A reflection on my time at The Holden Arboretum

By Rory Schiafo

Many students finish college with a similar feeling to what I had soon after my commencement ceremony. I had just spent the past four years learning about plants, animals, microorganisms, DNA, and cells, with some math, chemistry, and physics for good measure. But what next? There are so many career pathways, but a confusing job market to navigate first. With no clear idea of where I would end up, I cast a wide net and applied to dozens of jobs. The next thing I knew, my car was packed, and I was on my way to Northeast Ohio for an internship in The Holden Arboretum’s Research Department, not quite sure what to expect.

I learned countless things in the sixteen months that I spent working, first as an intern, and then a lab technician for Katie Stuble, PhD. I learned ecological concepts surrounding forest management practices, land use history, phenology, and more. I developed practical tools to help me with navigating statistics, reading the scientific literature, communicating science, and collaborating with others. I gained experience sharing my research and networking with the public and the scientific world. I became a better student, while simultaneously stepping into the role of mentor. I was able expand on the training that I began as an undergraduate. Thanks to Holden, I became a more well-rounded and confident scientist.

However, the most valuable things that I learned at Holden, were not the tangible scientific facts or skills. Instead, the most valuable thing I learned in my time here, was how to make a space for myself within this world of science. Holden’s supportive team helped me realize that there is nothing holding me back from pursuing a career that will allow me to continue to learn and research plants all my life. I learned how to take on imposter syndrome and how to recognize my own potential, and how to advocate for myself and others. My time at Holden helped me realize that this is the world that I fit into, and though the path forward from here will be long and challenging, it is the right one for me. Thanks to Holden, I became a more well-rounded and confident person.

Now, I prepare to do what I did sixteen months ago. This weekend, I pack my car and I head to Chicago to start a new adventure as a PhD student in the Plant Biology and Conversation at Northwestern University and the Chicago Botanic Gardens. How did I go from a confused undergrad, to graduate student in a prestigious plant biology department? I did not do it alone, but with help, support, and inspiration from my friends in the Research Department at the Holden Arboretum.