USDA Forest Service

Pacific Southwest Research Station
Pacific Southwest
Research Station

800 Buchanan Street
Albany, CA 94710-0011
(510) 883-8830
United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service. USDA logo which links to the department's national site. Forest Service logo which links to the agency's national site.

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Meet Diane Delany, biological technician

A photo of Susan Cordell standing next to a large koa in the Laupahoehoe Experimental Forest.
Diane Delany, U.S. Forest Service

Behind every researcher, there’s usually an assortment of assistants, technicians or collaborators helping to gather, process and analyze data. Their names might not appear in scientific journals, but these helpers play a critical role in advancing scientific knowledge.

Diane began her career as a forester at a time when not many women worked in that profession. But her innate curiosity in trees and the ecosystems that supported them eventually led her to switch careers from an industrial forester to a biological technician, first assisting with research involving forest genetics, and later in understanding how ecosystems have historically responded to changing climates.

  • What do you do for the Pacific Southwest Research Station?

    I'm part of a three-person team exploring the field of paleoecology, or understanding what past environments looked like and how they've changed over time with different climates. My main responsibility is maintaining the lab, taking care of the data coming in from the field, processing it, and helping with the early stage analysis.

    Over time, my interests and needs of the team have allowed me to develop other skills and serve in different roles. I taught myself HTML coding to help update and maintain various websites. I've learned graphic design techniques to help create charts and graphs to display our research in scientific journals.

    If something breaks or we have a problem to solve, I love jumping in and trying to figure it out.

  • When and why did you come to work for the Pacific Southwest Research Station?

    When I graduated from high school, I knew I wanted to do something that let me work outside. I decided to become a forester, but the college I was attending at the time didn't have a forestry program. I had to wait a semester before I could transfer to my new school to study forestry, so in-between, I moved back home and took a forest ecology course at my hometown university.

    I liked it, so I thought, "Why don't I just go to school here?" While finishing my degree to become a forester, I began realizing that I found the classes that dealt with ecology and ecosystems more interesting than the actual forestry classes, where we learned about designing timber sales, using chainsaws and operating logging equipment.

    After college, I got a job working in a nursery for a timber company in Oregon, but I just felt dissatisfied. I tried a couple other forestry jobs, but, in the end, I decided I really wanted to get into something more "science-y," so I went back to college to get a master's degree in forest genetics.

    One of the researchers I assisted in graduate school had eventually taken a job with the Pacific Southwest Research Station and was enjoying it, so when another job came open there, I applied and got in. It was 1987, and I've been working alongside that researcher ever since.

  • What is a typical workday like for you?

    There's a lot of variety and a lot of freedom in my work. Earlier in my career, I did a fair amount of field work. However, the researcher I support enjoys doing a lot of her own field work, so more often I help her by managing the equipment, field samples and data analysis in the lab. The rest of the time, I'm either sitting in front of a computer doing office or administrative work, or running all over the place tracking down equipment and supplies or trying to fix equipment and supplies. It really helps to either be, or have the aptitude to become, a jack-of-all-trades in this job.

  • Have you had any unexpected, unusual or exciting opportunities or experiences as a result of your work?

    I once got to travel all over Europe doing genetics research. Being in foreign countries was both exciting and challenging. With every new country, it meant renting another vehicle, meeting with different collaborators, negotiating your way around the cities and to the research locations, and then being grilled by customs agents as to why you were lugging around bags and bags of acorns.

    I really came away from the experience with a new sense of confidence and self-resiliency. There was no one there to show me what I was supposed to do or how I was supposed to do it. I just had to jump right in, figure it out, and get the job done. Things didn’t always go smoothly or run perfectly, but I learned not to get thrown by those things and to make the best of the situation I was in.

  • Who has inspired you in your career?

    The lead researcher for our team, Connie Millar. Watching her do what she does and seeing the passion and dedication she brings to the science she conducts is inspiring. She and I are not the same, but I think that’s what makes us a good team, along with our other team member. We all have different skills, different strengths, different interests. We recognize and value what each of us brings to the group, and we know we’re able to do so much more together than we ever would have on our own.

  • What advice do you have for others interested in this field or another field in science?

    Pay attention to your relationships at work. You hear so much to focus on your salary or your position or where you are on the career ladder, but I think the relationships you have – or might not have – at your workplace can really make or break a job for someone.

    I once had a job where I wasn't compatible with a team member. He wasn't a bad person; I wasn't a bad person. But we just didn't work well together. It was good to recognize that and move on because things would have been miserable otherwise.

    The other advice I have is to not get swept up in aiming too high if that's not where you want to be. One of my mentors, who was a very accomplished scientist, once said to me, "You know, I feel like I tried too hard. I'm a scientist, but I think I went too far."

    Basically, what he was saying is that sometimes people aim high because that's what we're told we must do, without stopping to think about where we're going or what life will be like when we get there. I remember feeling like I was doing something wrong when I first realized, "Wow, this 'Ph.D. or die' mindset might not be for me." I'm glad I listened to that voice.

Last Modified: Mar 29, 2017 11:04:04 AM