Nicholas Dove, PhD


Where to find him:

Education: I graduated with my B.S. from the University of Vermont in 2012 with an Environmental Science degree, and I graduated with my Ph.D. from the University of California, Merced in 2019 in Environmental Systems (but my dissertation research was on soil microbial ecology)

Current Job: Postdoctoral Associate at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, TN.

What experience first got you interested in science and is that field the same one you went on to pursue?

My journey first started the summer before high school. That summer I took my first backpacking and overnight canoe trip. It was all in all a life-changing experience. I had never done anything quite like it before. I loved being outside for multiple days at a time and living self-sufficiently on my own. When I started high school that following fall, I couldn’t stop thinking about my experience and how I wanted to go backpacking again. 

It was in my biology class that first year that we watched a movie about researchers in the Galapagos studying Darwin’s finches. What stuck with me more than anything was how the researchers lived while doing fieldwork. They camped, cooked dinner, and hiked around just like I had that previous summer. Realizing that this could be a career, I immediately became interested in Ecology and Environmental Sciences. 

I currently spend more time indoors than I originally set out for, but that is okay, because other parts of my job have become just as rewarding. However, I’m still lucky enough to do field work and live outdoors a couple weeks a year.

Tell me about some people who helped or inspired you along the way, in your early training and later in your career.

I would say that the biggest inspiration has come from my parents. They have always encouraged me to pursue my passion, take advantage of opportunities, and to do any job to the best of my abilities, no matter how small or seemingly unimportant. I have been lucky to have great mentors that expect a lot, but return effort in-kind. Those mentors gave me the tools and opportunities, but it was my parents that inspired my work ethic that has allowed me to succeed.

Can you tell me about any moments of doubt you had as a student or early in your career and how you dealt with it?

Research and field-based research in particular never goes according to plan. It’s a bit embarrassing, but I’ve definitely called my mom upset that an experiment wasn’t working as I anticipated. Fortunately, she encouraged me to focus on what I can control, and things eventually worked out. Even now, I still get discouraged when things don’t work out at first. However, I’ve come to realize the virtue of perseverance, but it is still something I need to constantly remind myself of.

Can you share two or three surprising twists or turns in your early scientific training and your later career path.

I never thought I would be an environmental microbiologist. I’ve always been interested in naturalism and things I could see and touch like plants and animals. But, when the opportunity to study forest fungi came up during my undergraduate degree, I decided that I would dive in. 

I’m glad I did. Learning about the small, but important engineers of ecosystems (microbes) opened a whole new realm of scientific inquiry and gave me a whole new appreciation for nature. I think this is an important piece of advice: to dive into opportunities head-first even if you are unsure of their relevance to what you are currently interested in. Often times, you will find that they are very rewarding and are more interesting than you originally think.

Can you give some examples of how you have incorporated your non scientific interests into your work.

My non-scientific interests have always revolved around being outside and enjoying nature. Knowing that my work contributes to the understanding of ecosystems and their protection is incredibly satisfying. In many ways, I would say my scientific and non-scientific interests are therefore one in the same.

Is there some advice you could you share from your own experience to help someone with a science degree who is just starting off on their own career path.

My biggest piece of advice for anyone starting out is to say “yes” to opportunities and think about how you can maximize said opportunity. If you are involved in a project, think about how you can expand the project and perhaps even take a leadership role in a specific aspect. It will be more work, but not only will it be more rewarding, it will also signal to those around you your passion and competence. Opportunities are limited; never squander them.

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