Speak from the heart

Meet Theresa Jedd, one of the founding women of 500 Women Scientist, a post-doctoral scholar and environmental policy specialist at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, School of Natural Resources, and an all around awesome lady. I first met Theresa in Fort Collins at Colorado State University and I immediately noticed her insight into and understanding of the people she works and interacts with. I sent her a few questions to get her thoughts on people's connection with science, on being a scientist turned activist, and what 500WS means for her. 


Theresa, you do really cool work with helping communities adapt to climate change induced drought. What has your work taught you about the connection people have with science? 

Thanks! This is a question that I actually think a lot about. So very many people are curious, and they want to understand how the world works. Sometimes they just might not have the right resources or tools. Other times they might not have the confidence to believe that their observations are valid, worth recording, and sharing. To share a drought-specific example, vegetation cover maps derived from satellite images can provide an indication of the extent and reach of drought in a given area during a given time. However, other observations regarding reservoir levels and canal status can be earlier to change and might actually be more helpful for people to know: especially if they are farmers planning for their planting, or park managers planning for the recreation season. These on-the-ground changes are important to track, and we need to keep pushing for ways to incorporate everyday knowledge into monitoring programs.

In sum, I’d emphasize that people are inherently curious about the world, and also have a lot of knowledge about it that sometimes goes unrecognized. Doing drought outreach at various levels quickly revealed to me that people are pretty resilient, but there are many shared concerns. From interviews in a small town in Nebraska, to country-level workshops in the Middle East and North Africa, many of the worries are shared, regardless of location or climate. Condition monitoring is a top need. People want access to information about what is happening in real-time. Scientists can provide that connection to information. This is really important for policy. Once everyone has the same level of understanding about trends, baselines, and future projections, we can work together to come up with solutions. 


With your current work you have moved into a science-policy and international relations. How does science activism fit into your daily conversations? Or does it? Could you give advice to others on how to share about 500 Women Scientists. 

Activism, to me, is a mindset. For me, it’s been my lens for viewing the world. Being an activist doesn’t mean that I’m standing on the street throwing buckets of paint on fur coats, or climbing trees and living in the redwood canopy in order to prevent an area from being logged.

First and foremost, a scientist catalogs observations about a phenomenon, problem, or a question that no one has asked before (or at least has had the time or ability to answer). Collecting information is something that I think everyone does to some degree. Even kids do it as they are learning to talk, and it’s not uncommon for toddlers to provide the people around them with a running commentary on what is going on around us. Think how many times we are given little “notices” like, “Look, hey, there is a truck coming down the street” or updates on the quantity and direction of airplanes flying overhead. So, on some level, everyone monitors trends, even from a really young age.

These observations add up over time. After compiling enough information to tell a compelling story or narrative about how something works, it usually becomes apparent that there is room for improvement. Proposing solutions is the next natural step. Some issues are admittedly more solvable than others, and some are a bit more intractable due to barriers. These barriers can sometimes be technological, but they are more often political. It might be frustrating to see inefficiency or injustice and realize that vested interests stand in the way of change. The way I see it, though, we really have no choice but to speak up. Researchers may be the ones with the clearest and most objective eyes on an issue.

In conversations, I like to infuse a personal perspective and share my current work. Often times, this sparks a conversation. Lately, I’ve been looking at how weather-related variables like temperature and precipitation impact US National Park visitation, and I find that so many people have personal stories about upcoming plans, or recent and past trips to parks. It helps me to think about things from a more personal perspective when someone shares a story about a hike that took them out into torrential rain, or when it may have been too hot and dry and wildfires interfered with their outdoor plans. These anecdotes infuse needed context and impetus for my work. 

My advice would be to speak from the heart about what drives you, and when you are open and non-judgmental, usually you’ll find that others are, too. 


Finally, what does 500 Women Scientists mean for you? And what role do you see it for women scientists in the future. 

On a very basic level, it helps to have a common identity as women in traditionally male-dominated fields. We have a really broad and diverse group, in terms of the work that we do, and our research topics. Beyond that, we come from varied backgrounds and locations. Despite all of our differences, we share a common desire to push progress for women. There is strength in numbers, and for me this means that I have the support of over 12,000 other people. If something comes up and I need advice, I can turn to a big group of women. We have each other’s emails and can quickly mobilize.

Women have always been important players in science. Their work has helped fuel major innovations and discoveries in many fields. One of the people whose biography has recently intrigued me is Mileva Marić-Einstein, whose ideas were instrumental in developing the modern-day theory of relativity. Her contributions in the field of physics were probably not recognized to the extent that they should have been. Today, this still happens, and women's contributions are not fully acknowledged. Women continue to shape science in ways that are not traditionally rewarded. One of the strengths of 500WS is that we can make our contributions more widely known, clearly demonstrating just how much of a difference our work makes. 


Theresa is a post-doctoral scholar and environmental policy specialist at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, School of Natural Resources. She is interested in developing a framework for broadly understanding the ways that people are vulnerable and resilient to the effects of drought and climate change. Her current research is centered on how changes in temperature and precipitation affect outdoor recreation in U.S. National Parks in the Northern Rockies region. In the recent past, she has worked with communities at various scales who are interested in preparing for change from the state of Colorado to countries in North Africa and the Middle East. Theresa grew up in Northern California, attended college in Wyoming, and completed her graduate work in Political Science at Colorado State University in 2015.