Alice Welch (she/they) is a graduate student in biology instructor at Oregon State University. Currently, Alice is doing some exciting work with a recently opened research lab observing the predator response in certain species of birds.
Please describe your educational/training background.
I did my undergraduate at Oregon State University from 2019-2023, majoring in biology with an option in physiology and behavior and a minor in chemistry. During that time, I got involved in working for two different research labs on campus and gained experience with assisting graduate students with their research and maintaining the labs’ populations of snakes and birds.
In the Summer of 2022, I applied for and was awarded the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE). This allowed me to go to the Grand Teton National Forest in Wyoming with a team of OSU students to study my own project focused on a species of bird called red crossbills. My research focused on the impacts of summer breeding and age on red crossbill body condition, which I later presented at OSU’s Summer Undergraduate Research Symposium (SURS).
Please describe where you work & your occupation.
I’m a first-year master’s student at Oregon State University in the Integrative Biology department. I am the first grad student to join the Kikuchi Lab, which is a brand new lab. My field of study is behavioral ecology, which is, in essence, the study of behavior from an evolutionary lens. Specifically, my research works with birds, and I’m looking at the ability of songbirds to recognize and learn about predators.
Career-wise, what have been your proudest moments/highlights/accomplishments so far?
My proudest moment was getting into graduate school. I had to choose an advisor, whose lab I would be joining for my entire degree, and they had to choose me as well. Going through all of those steps and then applying to grad school, I realized how many people believed in me, especially my advisor who chose me to be his lab’s first grad student, which means I’m helping him start his lab. As the first student, I’ll be the “pioneer” and help with determining how the lab will be run, so it means a lot to be chosen for this, especially because of how much time and effort I put into getting to this point.
What are some of your future goals or things you would like to accomplish?
One of the more immediate goals I have been working towards implementing my master’s thesis research. I’ll be making and putting up nest boxes to obtain house sparrows, which are my study species, and obtaining their eggs to raise in the lab. I’ll do behavior studies with the house sparrows raised in the lab to test if they can recognize snakes versus other objects when they’ve never seen a snake before. I will also test if the sparrows can learn about a snake from observing another house sparrow’s response to it.
My hope is to get a Ph.D. as well so I can further study predator recognition, but that’s something I’m still figuring out. While completing my degree, I also have a goal to do lots of mentoring with undergraduates as well as working on doing more outreach to talk about my research and get people excited about science.
What have been some of your biggest career challenges?
One of my biggest challenges was trying to navigate a field I originally knew nothing about. I joined college with a different career path in mind, and I decided I wanted to do research in biology at the end of my sophomore year, so I had to figure out how to get experience and prepare myself for getting into grad school within 2 years. I’m also the first in my family to pursue a STEM field, so it was challenging to set myself up for success. Now that I’m in grad school, my biggest challenges are having enough confidence in my abilities and figuring out how to take charge of my experiences to get the most out of my degree. It’s especially hard as I have to juggle classes, teaching, and research while still setting aside time for myself, so there are just a lot of moving parts to deal with at once.
Many young women might not be aware of the careers available in STEAM fields. What do you think can be done to spread the word to women about career options in these fields?
I think there could be more opportunities through schools that allow women to learn about multiple careers without having to find those connections on their own. Career fairs would be a good option since they would provide many different experiences at once that students could pick from based on their interests. Another option could be community events that are tailored to the general public which would then give young women an opportunity to see local professionals in fields they may want to pursue in the future. I barely knew anything about the field I got into until halfway through college, so I definitely would have benefitted from any chance to hear from professionals in STEM careers.
Do you have any advice for women who are looking to follow a similar career path?
The number one thing I learned is to find a mentor or someone who you can lean on and trust. Support is extremely important, and having one or more mentors who aren’t your advisor will only help you. Forming a good network of colleagues and fellow students is also really helpful, and it gives you people to relate to and discuss things with. It provides a sense of community, and I’ve found it helped ease a lot of my concerns and worries about grad school.
The second vital thing is to have confidence. Doubt will be a frequent problem, but you have to learn to push through it. One thing that helps me is reminding myself that everyone experiences imposter syndrome, even people who have been in this field for 20-30 years. Just be honest with yourself and have that support group to help you through it.
What do you like to do for fun in your spare time?
I love being out in nature doing things like hiking, bird watching, looking for reptiles and amphibians, and finding mushrooms. I also enjoy photography which works well with these hobbies. I have an artsy side too and dabble in a lot of things such as drawing, needle felting, and printmaking.