Student athlete's bird's-eye view of a career in research

Annie Hatch, wearing a black sweatshirt and leggings, standing in a valley with rocky hills behind her.
Annie Hatch grew up in Mesa, Arizona, where she developed an affinity for nature. This ultimately led her to pursue an education in animal ecology at Iowa State and has inspired her to pursue a career in wildlife research. 

By Amber Friedrichsen

When students graduate from Iowa State University and enter their careers, they are like birds taking flight. Annie Hatch, senior in animal ecology, has spread her wings in the classroom and on the volleyball court. Her work as a research assistant is pointing her in the direction of where she will fly next.

Growing up in Mesa, Arizona, Hatch’s fascination with wildlife began when she was young – camping in the mountains, going fishing and hunting with her dad, and interacting with nature in the woods. Years later, her interests led her to Iowa State’s animal ecology program when she was being recruited to play volleyball for the university.

Since becoming a Cyclone, Hatch has been diligent in her education. She has made the Big 12 Commissioner’s Honor Roll every semester, and last year she was named to the 2021 Academic All-Big 12 Volleyball Team. Between schoolwork, practices and games, Hatch must also find time to fulfill a time-consuming course requirement to earn her degree.

“Animal ecology majors need 400 hours of work or volunteer experience to graduate,” Hatch said. “It sounds like a lot, but I think it’s really important to explore our options. As you try different things, you learn about what you want to do and what you’re willing to do for a job.”

There are many different workplace environments in which an animal ecologist’s knowledge of wildlife and habitat management can be applied. Since Hatch lives on campus each summer to prepare for volleyball season, she was excited to find an opportunity to work at the Iowa Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit in Ames. With the help of her adviser, John Burnett, Hatch was hired by Robert Klaver, affiliate professor in natural resource ecology and management and the unit’s leader.

“Annie has excellent quantitative skills and really wanted to find a position that would fit her busy schedule,” Burnett said. “I knew Dr. Klaver was looking for someone who would be reliable and could be trusted to handle the tasks, so I suggested that Annie contact him.”

Hatch spent last summer collecting data for Klaver’s research on the tree swallow population in the Ames area.  She was responsible for checking nest boxes that had been set up in various locations and recording the number of eggs found at each site. Once the eggs hatched, she also put bands around the baby birds’ legs.

“We were gathering data on tree swallow survival by seeing how many eggs were laid, how many hatched, and how many of the chicks lived to band,” Hatch said. “If we ever recaptured adults that had a band, we recorded that to see if the birds are staying in Ames.”

In addition to checking nests and banding birds, Hatch also collected data on starvation and predation. She said many fledglings died when there were not enough insects to sustain the adult population, and it was suspected that raccoons were a threat to their survival as well.

The multi-year study is still on-going, and data analysis has yet to be completed. Nonetheless, this job reinforced Hatch’s aspirations to pursue wildlife research in her career, and she is grateful for the guidance she received from Klaver.

“This job gave me a good idea of what field work looks like, and I realized this is something I would want to do,” Hatch said. “I got to ask Dr. Klaver questions about graduate school and about his experiences with different projects, and he was a really great resource and mentor to me over the summer.”

Klaver also appreciated having Hatch on his team. He was pleased with her contributions to the project and was impressed by her work ethic despite having a busy schedule. Klaver said he even learned a thing or two about volleyball from Hatch in return.

“Annie did a great job. She was very conscientious and dedicated,” Klaver said. “I am amazed at how she is doing academically and athletically, and whatever she decides to do in her career, I know she will do well.”