Diversity in Career Paths: A Q&A With Five Entomologists – Entomology Today

What jobs can we do as entomologists? More than you might think. For students looking ahead at potential career paths, learn from this Q&A with five entomologists working in a wide range of positions, from biotechnology to tourism and more. Pictured left to right are entomologists Daniel Rogers, MSc.; Kelly Carruthers, Ph.D.; Débora Montezano, Ph.D.; Evans Vusani Mauda, Ph.D.; and Nancy Miorelli, MSc.

By Sara Salgado Astudillo

Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series contributed by the ESA Student Affairs Committee. See other posts by and for entomology students here at Entomology Today.
Sara Salgado Astudillo
As students in entomology, we often think about what we can do after graduation. Once we have a degree, we have many career options, both within academia and beyond. Academic jobs can be challenging to secure due to the growing number of Ph.D. graduates (i.e., competition) each year. But a variety of jobs exist in government, industry, and other sectors in entomology and ecology, as well.
On ESA’s Student Affairs Committee, two of our goals are to make job opportunities more accessible to students and to promote diversity and inclusion in our field. To that end, I interviewed five entomologists with a wide range of positions, from working in tourism to coordinating undergraduate programs. Their stories showcase the diversity in careers that entomologists can pursue. Take a look at these five entomology professionals and what they do today.
Nancy Miorelli, MSc.
Quito, Ecuador
Favorite insect: orchid mantis
Twitter: @SciBugs; Web: scibugs
Nancy Miorelli is originally from the United States and has been living in Ecuador working in tourism for several years. Her area of focus is the northern half of Ecuador including the coast (Mompiche), cloud forest (Mindo, Papallacta), high Andes (Quito, Otavalo), and the Amazon (Cuyabeno Reserve).
Salgado Astudillo: What is your current role like?
Miorelli: I created my company SciBugs where I conduct personalized and customizable tours of Ecuador focused on entomology, ecology, conservation, and local culture. Currently I’m the logistical coordinator for the trips and the bilingual guide. In some ways I feel like a bridge between what Ecuador has to offer and my clients. I’m not just a literal translator but help translate cultural aspects and expectations. Plus, I add my knowledge of Ecuador, insects, and ecology. Behind the scenes I do my own marketing and create content for my social media pages. In short, I do a little bit of everything.
What are some highlights of your job?
For many people, visiting Ecuador and its mountains and jungles is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I feel so lucky and privileged that I not only get to make people’s trips extra special to this amazing place, but also that I get to consistently visit these ecosystems that I love so much. Every time I’m in the forest looking at a weird bug or coming down the curvy roads through the mountains with a bird’s eye view of the cities and landscapes, I can’t help but think how lucky I am to be here in Ecuador and visit these incredible, awe-inspiring places on a regular basis. I love being able to share my passion for Ecuador and insects with my clients to make memories that will last forever.
Has anyone inspired you in your journey?
I think I’ve found inspiration from many sources. Some are people who I’ve met only in passing on my travels who just told me, “One day I just got up and left to see the world.” They let me know it’s possible to just leave.
Marianne Shockley was my advisor at the University of Georgia and gave me so much creative freedom with my projects. After I graduated and had been living in Ecuador for two years, I visited her. I told her I was thinking about conducting bug tours in Ecuador. I told her how crazy it felt, and she told me to just go for it. And even if it didn’t work out, I’d get a little longer in a place I loved so much and so there was nothing to lose. That was over 5 years ago.
Funnily enough, I also think of Taylor Swift as a source of inspiration. She’s been bushwacking her own path through the music industry, has a say in everything relating to her brand, and has made some very bold and unconventional choices for her industry. Listening to her interviews and her remaining true to her vision and ideals was not only inspirational but, in a way, gave me permission to take a risk and follow my own unconventional path.
What is the best advice you have for someone looking to move into this area?
Learn everything you can! To be able to do my job, I think my entomology knowledge is the most basic part of it. I’ve had to learn people skills, organizational skills, marketing, graphic design, logistics, Spanish, and Ecuadorian culture! If you don’t have the required skills you need, you must be willing to learn them either by yourself or by taking a class. There isn’t anything you can’t learn, and even seemingly unrelated skills can be imperative. Be kind to everyone: You can learn something from anyone and sometimes you make invaluable contacts.
You can’t be afraid of failure. If something doesn’t work out, you can shelve it to work on it later, rework it, try again, or scrap it. Knowing which path to take on a failed effort comes with multiple failed attempts. You get better at failure, you’ll fail fewer times, and you’ll reach a lot more wins than if you had never tried. And, on that note, a bad draft (or attempt) can be fixed, but you can’t edit a blank page. So, done is always better than perfect.
Evans Vusani Mauda, Ph.D.
Mbombela, South Africa
Favorite insect: ants
Evans Vusani Mauda, Ph.D., is from South Africa, and he is currently working in integrated pest management (IPM) in one of the biggest citrus companies in South Africa.
Salgado Astudillo: What is your current role like?
Vusani Mauda: I am research entomologist at Citrus Research International (CRI). I provide identification training to our staff and other people in the citrus industry.
What are some highlights of your job?
I get to collect and identify psylloids indigenous to South Africa and other citrus pests and natural enemies in citrus IPM. We have psylloids of economic importance, and as such we need to better understand our indigenous fauna and be able to identify problematic psyllids that can transmit diseases.
Has anyone inspired you in your journey?
Lots of people have inspired me, such as the fantastic supervisors during my Ph.D. studies, Dr. Grant Martin and Professor Martin Hill. And, one lady who has always taken care of me and loved me unconditionally is my grandma, Kutama Mphaphuli, and [fostered] the love of insects that has taken me to where I am right now.
What is the best advice you have for someone looking to move into this area?
Be kind to everyone, and mostly be kind to yourself and know you’re doing the best you can. Celebrate small victories; it goes a long way. Enjoy and love what you do first, and you can make a difference in someone else’s life.
Daniel Rogers, MSc.
Oxford, England
Favorite insect: antlions
Daniel Rogers is from South Africa and a year ago moved to England to be part of Oxitec, a biotechnology company.
Salgado Astudillo: What is your current role like?
Rogers: My current job is enjoyable and very dynamic. I’m a lab technician at a company that is working to manage problematic insect species using a method called sterile insect technique, or simply SIT. My team deals with mass rearing. We try and figure out ways to produce a lot of insects in a very efficient way while also ensuring they are strong and healthy. There is a lot of room for experimentation, and it really forces me to approach challenges from various angles.
What are some highlights of your job?
So far, my highlights have been working hard to become better at my specific tasks as well as growing with my team. For this year we have a target to produce 20,000 insects per week for three consecutive weeks. We are currently on track to achieve this, and this would be a highlight of my time at Oxitec if we are to obtain this.
Has anyone inspired you in your journey?
I have had a few inspirations along the way. I would have to say one of them is a close friend of mine with whom I studied entomology in South Africa. His name is Garyn Townsend and he really helped me think in a more creative and engaging way. This is a quality that has helped me not only in my field but also in day-to-day life. Also, two friends I met during my master’s degree, Antonella Petruzzella and you, Sara, showed me how many interesting roles and places working with plants and insects can take you. You both also taught me the importance of a good work-life balance.
What is the best advice you have for someone looking to move into this area?
Not all jobs will work out, and not all kinds of science will be rewarding or motivating. However, if you are passionate enough about entomology and keep at it, I really do think things will fall into place eventually.
Débora Montezano, Ph.D.
Marion, Iowa, USA
Favorite insect: Harlequin beetle
Débora Montezano, Ph.D., is originally from Brazil and moved to the United States to complete her Ph.D. in entomology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She currently works at Corteva, a major American agricultural chemicals and seed company.
Salgado Astudillo: What is your current role like?
Montezano: I am a field scientist at Corteva Agrisciences responsible for corn and soybean trials, where we test several Corteva products that are moving to commercialization in the pipeline. It is a very diverse position where I test not only insect control products like you would expect since I am an entomologist, but I also work with corn (agronomic trials), herbicides, seed applied technology, and fungicides.
One season is never like the other, my work is very diverse, and it changes every few months. It goes from lots of computer work with planning and entering data to lots of field work to execute the trials.
What are some highlights of your job?
The biggest highlight of my job is the diversity of my current role and all the exciting new products I can test before they are available to farmers.
Has anyone inspired you in your journey?
I had several amazing mentors that were crucial during my journey and inspired me to never stop learning. I have three people that inspired me during different times of my career, and they are Julie Peterson, Thomas Hunt, and Alexandre Specht, all amazing entomologists that inspired me to love entomology and science.
What is the best advice you have for someone looking to move into this area?
Don’t focus only on your research. Insects are amazing and there is a lot to learn, but most importantly [learn about] their interactions with the rest of the ecosystem. Get a diverse education. In grad school we tend to narrow our focus to specific projects, but you need more than that for research. Also, you think you know what you will be doing for the rest of your life, but you don’t. That happened to me. Learn about other subjects like plant disease, weed science, economic entomology, and plant physiology. It will help you to better understand the interactions of your specific research but also make you more competitive in the job market. It is very rare that you will be doing only one project in your professional career.
Finally, network with professionals in your area; most of them are open for job shadowing.
Kelly Carruthers, Ph.D.
Athens, Georgia, USA
Favorite insect: praying mantis
Twitter: @drcrazbugs
Kelly Carruthers, Ph.D., just graduated with a doctorate in entomology from the University of Florida and moved to the University of Georgia to start her new journey as an undergraduate coordinator.
Salgado Astudillo: What is your current role like?
Carruthers: I am currently the undergraduate coordinator for the entomology department at the University of Georgia. I help students who are currently in the program and work on recruiting new students to the program.
What are some highlights of your job?
I enjoy working in outreach events with students. Seeing them as excited about insects as I am (and sharing that with their peers) is really rewarding.
Has anyone inspired you in your journey?
I think I came about this career on my own, but I remember telling my dad that I was going to be an entomologist when I started grad school. He had taken an entomology course in college and loved it. His spark of passion and enthusiasm for hearing about new insects and all that I was learning was a huge influence and driver for me.
What is the best advice you have for someone looking to move into this area?
Challenge yourself to do the things that you wouldn’t expect to do or like. Stretch yourself and get a little bit uncomfortable. You never really know what skills you’ll end up needing and having a variety in your back pocket makes the other challenges that come up seem manageable. Don’t give up and try new things! (And, there is always job security in working with insects!)
Special thanks to Nancy, Evans, Daniel, Débora, and Kelly! If you want to connect with them and learn more about her work, you can find them on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Sara Salgado Astudillo is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Entomology and Nematology at the University of Florida and current Southeastern Branch representative to the Entomological Society of America Student Affairs Committee. Email: sara.salgadoast@ufl.edu.
Photos courtesy of Nancy, Evans, Daniel, Débora and Kelly.
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