Advancing Women Leaders - Allison Alberts

Allison Alberts, Ph.D.
Chief Conservation and Research Officer, 
San Diego Zoo Global

When did you realize that you wanted to focus on conservation science?  What provoked you to do so? 
I always knew I wanted to work with animals, but not conservation specifically.  I actually thought I would have a more traditional academic career – become a professor and do research.  I found my way to the zoo when I received a post-doctoral training fellowship from the National Institutes of Health to study green iguanas.  Part of my work was completed at the San Diego Zoo because at the time they had a breeding colony of about 100 green iguanas.  Spending time at the zoo made me want to do applied research working with endangered species.  Before I came to the zoo, I didn’t realize that this type of a career was available to me.  This experience opened my eyes to understand that with the degree that I held, there were career paths available to me other than a traditional academic career.  As I had this realization, I was fortunate that a permanent scientist position opened up at the Zoo.  I was selected for the position and have now been at the San Diego Zoo for 23 years.

Can you name a person who has made a tremendous impact on you as a leader and how they have impacted you?
During my 23 years at the zoo, there have been two women who have served as the President of our Board of Trustees – Yvonne Larsen and Berit Durler.  Although they both had very different management styles, they both taught me that it was possible to be a strong, effective, and decisive leader, while still being collaborative, inclusive and a great communicator.  I have a lot of respect for both of these women, and the fundamental ways that they have helped the zoo to grow and change as a conservation organization.

You have already accomplished so much in your career, publishing over 160 papers and abstracts, and winning numerous awards. What has been the most satisfying moment in your career?
One of the most rewarding aspects of my job is getting to see species and even individual animals that we have worked with for many years at the zoo get reintroduced into the wild.  It is an incredible experience to release an animal back into its native habitat, with the hope that it will successfully integrate into the wild population and become a functional part of the ecosystem.  Two of the most satisfying moments in my career were being part of a team releasing California condors and Caribbean iguanas back into the wild.

You have mentored 12 graduate and postgraduate students and 14 interns – how do you stay inspired and inspire your mentees?
The people I work with are a constant source of inspiration.  Their dedication to the cause of endangered species conservation never ceases to amaze me.  People are so dedicated and put so much of themselves and their time and effort into what we are trying to achieve – that inspires me every day.  It gives me a lot of personal satisfaction that my team and I are making a difference by creating a more hopeful future for wildlife, and I really try to pass that sense of purpose onto others.

You have been very involved in advancing women in your field, what advice do you have for young scientists to ensure they make a splash in their career?
Don’t worry about making a splash.  Try out different paths, seek new experiences to help you discover what you love to do.  If you focus your time, attention and talent on doing what you love, then you will make a splash without even trying.

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