Building Community through the National Convention

Thoughts from an unconventional forester
July 28, 2021
Written by Connor Crouch
One of the special quirks of the forestry community is that most, if not all, of us came to forestry because it’s our passion. As a result, many foresters and natural resources professionals have unique backgrounds because they found forestry after obtaining degrees or pursuing careers in different fields. For example, I know a successful federal forest ecologist who worked for years at a bookstore before she started forestry school; I’ve met forestry students who have previously served in the armed services; and I have a friend and colleague who worked as an elementary school teacher and a flyfishing guide before discovering his interest in forestry. 

A challenge for those of us who discovered a passion for forestry later in life can be the persistent feeling that we’re working uphill to catch up with our more experienced colleagues. I’m no exception – I have a somewhat unconventional background for a forestry graduate student. My undergraduate degree is in journalism, and in the final year of my program, I took a forestry class on a whim. To my surprise, the class was way more interesting and exciting than anything I’d taken in three years of journalism school. 

However, when I started my MS in forestry, I felt out of place and like I was playing from behind. My imposter syndrome was particularly acute when I attended my very first conference – the 2017 SAF National Convention in Albuquerque. I remember attending Quiz Bowl and student presentations and feeling overwhelmed by how much more other students knew than I did. Simultaneously, though, the convention also showed me how to overcome my doubts by developing relationships with other forestry students and even later-career professionals. I fondly remember grabbing dinner and drinks with other forestry students in the evenings (the green chile pizza was hot!) and getting to know my advisor more like a friend than a supervisor. 

Reflecting on my first national convention and the four others I’ve attended since then, I’ve come to realize that the convention is a microcosm of what makes the field of forestry so special – the shared community. Before attending the convention, I had felt like an outsider, a journalism student wearing logger’s boots. But during my time at the convention and in the many years since then, I’ve realized that many of us come from unconventional backgrounds and that is a strength of the forestry community. 

I’ve also realized that what made my transition from journalism to forestry possible is the relationships I’ve developed along the way. I can’t stress enough to SAF students and early-career members how important it is to ask questions, seek advice, and be open to learning from your professors, supervisors, and later-career colleagues. These relationships provide not only valuable technical forestry knowledge, but also opportunities to collaborate and foster connections to advance your own career farther down the road. Most importantly, though, the support and encouragement you receive from colleagues and mentors will create a sense of belonging, and these relationships will make you feel like a member of the forestry community.

To conclude, I’d like to encourage SAF members and convention attendees at all career stages to actively connect with other members. This year’s convention will provide ample opportunity to network with other attendees through the virtual platform. Whether it’s your first convention or you’ve been an SAF member for decades, we all have plenty to learn about forestry and life from each other, especially those from different backgrounds than our own.

Connor Crouch holds a Bachelor of Journalism and Master of Science in Natural Resources from the University of Missouri. He is currently a PhD student in Northern Arizona University’s School of Forestry and is serving as student representative to the National Convention Planning Committee. His research focuses on how forest management can help restore forest ecosystems and enable them to adapt to a changing climate. When not looking for mushrooms or camping for field work, Connor enjoys running the trails of Flagstaff, reading science fiction and fantasy, and spending time with his non-forester wife, Lyndsey, and wanna-be-forester dog, Willow. He can be reached at [email protected].