On making the local news

This is a bit of a rehash from the social media platform whose name I will not utter here, but earlier this month I made my first TV appearance as an “expert” on Joshua trees, talking about the Joshua Tree Genome Project common garden experiments as a first step towards assisted gene flow to help the trees cope with climate change. It was a weird experience! The reporter emailed to arrange things and I agreed to an interview on Zoom, but I didn’t fully realize I was being recorded for broadcast until we were wrapping up. Mercifully, he selected the most coherent bits of what I told him and I didn’t make too many weird faces.

(Also it helps that I’ve had a home-office Zoom setup with a thematically appropriate backdrop going all the way back to, I think, spring 2020.)

A thing I’m immodestly proud about, of the work I’ve scrabbled together in the last year, is that I’ve started to build a public profile for my specific expertise. It helps that Joshua trees have been in the news a fair bit, as they’ve been in consideration for listing under both the Federal Endangered Species Act and the state equivalent in California. And it’s taken some buildup in well-chosen venues: last fall I pulled together an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times with a couple of other more senior, Joshua tree folks; a few months later that got me a call for comment when the California Department of Fish and Wildlife recommended against state ESA protections. The “Planet Possible” interview happened because I discussed the JTGP’s conservation ambitions with an editor at National Geographic working on a big feature about forests and climate change; none of that made it into print at Nat Geo, but he passed my name to ABC7.

All that isn’t scholarship per se — though on that front, I also peer-reviewed the CA DFW recommendation and pitched in on a review article laying out the ideas in that LAT op-ed in proper scholarly depth, which just got a Major Revisions decision at a good journal — but it all adds up to feeling like I’m establishing something of a scientific niche for myself, and contributing to actual policy discussion. At the end of my fourth year on faculty, that’s pretty satisfying.