Sarah Barney, NRES 2014

"Take any opportunity to learn about something that interests you, even if it's fleeting or not related to your focus areas.” -Sarah Barney

Why did you choose the NRES program at UK?

While I was more interested specifically in the content of a Biology program (e.g. ecology and life sciences), I felt the NRES program could offer me more flexibility to make my degree into what I needed academically. I also liked the idea of being in a more interdisciplinary and applied environment around other students whom shared similar passions for the outdoors and environmental activism.

Where are you currently working or what are your current activities?

Upon graduation I flew to South America to take a break from the structure of college life. While also spending time wandering and experiencing the beauty of Ecuador and Peru, I have been lucky to find opportunities to keep learning and working. I recently completed an internship on a private ecological reserve in coastal Ecuador where I became certified in permaculture design. I am now volunteering on an organic farm and ecotourism lodge in Tarapoto, Peru. Following this, I am headed to Tambopata National Reserve in the Amazon to act as a research assistant for a macaw conservation research project. I am hoping to find an MS program in ecology and evolutionary biology upon my return in December.

What was your path to where you are currently?

While no past experience has directly led me to where I am, I would not be confident enough or qualified to take part in my recent opportunities without a lot of previous work as an undergraduate. I spent a lot of time in research labs, the longest being in an insect ecology lab, where I gained many field and lab skills, as well as independence. My job writing the NRES newsletter improved my writing skills (necessary for everything!)and organization. Lastly, my participation in various field courses (NRES Summer Camp, Tropical Agroecology in Indonesia, SAG Capstone) opened my eyes to the variety of work that exists in environmental science and ecology and inspired me to keep exploring. Also importantly, each of these experiences has yielded academic contacts and references that have helped me so much along the way!

What do you feel helped you most in getting to where you are currently in terms of your own personal strategies?

Organization and planning has been the key for me personally. I am always searching for opportunities to keep learning in different ways and considering how different pieces may fit together, both intellectually and in time. This has allowed me to be choosy on how I spend my time and therefore only working on what I see as beneficial for me. Although seemingly opposing, allowing myself moments of chaos has also been an important strategy, as these are the times I find the most inspiration.

How do you think the NRES program helped to prepare you?

The flexibility of the program and support of associated faculty, allowed me to have some independence in my academic choices and therefore gave me the space (and guidance when needed) to operate from my own sense of organization and autonomy. This was much more empowering to me than following a strict regimen for academic success. And again, the diversity of courses I took gave me a greater sense of direction for post graduation.

Any advice for current students in the NRES program?

Take any opportunity to learn about something that interests you, even if its fleeting or not related to your focus areas. Find ways outside of your courses to explore your interests (I.e. do more than the required internship, take field courses, study abroad, participate in workshops or volunteer somewhere you love.) This doesn't have to be a painful experience to fill up your resume, but instead just focus on what you enjoy learning about. Anything that seems to stick, try it in a more advanced setting!

Also, connect with your teachers and advisors. From my experience, they are almost all actively interested in your success and can be very helpful in ways you may not imagine (i.e. passing on information about things that may interest you, writing recommendation letters, giving you advice and criticism when needed.)!

Contact Sarah Barney at