Jennifer Bourque, graduate student in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, was raised in a rural part of Connecticut, then headed off to Boston University to study engineering. After one semester, Bourque realized she missed being surrounded by the natural world. She returned to Connecticut, changing schools and her major. As a wildlife biologist, she enjoys traveling while conducting field work, and although she’s already visited quite a few places, the top spot on her destination wish list is Antarctica. Here is what she said in an interview.
Where did you study as an undergraduate? What was your major? I went to undergrad here at UConn and majored in environmental science with minors in ecology and evolutionary biology as well as wildlife conservation.
Why did you decide to go to graduate school? I decided to acquire a master’s degree because I really enjoy the research side of wildlife conservation. I knew I wanted to continue pursuing my passion for field research but wanted to broaden my horizons and increase my skill set. I saw the opportunity to be involved in a really interesting field of research and continue my professional development as a wildlife researcher.
Who is your advisor? What is your field of research? My advisor is Dr. Melissa McKinney, assistant professor in NRE with a joint appointment in the Center for Environmental Sciences and Engineering. My research focuses on the changes in feeding ecology, contaminant levels and immune function of polar bears due to sea ice loss within the Alaskan southern Beaufort Sea subpopulation.
Name one aspect of your work that you like. I really enjoy the opportunities that working in such a fascinating and quickly changing ecosystem have provided. Being able to do field work in the Arctic has allowed me to see firsthand the changes that are happening to the sea ice habitat that polar bears rely on. Arctic research depends on international cooperation and being able to meet so many dedicated researchers through conferences, field schools and my research has been an exceptional resource for me.
In your opinion, what is your greatest accomplishment so far? This past March, I assisted with the capture season up in the North Slope of Alaska. Being on the sea ice, sampling polar bears and learning from professional researchers with the USGS (United States Geological Survey) was an experience I will never forget. Having the opportunity to collect the samples I spend a lot of time in the lab analyzing allowed me to see the entire process that goes into researching this polar bear sub-population.
When do you expect to get your degree? What then? I am planning on finishing my degree this December. My goal is to continue on as a wildlife biologist for a state or federal agency hopefully continuing on with either marine mammal or large carnivore research.
Is there anything else you would like us to know about you? I love traveling. I have been to sixteen US national parks and seven countries and once went swimming in the Arctic Ocean at 79°N in water just above freezing.