Bethann Garramon Merkle, M.F.A.
Department of Zoology & Physiology, University of Wyoming
2017 – Master of Fine Arts (MFA), Creative Writing (nonfiction science writing), University of Wyoming. An MFA is a recognized, terminal degree (PhD-equivalent) according to the Higher Learning Commission.
2007 – B.A., Environmental Studies (High Honors, aka summa cum laude; University Scholar), University of Montana, Missoula. Wilderness Studies minor, Wilderness and Civilization Program, UM Wilderness Institute, Studio Fine Arts minor, photography emphasis.
I am a first-generation college student, and I attended two universities, changing my major officially – with the Registrar – seven times before graduating.
I come from a big, conservative family in a small, rural community. We didn’t have AP or dual-credit options at my high school; I didn’t even know they existed until my college roommates talked about them. I worked multiple jobs at a time during college, didn’t do summer research experiences because my summer gig at a guest ranch paid enough to keep me in school, and yet somehow, I found a way to merge my love of art and science in my coursework and work study jobs.
Nearly every development in my career has been something that my high school or college self (and my family!) could not have anticipated and didn’t even know were professional options.
In the past 10+ years, I’ve gone from teaching outdoor education to running an urban sustainability nonprofit, and then on to living and working in a second language (French) in another country. There, I had to reinvent myself due to immigration and language restrictions. I became a science journalist and then an editor at North America’s oldest newspaper. I was a communications consultant for a provincial adult literacy organization and a sustainability consultant for a big, urban church. I began editing scientific manuscripts written by people whose first languages ranged from French to Farsi. And, I applied for and declined offers from at least three scicomm positions at major organizations in the U.S., because I didn’t want to live apart from my husband, and he was moving to Wyoming to do a postdoc.
In Wyoming, I was accepted into a competitive nonfiction creative writing MFA program. It had been a decade since I was a student. I spent a lot of my time in that program not writing. I got nerdy about the commonalities between my nonprofit management and the inner workings of academia. I collaborated on a campus-wide art-science initiative. I redesigned scicomm courses for the School of Energy Resources. And, I wrote about a third of a book. 🙂
Over the next several years, I worked one-year contracts for research groups at the University of Wyoming. I did social media, taught scicomm classes, launched a campus-wide scicomm training initiative, and started a research program of my own (with no funding!). I co-founded a Communication and Engagement Section for the Ecological Society of America, became an associate editor of three academic journals, and took on an appointment as the Director of Research Impacts Assessment for a major university-funded science outreach group.
In January 2021, I became a Professor of Practice in our Department of Zoology and Physiology, a non-tenure-track faculty role. While it’s a lower salary than a tenure-track professor, and I don’t have my own lab, students, or start-up, it is more stable than one-year contracts, and it gives me room to pursue a mix of teaching, research, public engagement, and administration that is appealing and meaningful to me.
Most recently, I led the launch of a JEDI initiative in my department, and I am leading the effort to establish a mentor skills training program on our campus. Because I do not directly advise/supervise students, I’m often a go-to resource for both faculty and students regarding how to teach and do science in ways that are inclusive, robust, and transferable beyond academia.