The Muddy Boots Scientist
Standing on a mountain pass high above Almaty, Kazakhstan, I surveyed the jagged landscape filled with melting snowpack, retreating glaciers, and emerging green vegetation. I pondered the range of topics on my plate in a typical day: climate change, biodiversity conservation, water, and national education needs. I thought to myself, “How did a neuroscientist become immersed (pun intended) in water challenges facing Central Asia?”
A big step on that journey came with my 2005–06 AAUW American Fellowship. I was earning my doctorate at the University of Minnesota at the time, focusing on nervous system development in honeybees and caterpillars as well as the feminist philosophy of science. The award was essential to completing my degree as other funding sources were ending. With the fellowship, I had time to write part of my dissertation, attend conferences to present my work and receive feedback from professional colleagues, and purchase some much-needed chemical reagents for final experiments. The public service component of the award was especially impactful; I cherished the opportunity to present my research to the local AAUW branch in Minneapolis. To add to the excitement, I learned that my mom was already a longtime AAUW member!
Once I completed my doctorate I set off for Washington, D.C., as an American Association for the Advancement of Science fellow with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). There I worked with the Smithsonian Institution and the U.S. Geological Survey to address challenges facing developing countries, with a focus on water and geology. I caught “Potomac fever” and was hooked on being a science diplomat. When the opportunity emerged to apply my work in five former Soviet republics in Central Asia through USAID’s Foreign Service, I jumped at the chance.
In November 2013 I moved to Almaty, Kazakhstan, and started traveling across Kazakhstan and to the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, sharing my understanding of water and climate change through the lenses of international development and science diplomacy.
As the science adviser for the region, I split my portfolio between assisting these countries in building their science and technology capacity and advising on water. My travels take me to unique places: national and local government agencies, universities, national science academies, remote rivers shared across countries, even the Uzbekistan Solar Furnace and Silk Road heritage sites. The diversity of the landscape — desert, steppe, high mountains, glaciers, lush fruit valleys, canyons, irrigation canals, farmland, and watersheds — paints a lasting impression.
For me, the pursuit of intellectual diversity coupled with an interest in improving the world has been the recipe for success. I am grateful for the daily opportunities to continue to do both, wherever my muddy boots take me.
This post was written by AAUW American Fellow Kate Himes. Photos by Kate Himes.
Kate Himes’ 2005–06 American Fellowship was sponsored by A. Dorothy Bergner; Yvonne C. Condell, and Freida Schurch.
When you know what you love, forging a career to fit your interests is a worthwhile endeavor.
Scientific research with real-world consequences: This alumna wants to make an impact.
It’s a well-known fact: Female role models matter when it comes to opening more doors to more women.