about wildlife biology or wildlife biologists until I was a senior in high school. And, you know, looking for college majors that would interest me.

And then I stumbled across wildlife biology. But I did not know that was a career until late high school. And so if I could have had that chance to be exposed to that, Before, before that point, I would've left at that opportunity. So a personal standpoint. Thanks. How did you, do you correspond back and forth?

Do they do the middle schoolers get to write you back? Yeah. So it's a series of four rounds where it, you send. They send a letter, you send the letter, they send a letter and it's snail mail. So it's physical, they're handwriting, your handwriting very old school. You are speaking to my love of writing.

This is so awesome. What's been your favorite, what's been one of your favorite exchanges that you've had with a middle-schooler? Well, I guess the last 10. We kind of bonded over a shared interest in drawing. So he would send me drawings. I would send him drawings. He was really excited by the fact that I like pancakes.

And then and then he also, he was very interested in Bigfoot and in several letters was asking me about Bigfoot in West Virginia. And I had a, I had to tell him I had not experienced any sign of big foot. Oh, that's interesting that, that kind of a myth reaches children outside of this area.

Fascinating. So how many years have you been doing this for? I started in as when I was a master's student. So that was 2017. Oh, wow. So you've been doing it for almost five years now. That's great. Can we talk a little bit about birding as a hobby, because I understand that your research really focuses on conservation and birding communities, but can we talk about your hobby because let's face it you've documented or you've seen at least 500 and 570 bird species in the U S so can you just talk about your hobby and how it became more than your work?

And I'd also like to know, like, what's your favorite bird that you've ever seen? Yes, that's a good question. And funny enough, I didn't start off a birder. I wasn't initially that interested in birds. So like as a child, I liked animals, but I was way more drawn to like what we call like the charismatic megaphone.

So the big animals usually mammals. So I was like all about cheetahs. That was the end is my favorite animal ever. Wolves, lions, tigers, you know, the very sexy animals. So even coming into college, I was all, I was pretty pro mammals and I still am. But then I met other wildlife students who were kind of casual birders and, you know, invited me along to go birding with them.

And I kind of dabbled in that. But then it was in summer after sophomore year where I participated in a research for undergraduates research program in Kansas and it was focused on birds. So I really got into birding through bird research initially. Because once I got there, that was the furthest west I'd ever been at that point in my life.

And so all of the. We're new. Like I had no idea what they were. So it kind of like that excitement of, oh, what is that? And like, trying to take a picture and trying to take field notes. It has a yellow belly. It has a brown head. Phil is pretty thick. So just the joy of discovery and learning. I think that just really instilled a passion in, in birding.

So going out and finding new birds and watching birds and their behavior, figuring out I hear a song, I don't see a bird. What does that. So just, you know, putting together the puzzle pieces and coming at a species identification and just learning was a really fun experience. Do you have a favorite bird, Hannah?

That's really tough. Because very, like, I am now fully invested in birds and like, they're also cool. I will say like in like Berger speak my spark bird, which is the bird that really got me into it was probably my was probably in it. It's a weird name. So it's always awkward to say this, but it's called a Dixon.

Oh, wow. It has a weird name just out of curious. So it's, it's kind of, it's in the Sparrow family, but it's a bit more colorful than like our usual drab brown spares. It does have yellow on a chest and black markings kind of brown on the back of. But it was my first like, study species. So that was my first independent research project.

That was the focal species for that project. And so I spent that summer just like chasing around Dixie whistles every day, all day. So like I got, I grew very fond of them. And so I think like that's what I would call my spark bird. So what got me into it and will really introduce me to a love of.

That's wonderful. What would you say, you know, since the burden goes back and forth between your work and your hobby, what's been your favorite part of graduate school, I guess, kind of switching away from, from hobbies and research. It's actually the people. So especially like my fellow lab mates, so people who are also in the, in the same lab as me have the same advisor.

And fellow graduate students in general in the, in the department. I think the friendship and comradery that I have with them is probably the best part. Like I've always found even as an undergrad that graduate students in my field are some of the best people. I know, like some of the most enjoyable kindest, nicest people.

And so like, I I'm of the opinion that even if you have. The best advisor, the best research project. If you don't also have a supportive group of peers that are, you know, rooting for you along the way, like, I don't think. Graduates graduate school would be a pretty miserable, lonely place without that.

I totally get what you're saying manna for the, for, for our last question for the day. Can you talk a little bit about how you avoid that sense of competition? Cause you said it's not a competition, but you will always encounter people that want to make it a competition. So how have you successful? It sounds like you've successfully avoided engaging in that way.

Having people around you that are supportive and you're supportive of them. So what do you think is the one or two things that you've done to sort of move the rest of that out of the way? I think, you know, viewing, trying to find opportunities to collaborate. So. You're no longer in any sort of perceived competition with someone you're working with them.

So if you know, you have someone who is working on a similar topic as you, instead of trying to rush your research and get it out before they do, like, I think it's much healthier and better for science to reach out to them and say, Hey, we're working on a pretty similar thing. Let's work together. And I think that's just a much better mindset than trying to compete with.

That's a great attitude. Thanks, Hannah. Thank you for talking with me today. I really appreciate it. I think you've given some great tips to our graduate and even undergraduate students, but also, I just love how you've turned birding into more than your recent. Even though it's important to your research.

So thank you for a great conversation, Hannah. I appreciate you taking time from, I know what is a very busy schedule right now to chat with me about your work and about birding and about the pre scientist letters to a pre scientist program. And thank you to GradLife 601’s podcast audience. I hope you enjoyed this episode joined in next time to GradLife 601: Research and Beyond when I'll be speaking with Dr. Christina an associate professor with the political science department in the John D Rockefeller school of policy and politics at West Virginia University. Thanks everyone. And thanks again, Hannah.