Abby Lawson holding an American Alligator.
Abby Lawson holding an American Alligator. Photo provided by Abby Lawson.

Dr. Abby Lawson is a Postodoctoral Fellow at Auburn University focusing on improving conservation decision-making tools for long-lived species. Abby grew up in Juneau, Alaska and recently earned her PhD at Clemson University studying American alligator population ecology. In her spare time, Abby enjoys hiking with her dog (Minnie), gardening, and traveling; you can follow her musings and (mis)adventures on Twitter: @AbsLawson.

1 Are you an early bird or night owl?

Early Bird

2 Are you pro- or anti-pun?

Pro-pun

3 Do you have any pets?

Minnie, my 9 year-old chocolate lab. She can jump impressively high.

4 Do you have any science-themed home decor?

Yes! I collect bird figurines from places I’ve traveled. My favorite is a “gruck” from Zambia— still not sure if it was intended to be a duck or a grebe…

5 Do you prefer cooking or baking?

Cooking

6 Do you prefer sweet or savory?

Savory

7 Do you speak any other languages?

Japanese (poorly)

8 If you could switch professions, what would you do?

Tied between becoming an underwater welder or a data analyst for the FBI

9 If you could switch science fields, what field would you want to work in?

Geology. It rocks.

10 If you got a plane ticket right now, where would it go?

New Zealand

11 If you had one superpower, what would it be?

Flying

12 Is there anything you strongly recommend we watch and/or read and/or listen to?

“Deep Work” by Cal Newport

13 It’s your day off. What do you want to do?

Go hiking with my dog! Preferably in the mountains, above the treeline.

14 What are three things you can’t live without?

Sunglasses, Chacos, and coffee

15 What beverage gives you life?

Dark roast coffee with cream.

16 What book did you read in school that positively shaped you?

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

17 What did you want to be be when you grew up?

Everything: veterinarian, dolphin trainer, time machine inventor, volcanologist, CIA agent, Japanese translator for baseball teams, etc.

18 What drives you and keeps you going?

​I find meaning in my work, knowing that it has the potential to improve the way that we “do” conservation— reducing uncertainties, financial costs, etc. It’s incredibly rewarding (and humbling) to engage with conservation practitioners, like wildlife management agencies, about my work as it let’s me know that I’m doing a “good job” by asking relevant research questions.

19 What got you excited in science?

I grew up in southeast Alaska and was incredibly lucky to regularly see whales, bears, seals, and salmon. Particularly, I remember wondering how hunting or fishing limits get decided, when wildlife must be so hard to count. I found this question so interesting, that pursued it for my PhD, modeling alligator populations to inform harvest decisions!

20 What excites you about science now?

There’s still so much that we don’t know! We’re still discovering new (large!) species, like Type D Orcas, and learning that our assumptions about well-studied species can be dead wrong. As an unapologetically-nerdy quantitative ecologist, I get excited about new modeling techniques that expand the types of questions that we can ask and allow us to learn more from existing data. It’s a great time to be a scientist.

21 What is a guilty pleasure of yours?

Ice cream for dinner, usually cookie dough or mint chocolate chip.

22 What is a secret talent of yours?

Jump roping! I was part of a club in elementary school where I learned all sorts of sweet tricks.

23 What is your favorite game?

Coup is a pretty fun card game

24 What is the last book you read?

“Unpleasantries” by Frank Soos

25 What is one of the best pieces of advice you’ve received?

Don’t work with a**holes.

26 What is something you’ve always wanted to try but you’ve been too scared to do?

Go backpacking alone.

27 What is the best advice for your 18 year old self?

It’s okay to ask for what you need. Don’t wait for others to give you permission, dive right in.

28 What is the best way to de-stress?

Going on a run with my dog or yoga

29 What is the last thing you watched?

Parks and Recreation— it’s like my visual form of comfort food.

30 What is the weirdest thing you’ve had in your bag?

Alligator legs, in an ice chest in my car. Before my career in science, I worked for a tourism company and regularly carried thousands of dollars in cash from cruise ships back to the office in my purse. Carrying around large wads of cash still seems way weirder (and dangerous) to me than dead animal parts though.

31 What is your favorite animal?

Tie between the Cuban crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer) and the Shoe-billed Stork (Balaeniceps rex)

32 What is your favorite book?

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

33 What is your favorite comfort food?

Whole wheat pasta and pesto

34 What is your favorite day of the year?

Christmas Eve

35 What is your favorite plant?

Skunk cabbage

36 What is your favorite science fact?

Some humpback whale pods engage in this amazing behavior called “bubble net feeding”. It’s a learned strategy, not all pods “know” how to do it, and has only been documented in southeast Alaska and Antarctica. It is among the coolest things I have ever seen and is absolutely worth diving down a Google/YouTube rabbit hole!

37 What is your favorite season?

Fall

38 What is your favorite smell?

sub Saharan Africa (“Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight” by Alexandra Fuller has an excellent description)

39 What is your favorite sound?

Common goldeneyes in flight— I studied them for my M.S. and their wings make a distinct whistling sound.

40 What is your favorite thing about yourself?

Both my ability to laugh at myself and ask questions.

41 What is your favorite word (in any language)?

Conundrum

42 What is your proudest moment?

Earning my M.S. degree. Graduate school had seemed out of reach to me as an undergrad, so when I started my masters I really struggled with impostor syndrome. Luckily I had a great mentor and labmates who helped me overcome my fear or statistics, and realize that my previous conceptions about myself weren’t true after all.

43 What kind of tree would you be?

Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis)

44 What’s the best thing about where you live?

As someone who has moved around a lot, I really appreciate how people in the southeastern U.S. are so open to​ making personal connections and casual conversations. It makes it much less daunting to ask for help, directions, or simply trying to make friends in a new location; even if my politics and personal views don’t align with where I live.

45 Tell us something we probably don’t know.

About me: I’m left-handed.
In general: Contrary to popular belief, it actually IS possible to neatly fold a fitted sheet.

46 Who would you like to see 46 Questions interview next?

Sara Converse (@conversesj)