Vikki Rodgers graduated from UNH in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in Biology: Ecology and Evolution. She went on to complete a Ph.D. in Forest Ecology & Biogeochemistry at Boston University, and since 2008 has been an assistant professor at Babson College. In 2012, Vikki received the Babson College Dean’s Award for Teaching Excellence Award. We recently caught up with Vikki and learned how her undergraduate research experiences at UNH inspired her career path.
Please tell us about the Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) you received from the Hamel Center. Did it in any way influence your career plans?
My SURF project was entitled, “Quantification of Cytological Damage in Red Spruce Needles in a Central NH Forest at Different Elevations” and I worked with Dr. Barry Rock in Complex Systems. I continued this project as my senior honors thesis. In performing this research I was able to design my own experiment, collect data, prepare lab samples, trouble-shoot problems, analyze results, interpret my findings, and present my work. It was the first time that I was actually in charge and responsible for designing and carrying out a project that interested me. This experience helped me to realize my love for performing research and it gave me an excellent introduction to all stages of ecological research.
What have you been doing since graduating from UNH? Do you serve as a mentor to students in your current role?
Immediately after graduating from UNH I worked for a biotech company for a year and then an academic immunology lab for a year. I knew that I wanted to attend graduate school for ecology, but I wanted to gain some further experiences and save some money first. I started graduate school at Boston University in September 2002 in Adrien Finzi’s lab (Adrien is also a UNH alum). I completed my Ph.D. in the fall of 2007 and began teaching in a part-time temporary position at Babson College. I immediately realized how much I enjoyed teaching business students about environmental science and ecology. I was offered a full-time position the following year. I have now been at Babson for six years and am coming up for tenure this spring. I have been able to involve a number of undergraduate students in my research through small summer projects and grants from Babson. I am also serving on the Honors Council, which allows me to mentor students on their senior honors projects.
Do you have any advice for current undergraduate researchers at UNH?
My recommendation is to take advantage of all of the opportunities available to you. If you are passionate about something, seek out people who inspire you and work to create your own opportunities. In addition to the SURF project and honors thesis at UNH, I also worked with a number of faculty members to gain different research experiences (horticultural assistant with Dr. Rosanna Freyre, integrated pest management assistant with Dr. Stan Swier, molecular evolution lab assistant with Dr. Tom Kocher, and undergraduate teaching assistantships for General Ecology and General Biology). These experiences were incredibly valuable in piquing my interests, helping me to decide the direction of my own passions, and providing experiences to talk about during job interviews.