Devin Jones is a Ph.D. candidate at Montana State University with Dr. Raina Plowright. She earned her MSc at Grand Valley State University studying bat foraging ecology in the context of bat health. She is broadly interested in the role of the gastrointestinal microbiome in wildlife health and pathogen spillover. More specifically, her dissertation research focuses on how the gut microbiome of black flying foxes (Pteropus alecto) changes in response to different diets and how these dietary and microbiome shifts relate to bat health and bats’ ability to maintain and transmit infectious diseases.
What do you do in the field of science?
I am currently a Ph.D. student at Montana State University with Dr. Raina Plowright. Broadly, I am interested in wildlife health and conservation. My Ph.D. research focuses on the gastrointestinal microbiome of flying foxes and associations with diet and health outcomes.
What made you interested in going into that field?
I’ve always loved animals and being outside but grew up thinking I should be a medical doctor or engineer. I never considered that I could work with animals as a career though until my freshman year of undergrad. One of my friends wanted to work in Cheetah conservation and after many conversations with her, I realized that the field of wildlife conservation exists and there are many different roles within the field that I could fill.
What were the biggest obstacles you had to overcome?
My own insecurity. I have often been afraid to ask questions or reach out to people for help because I feel like I should know something already or should have figured it out by now. My insecurity also rears its ugly head when I need feedback. Sometimes critique can feel scary. Though I’ve gotten better about this with time, it’s something that I’m still improving.
Who are your role models?
Where do I even begin? I have been fortunate to have been able to work with so many amazing women in science at every stage of my career.
During my undergrad, I ended up doing research in a bat research lab and met Veronica Brown (lab manager at the time) and Dr. Riley Bernard (PhD student at the time) who taught me so much about bats, field and lab work, navigating graduate school applications, and all that research entails. They were and still are amazing role models and I consider them to be lifelong friends. I am not sure I would be where I am today if I had not had these ladies in my life supporting me as an early researcher.
My master’s research advisor, Dr. Amy Russell, has been a fantastic mentor. She always made time for her students (current and past) giving valuable feedback and endless encouragement. She is an outspoken advocate for equality in STEM.
My PhD has enabled me to work with more incredible researchers. My advisor, Dr. Raina Plowright, Dr. Alison Peel (my committee member), and Dr. Cara Brook have guided me through important steps as a PhD student. Their support and insights have enabled me to get through many challenging times.
These outstanding, ambitious women are so knowledgeable about their respective fields and are dedicated to following through with their research goals. My role models have all given so much to support not just me, but so many other young researchers in science.
Do you have advice for young women interested in pursuing a similar career?
Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself and your needs. You can’t get what you don’t ask for and the worst thing that can happen is someone saying “no.”
What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of working in your field?
The relationships! Through collaborations, I’ve been able to travel the world and meet many people with different perspectives. I’m fortunate that many of these people have become my friends over the years.
How do you see your field changing in the next ten years?
I think that as new technologies are becoming more affordable and accessible, wildlife microbiome research will expand greatly and we will be able to incorporate new -omics techniques alongside microbiome research to draw more powerful conclusions about how microbes impact wildlife health.