Anna Ciecka – International Women and Girls in Science Day

Anna Ciecka – Consulting Biologist, Detection Dog Program Lead

I’m a Biologist and Coordinator for the WEST Detection Dog program. Exposure to natural areas during childhood and hands-on learning through college ecology courses fueled my interest in understanding ecosystems, exploring new areas, and learning new skills.

The first half of my career was a wonderful mix of zoological institutions and fieldwork, inspired by the accomplishments of scientists like Jane Goodall, Louise Emmons, and Nalini Nadkarni. I had the privilege to train, care for and work with a variety of animals – from snakes, raptors and parrots to spider monkeys, caimans, and cougars – in a zoological setting. At the same time, I participated in ecological studies of avian communities in Venezuela, Costa Rica, and the Great Smoky Mountains over successive years. Whether I was sharing the ecological importance of a three-toed sloth with zoo visitors or collecting data on cloud forest bird populations, it was satisfying to contribute to science and conservation.

Careers in science are many and varied. Taking advantage of internships and independent research opportunities while an undergraduate was invaluable in helping determine where my true interests were. I learned about research opportunities by talking with graduate students in my classes and attending office hours of professors whose research interested me.

Joining WEST as a field technician provided another outlet for professional development. Gaining experience in wildlife biology can be difficult for people starting out due to financial or family reasons. With a lot of support on the home front, I was able to say yes to an expanding range of opportunities WEST offered, and to participate in a wide variety of projects integral to environmental management issues. 

The highlight of my career has been the development at WEST of a detection dog program for wind farm monitoring. It combines my interest in working directly with animals with my desire to conduct high-quality fieldwork. I wouldn’t have been successful in any position without the support and encouragement of others. I consider it a privilege to now be the person who inspires, mentors and guides people beginning their career journey.