Unique Scientist: Charlotte Hacker

Time to meet Charlotte Hacker (She/her)! Charlotte is a conservation biologist at Duquesne University where she is studying adaptations in snow leopards in Beijing, China!

What kind of scientist are you?
I’m a conservation biologist focusing on the use of noninvasive genetic techniques to study the phylogeography, diet, and mechanisms of high altitude adaptations in snow leopards (Panthera uncia). My work seeks to contribute information to assist in designing conservation action plans for the species, and to aid in developing tools for human-wildlife conflict mitigation on the Tibetan plateau.

What made you want to become a scientist?
Growing up I had an interest in finding solutions to save at-risk species, and my grandmother laid a foundation for me to be curious about other cultures and traveling. I didn’t meet any real-life scientists doing conservation biology related work until college, but once I did, I knew it was the career path for me. I’m really driven by complex problem solving, and love the pursuit of answering questions that lead to even more questions. I lacked a lot of confidence in the beginning of pursuing graduate school, but I’ve had some really amazing mentors and influencers along the way who have really motivated and uplifted me.

“I didn’t meet any real-life scientists doing conservation biology related work until college, but once I did, I knew it was the career path for me.”

Charlotte Hacker

What makes you a #UniqueScientist?
I’m fortunate to work in a research area with a lot of inspirational and supportive women, but it can still be challenging to be a woman in science. Field work is where I experience this most, as being a female can at times feel like a burden working in countries with varying cultural contexts. I am very lucky to have a network of colleagues in China who advocate for me, and have never once made me feel inferior, or like I couldn’t do something, because I’m a female. Beyond that, I’m all about breaking the mold of what a woman in science should look like. We’re all different, and I think that should be celebrated. I’m tall, I’m blonde, I like pink, and I also pick apart feces on a regular basis in the name of carnivore conservation.

I also like to point out to people that I did not have a stellar undergraduate GPA. I really struggled my first couple of years. I failed Introduction to Chemistry and barely passed my Calculus courses. I wasn’t the “smart” stereotype and felt completely out of place amongst my peers who seemed to be easily getting A’s. I don’t think any of my professors or classmates would believe that I of all people would end of being the one getting a Masters and pursuing a PhD. What I lacked for in “smarts” I made up for in grit, and I slowly got my GPA up after figuring out studying styles (these often did not work anyone else but me) and future goals.

What’s something cool you do outside of work?
I live in Beijing so a lot of my interests outside of work have involved taken advantage of all the city has to offer and learning its history. Part of that is improving my Mandarin Chinese, so I meet with a local group to learn and practice speaking, writing, and listening. I also started playing lacrosse again here! I grew up playing the sport but stopped after college. It feels great to get back into it. On a similar note, I really enjoy running. It has become a really important part of maintaining my mental health, and I love being able to traverse new areas throughout the city on a daily basis.

Lastly, I’ve become really big on outreach the last year or so, particularly with kids. I had a peer in my cohort inspire me to start being more active in the #scicomm movement, and I fell right into it. I’m really interested in bringing diverse scientists into classroom settings, and breaking down scientific studies and techniques into digestible content through infographics.

If you had one wish and could change anything in science, what would it be?
There are a number of things, but one that comes directly to mind is accessibility of scientists to younger generations. I never knew my career path even existed until college, because I never saw or met anyone doing it, and I definitely didn’t see women doing it. I had learned about Jane Goddall at a young age, but she seemed so unattainable to me as a kid. I can’t imagine the fire that would have been lit under me had I met a female conservation biologist in real time and space while I was in elementary school. I think its important for kids to see what’s possible in science, and to see people that they resonate with doing it.

“What I lacked for in “smarts” I made up for in grit […]”

Charlotte Hacker

Who has inspired you the most in your journey to where you are now?
My grandmother was a huge influence for me growing up. She traveled quite a bit and lived abroad. I flipped through many pictures of her trotting the globe and standing in places that I had no concept of. I found it incredibly enticing and knew I wanted a similar lifestyle when I got older. That encouragement to travel was ultimately what led me to fall in love with wildlife science, conservation biology, and mitigating human-wildlife conflict in Africa, which provided the motivation to fight my way through the rest of undergrad and continue my higher education pursuing science.

Let’s end on a high note! What’s something you’ve done this week that you’re proud of?
I processed my 1000th scat sample! My work involves extracting DNA from carnivore feces. We have a master list of all our DNA samples and I keep a running tab of which ones I’ve personally extracted. It was a little surreal to see that number in the quadruple digits, but an oddly satisfying reason to celebrate.


#WomenInSTEM

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