Meet Ann Marie Reinhold, an assistant research professor at Montana State University in Bozeman (Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences) and a member of the EPSCoR Track 1 research team. She is a hydroecologist and interdisciplinary scientist who works with the Judith River Watershed team. In this interview, Ann Marie shared information about her work, studies and career pathway with the Montana Girls STEM Collaborative, an outreach program of Montana NSF EPSCoR. Her interview is reprinted here in order to share career pathways with young people in Montana.
Where did you grow up, and what do you do for your research?
I grew up in Tarpon Springs, Florida (the Sponge Capital of the World), a city known for its rich Greek heritage, sponge divers, and bayous. At MSU, I am a hydroecologist and interdisciplinary scientist. My research is driven by my passion for stewardship and social-environmental responsibility, and is therefore organized around two central questions.
- How do humans interact with Earth to alter how our environment is structured and functions, particularly pertaining to our freshwater resources?
- How do societies respond to and prepare for the environmental consequences of a rapidly changing planet?
My research is highly interdisciplinary, meaning that the roots of these questions and the ways that my colleagues and I address them draws upon diverse scientific disciplines. I am continually amazed at the depth of scientific advance achievable when domain experts across fields unite to address a research challenge.
Plus, interdisciplinary thinking is really fun. It’s a joy to canvass how multiple theoretical and empirical lines of evidence collectively give rise to our current scientific understanding, and it’s even more rewarding to challenge, refine, redefine, or identify how our current thinking could or should change in light of new research.
What did you like to do as a young person? At what age and how did you know you wanted to be a scientist?
I was a competitive gymnast when I was young. I spent my days at school and my afternoons and evenings training, often leaving the house around 7 AM and returning after 9 PM. But, whenever I wasn’t at school or the gym, I wanted to be outside. Some of my fondest childhood memories are snorkeling in the seagrass at the nearby Howard Park, fishing the Gulf of Mexico with my family, and adventuring in the Appalachians near where my mom grew up or in the Rockies near where much of my dad’s family settled.
As a kid, I was relentlessly curious. Looking back, I can’t think of a single moment when I knew I would become a scientist, but there were signs all along. For instance, I convinced my grandparents to buy me a “real” microscope when I was in 5th or 6th grade. I enjoyed the pre-made slides that came with the microscope, but far more interested in doing science. I would go into my backyard and prep my own slides from water I collected from the birdbath and attempt to draw what I saw in the lens. If you’ve never looked at lake, stream, or birdbath water under a scope, I highly recommend it. You’ll never look at a drop of water the same way again.
Who were some of the role models, mentors or other adults who influenced you as a young person?
My parents divorced when I was an adolescent. Our family saw Bob Parrino, Ph.D. (a.k.a., Dr. P), a family psychologist, to help us through the transition. Dr. P not only helped me make sense of the brewing chaos at home – and let’s face it, in me – but he would also share scientific research to help me understand how and why Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, for example, could serve me. By the time I was in high school, when I would resist a modality or his approach, he would warmly grin and – without fail – at my next session, he would hand me a scientific article or research summary and invite me think through the implications of the scientific findings myself. In doing so, he respected my innate inquisitiveness and engaged my penchant for rational thinking to help me heal and grow.
Plus, Dr. P. would light up when he would share about his experiments as a graduate student, his research challenges, where the field was headed and where he thought research should move instead. I wanted to learn to think critically and holistically in the ways that he could; being at the forefront of scientific discovery sounded incredibly rewarding and exciting. Without a doubt, Dr. P planted the seeds of my career as a researcher.
What advice would you give to a Montana kid who is interested in a career like yours?
On more than one occasion, I have been told that my approach to research is fearless. It’s a nice compliment, but it isn’t accurate. Like most perfectionists, I am afraid of taking on new challenges because I’m scared of failing to succeed or deliver. However, my curiosity and drive to uncover “capital-T Truth” has always been bigger than my fear.
So, my advice to any budding scientist is to allow your curiosity to subsume you. Follow your lines of inquiry to completion and welcome the beautiful overwhelm that comes from knowing that there is far more to this world, solar system, and universe than any of us will ever know. My biggest professional regrets arise from not taking risks because I was too busy listening to my overly loud inner critic, whereas my proudest moments have come from letting my passion and inquisitiveness lead me to unexpected discoveries.
Taking risks – from raising your hand when you don’t understand something in class to perhaps reaching out to a university professor like me – can be scary, but is important if you are interested in a rewarding career as a scientist.