Meet EPA Scientist Susan Yee, Ph.D.
Susan Harrell Yee, Ph.D., is an ecologist at EPA's Gulf Ecosystem Measurement and Modeling Division. She is currently developing models and decision support tools to evaluate how alternative decisions impact provisioning of coastal ecosystem goods and services. She spends her spare time trying to keep up with her three children.
How does your science matter?
For the past ten years, I have been working on what we refer to as "ecosystem services." Those are the good things we get from healthy ecosystems, like recreational opportunities, aesthetic value, food, and clean water. Ecosystem services are an important concept because people don't often think about the benefits they're getting from their environment until they no longer have them. Additionally, those benefits should be considered by decision makers the same way that economic and social benefits are.
I think it is crucial to link the environment to things that people really care about, like being able to swim in unpolluted lakes and enjoying nature. That's where you're going to be able to make a difference.
My research is looking at different approaches that link management and policy decisions to changes in ecological condition, ecosystem services, and human well-being. This information is being used to plan restoration projects in order to achieve desired beneficial uses, and to communicate the potential benefits of ecosystem protection and restoration to the public.
If you could have dinner with any scientist, past or present, who would you choose and what would you ask them?
Peter Kareiva. Ten years ago his thinking on conservation was somewhat provocative and controversial, but the things he says really push ecologists to think about linking nature and ecology to human values and concerns. It comes back to the idea that we can't just go out and do conservation for the sake of it. Our work has to be linked to what people care about - jobs, health, human well-being. Otherwise, decision makers aren't going to pay much attention to it. I’d ask him how he thinks conservation planning has evolved over the past 20 years, and what he thinks are the next big ideas on the horizon.
What do you like most about your research?
I like the feeling that we're doing science that matters. Our research has real potential to help local communities and people.
Tell us about your background.
I got my Bachelors degree in Mathematics from Texas Tech University. While there, I did research in an ecology lab. I got my Masters in Mathematics from the University of Tennessee and my Ph.D. in Ecology at the University of Chicago.
When did you first know you wanted to be scientist?
Always! It's in my genes. My grandfather was a mathematician and my father was a scientist at the Department of the Interior and later, the Department of Energy.
If you were not a scientist, what would you be doing?
I like to cook. Maybe I'd be a pastry chef, but I'd definitely need to go to formal cooking school!
Any advice for students considering a career in science?
If you have natural math ability, don't give up on it! There seems to be a myth, particularly among young women, that if you major in math you either have to go into accounting or be a math teacher.
I would really emphasize that, even if you don't major in math, quantitative skills are extremely important. Having a mathematical background will give you a huge advantage when looking for jobs, regardless of your other skills.
Editor's Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the researcher alone. EPA does not endorse the opinions or positions expressed.