About (and the spaces in between)

I am a naturalist at heart and a forest ecologist by training. I earned my B.S. in marine science at the University of South Carolina in 1993. After earning a Ph.D. in forestry from NC State University in 2002, I taught as a post-doc fellow in the Thompson Writing Program at Duke University. I returned to NC State as a Teaching Assistant Professor in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources in 2011, first teaching professional development, then a huge introductory class (250-300 students) in Environmental Science. I helped create and direct the Environmental First Year Program, and invented and taught the signature class, Exploring the Environment. I teach a field course, Forest Ecosystems of the Southern Appalachian Mountains, at the Highlands Biological Station, and I’ve taught Dendrology and Plant Ecology at the NC Botanical Garden. In 2014, I co-authored an ecological hiking guide, Exploring Southern Appalachian Forests, which teaches readers how to discover stories in the forested landscape. I am a long-distance trail runner and co-owner of a group running business, Runnerpeeps, with my husband Andrew. I love blending my passions for ecology, conservation, running and writing by working on projects that combine these interests. I recently was promoted to Teaching Associate Professor, and I’m excited to return to field teaching with Dendrology and forestry summer camp classes. Outdoors, I share my love of the natural world with people of all ages—my husband and two sons most especially.

To students, career pathways look linear. I took time below to fill in the space between the connected dots in my original, curated bio (written above), because I think it’s useful to see that our career journeys can take many twists and turns, and small decisions as well as external factors can often have a big impact. The “space in between” is in green, and some of the best parts of my life are contained there. If you skip over those parts, you’ll have my original bio above, which reads as a neat and orderly story without gaps that implies that I knew exactly what I was doing all along*. 

I am a naturalist at heart and a forest ecologist by training.

I earned my B.S. in marine science at the University of South Carolina in 1993. The job market was crummy, so I took my bike to Europe with my future husband and rode from London to Genoa over four months, and we fell in love. I came home broke and worked in retail until one day I looked at a calendar and realized I’d been there for nearly six months. I gave my notice on the spot, and moved to Charleston, SC, where I could stay with my future mother-in-law. For several months, I temped at a snooty law firm answering an 800 number for a class action lawsuit (worst job I’ve ever had). I then took a 75% pay cut (from $8/hr to $6/hr) to become a research technician at a clam farm (one of the best jobs I’ve ever had, where I got paid to figure stuff out, outdoors). After clam farming for a year, I followed by new husband inland to become an environmental consultant (note: marine science degree and clam farm experience makes for really discouraging interviews in Greenville, SC). Then we moved to Raleigh, NC, and I found a job working for the forest products industry, which is how I became interested in forestry.

Five years out of school, I enrolled in the forestry graduate program at NC State, partly because my GREs were about to expire and I didn’t want to take them again. I loved graduate school; I was focused, excelled academically, and finally felt smart and confident enough to take a seat at the table. When I was close to finishing up my MS, I had more research questions to explore, so I convinced my committee to let me skip the Masters and go straight for my PhD. This also seemed like a good idea because we had planned to have our first child after I finished my Masters, but I wasn’t yet pregnant. I had time…or so I thought. My first son was born after my PhD courses were complete, but with my prelims and another field season ahead <<<this was hard; if I dropped out, I’d have nothing. After earning a Ph.D. in forestry from NC State University in 2002, (in 5 years) (I then taught summer school, had my second son, and lived in Phoenix AZ for 16 months while worrying that I would never land a job in my field) I taught as a post-doc fellow in the Thompson Writing Program at Duke University. This happened in 2006 after moving back to Raleigh and contract teaching at NC State, the NC Botanical Garden, and the NC Museum of Natural Sciences with two preschoolers, for very little money. The post-doc fellowship seemed like a good way to bridge back into academia after four years, so I applied.

I returned to NC State as a Teaching Assistant Professor in the Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources in 2011 (after meeting with my then-dept. head for coffee every semester, asking him to hire me), teaching professional development (part-time for three years, which suited me fine because I had young children at home and could be on my husband’s health insurance), then a huge introductory class (250-300 students) in Environmental Science (finally, back to science! I told my new dept head that I had more to offer–when he asked about ES 100, of course I said yes). I applied for a few tenure-track positions, but by then, I’d been out of research for too long to be competitive. I helped create and direct the Environmental First Year Program, including the signature class, Exploring the Environment. I teach a field course, Forest Ecosystems of the Southern Appalachian Mountains, at the Highlands Biological Station, and taught Dendrology and Plant Ecology at the NC Botanical Garden (I listed these to keep my field ecology cred and because my ultimate goal was to teach Dendrology at NC State–which I’ll start doing this fall!). In 2014, I co-authored an ecological hiking guide, Exploring Southern Appalachian Forests, which teaches readers how to discover stories in the forested landscape (the research and writing took five years, which I did on my own while I was working part-time. One of the most rewarding achievements of my career so far, yet one that was barely recognized by my university). I am a long-distance trail runner and co-own a group running business, Runnerpeeps, with my husband Andrew (more reinvention when I worked part-time and had young children at home). I love blending my passions for ecology, conservation, running and writing by working on projects that combine these interests (this is harder to do than it sounds–but it is possible. Sometimes owning and stating the intention leads to reality). I recently was promoted to Teaching Associate Professor, and I’m excited to return to field teaching with Dendrology and forestry summer camp classes (what I wanted to do all along!!!). Outdoors, I share my love of the natural world with people of all ages—my husband and two sons most especially.

steph-jeffries-chestnut

One of my favorite photos. I’m holding the book I wrote and teaching dendrology in the field. Two parts of my grand plan. Living the dream! “Not all who wander are lost.”

Find me:
Writing on Running with Scissors
Tweeting @scissorsrunning
Running with runnerpeeps.com

*It’s important to recognize that many decisions I made were from a place of privilege. I could move to Charleston because I had a place to stay. I could stay home and work part-time while looking for the right opportunity because my husband brought home the bacon and had health insurance. And more…

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4 thoughts on “About (and the spaces in between)

  1. Hi Stephanie,
    We’re holding our 3rd Annual Writers on the Rock this spring at Chimney Rock on May 22, and would love to include you as one of our featured authors. Could you please contact me at 800-277-9611 or at prandevents@chimneyrockpark.com, and I can give you more details. We’re featuring authors who have written about all there is to do outdoors in Appalachia, and I think you’d be a great fit.
    Thanks,
    Shannon

    • Christine, mine seems to have healed over on its own. I still have very tight hips that limit my mobility and can be achy, but fortunately I can keep doing what I like. I do take more time to stretch post-run than I used to!

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