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An interview by Allison M. Hargreaves '02, July 31, 2000.
A star-nosed mole is a small mammal resembling the typical mole with the added feature of a series of fleshy rays surrounding its snout. It is remarkable to think that such a simple creature can be the impetus for a distinguished career in science. Yet that is exactly how it happened for eight-year-old Rebecca Todd. She vividly recalls the day that her mom called the kids into the kitchen and revealed to them a star-nosed mole she had found by the side of the road and preserved in the freezer. Wanting to convey her own interest and enthusiasm for science to her children, Rebecca's mom sent her message loud and clear--with the desired effect. According to Rebecca, it was "sort of natural that I became interested in the natural world...how it works and why it works and when and where...and that just naturally leads one to science."
No longer a child, Rebecca has followed through, and her interest in science and the natural world is evident in her professional life. Currently an environmental lawyer here in New Hampshire, Rebecca began her science studies early majoring in biology at Dartmouth and writing her honors thesis on zooplankton population dynamics under Carol Folt. When asked why she chose to major in biology, Rebecca responded, "There's nothing more basic than biology...or more complicated or more interesting."
While an undergraduate at Dartmouth, Rebecca participated in the biology FSP to Costa Rica and Jamaica, spent a summer on Mount Moosilauke researching acid deposition, and traveled to the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute on an island in the Panama Canal. There she worked with a grad student studying the diverse wildlife and "living a National Geographic special." After college, Rebecca was fairly certain that she wanted to work in the field of aquatic ecology due to her love of water. "Maybe I was a fish in a past life," she quips. She got her chance when a Dartmouth alum called her about a job opening in California at the Sierra Nevada Aquatic Research Laboratory. It was here that she realized her true calling. As she accumulated data and statistics only to hand them off to lawyers who argued for the protection of the lakes and wetlands, Rebecca discovered that she was "less the statistician and more of a natural historian" so she switched to environmental law, attending Cornell University. It was a way for her to truly express her "deep love and admiration for the natural world." That is what Rebecca is doing now. She finds the fact that she can get people, particularly large corporations, to listen to her and take responsibility for the environment to be quite rewarding. Although she has learned that change is certainly possible, she also sees that it takes a tremendous amount of work. Rebecca is uncertain as to where her career may take her, but she sees herself at some point possibly making policy decisions on a bigger level than regional politics, which may happen in any number of ways. And despite the fact that she is no longer doing research, Rebecca does miss the field work, and she uses her scientific training on a daily basis.
In addition to practicing law part-time, Rebecca is a full-time mom. Her current priority is balancing her work with her family. She moved to New Hampshire from Seattle two years ago and is now the mother of two young children — Nathaniel (3 1/2 years old) and Eleanor (1 1/2). It has not been easy and there have been sacrifices made along the way, but when asked about the changes she has had to make, Rebecca replied "It's not a matter of having to, it's really a matter of choice."
Rebecca is living a very busy and fulfilling life. She attributes part of her success to various mentors she has had along the way, which include Carol Folt, many faculty members of the Dartmouth biology department, graduate students, and others. And although Rebecca seems like an individual who knew what she wanted and went for it, when asked if she ever had any doubts, her reply was "The question is, did I ever not have doubt? Doubt drives people to succeed." It certainly has in this case. And it is a message many of us majoring in the sciences but uncertain as to what our career trajectories will be, can take to heart. And when asked what other words of advice she might have for aspiring scientists, she responded "I would say don't sweat the small stuff."
Our interview was ended rather abruptly by the wails of Eleanor who had just awoken from her nap. I truly enjoyed interviewing Rebecca and I find her to be a remarkable individual. She is dedicated to her science as well as to her family, and the following quote truly sums up her feelings toward those two most important aspects of her life, "If I find a star-nosed mole by the side of the road, I too will put it in the freezer for my children." Students can contact Rebecca with questions, comments, etc. at the following e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last Updated: 10/20/10