Technician Spotlight: Kevin Hutcheson on Growing as a Field Biologist

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It’s no secret that getting a permanent job in the wildlife conservation field is a challenging endeavor that often requires years of school (or on the job experience) and ever more time spent in front of a computer. I am now thankfully finished with the school portion (4 years as an undergrad and 6 years as a graduate student) but am solidly in the “I spend way too much time looking at a computer” phase. Not to trivialize the writing, statistics, and project management portion of wildlife conservation and science (all clearly important), but we all got into this field because we enjoy working with the actual animals. Thus, I am sometimes envious of the work that our technicians get to do – searching for reptiles and amphibians day after day, often in some of the nicest remaining wild places in the southeast.

During the past indigo snake survey season, Kevin Hutcheson returned for his second stint as our primary technician working on field surveys across southern Georgia. This year he also got to spend time working on some Eastern Diamond-backed Rattlesnake surveys as well as helping with a variety of other projects. While technician work can be challenging, it offers great experience to people early in their wildlife careers. I have fond memories of a summer I spent working for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources conducting freshwater mussel and fish surveys. That was my first real experience with extensive fieldwork and has served me well years later when I now have to design field projects from the ground up.

Below, Kevin discusses some of his thoughts about being an early career herpetologist and how his experiences working as a technician for Orianne have prepared him for future pursuits.

– Houston

Photo credit: Ben Stegenga

There are several obvious steps one takes in their career, high school to college to permanent job. In the field of natural resource conservation though it’s not that simple. As many of us know most permanent jobs happen after some form of graduate school. So, what do we do with the time after undergrad and before grad school? It depends on the person but if you decide that you’ve had your fill of curriculum for a while, you could go into the technician circuit. Essentially, you work seasonal jobs of varying length in different areas of the country. It isn’t glamorous, it doesn’t pay well, and the stress of constantly applying for jobs is always at the back of your mind. However, the experience you gain and the connections you make along the way make it all worthwhile. During this time period you get to take the skills you learned during undergrad and begin to apply them in the real world. You grow into a more well-rounded field biologist who is tried and tested day in and day out.

This is why when the folks at Orianne asked me to come work a second season doing sandhill snake monitoring I jumped at the opportunity. Another season of Eastern Indigo Snake surveys is fun enough as is but this time I also got the chance to expand my work through Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake surveys. Working with these two iconic serpents of the southeast was a privilege in its own right but the experience that came along with it was equally rewarding. This being my second indigo season meant I was afforded some independence in sampling. I knew the work and how it needed to get done, and it was up to me to call the shots on when to do it. As all field work goes, it wasn’t always smooth, but it helped get me in a mindset of leading a project, something that I will use for the rest of my life.

That’s what I love about working for Orianne, despite being such a small organization I get experience in a lot of different conservation methods. One day we’re processing Diamondbacks and I’m getting time working with venomous animals. The next I am doing prescribed fire training so I have my red card. I was even able to train another field technician before I left, teaching him not only field methods but more importantly the process of prepping for the field. Experience being a crew lead will be invaluable in the future.

All in all, when I started my first survey for Orianne back in January of 2022, I was very unsure of myself. Was I the right choice for the job? Would I actually be able to find these snakes? Now over a year of field work later, both with Orianne and elsewhere, I am a confident field biologist. So, I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you are a young professional like me and you have the opportunity to work seasonal jobs, do it. You might be struggle when you’re thigh deep in mud and horseflies, but I assure you it is worth it.