Blog Post

Career Path: Pam DiBona

Want to make a career of citizen science, but not sure how? Let’s learn from the experience of those who have successfully built a career in this dynamic field.

Photo provided.

Pam DiBona is the director of the Massachusetts Bays National Estuary Partnership (MassBays), an EPA-funded National Estuary Program where she works to bring together together organizations and agencies who generate monitoring data. They use these data to describe environmental conditions and trends in the three Bays that make up our planning area, and support research and partnerships to take action that will improve those conditions. Until 2014, MassBays had relied solely on government data; Pam has worked hard during her tenure to make the case for inclusion of community-generated data in decision making.

Below, Pam describes how her serpentine path through the private, NGO, and government sectors contributed to where she is today, and encourages those just starting out in the field to think “broadly about how previous experiences come together to define the next step seems to be another key to moving along a career path.”

Advice to young professionals hoping to build a career in citizen science?

My sense of a career path — given that I’ve taken a relatively serpentine path through the private, ngo, and government sectors — tells me that it’s not just one factor that gets you where you want to go. Being in the right place at the right time is good yes, but knowing how to take advantage of that place and time is important. One thing that convinced CRWA’s Director to hire me was that I volunteered during a staff meeting to write a comment letter no one else wanted to take on. 

Thinking broadly about how previous experiences come together to define the next step seems to be another key to moving along a career path. Only while I was working on this interview did it dawn on me that the investigations I did for the Somerville Community News was the platform for my dedication to citizen science! 

Finally, a specific note about a career in citsci — my advice would be to insert citsci into whatever you’re interested in doing content-wise. Public health, transportation, urban planning, biodiversity… it all benefits from bringing people to the table, people not necessarily trained in that subject, but who see the problem with their own lens, and who can share access to information that we all need to make positive change.

How did you first get involved with citizen science?

Soon after leaving college, I joined the volunteers who were producing the Somerville (Massachusetts) Community News, one of the last citizen journalism efforts in a movement which had bloomed in the 1970s. At first I helped to lay out the paper and did an occasional illustration, but then I started reporting on public health and environmental issues in the city. I think at the time I was the only science reporter (paid or not) in Boston with a science degree, and I wanted to share what I could decipher from government reports about drinking water quality and toxic pollution with the people who would be impacted but may not have realized it. 

I leveraged this experience into an internship with Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection’s Environmental Strike Force, a group of lawyers and scientists charged with following up on tips from citizens about potential violations of environmental laws. I loved the experience of lending credence to people’s reports about what was happening in their neighborhoods, and taking action to make sure their concerns were responded to.

Describe a defining opportunity that helped get you to where you are now.

After receiving a Master’s in environmental science from UMass Boston, I volunteered for a short time with the Charles River Watershed Association (CRWA). It was a short time only because after two weeks I was offered a job with CRWA helping to build and support their volunteer watershed monitoring program. My first assignment was to bring their Quality Assurance Project Plan over the finish line — it was a multi-year effort, and finishing it meant the volunteer data finally would be taken into consideration by EPA Region 1 as they made plans to clean up the river. 

What percentage of your work is citizen science? How has this changed over the years?

I would say that 40% of my time is spent thinking about how to support groups generating data, including helping them bring their data to decision makers. We recently received funding to hire a part-time Circuit Rider who is tasked with providing one-on-one assistance, training, and other support to groups working in our planning area. I’d like to count the time spent putting together that plan & proposal toward my citsci tally, too! The rest of my time is spent using those data to direct our work in the Bays.

Pam DiBona looking at eelgrass that has washed up on a Massachusetts beach as part of a new citizen science project to help us find out what’s living in the wrack line using iNaturalist. Photo provided.

You can find out more about the Pam’s work with the Massachusetts Bays National Estuary Partnership programs here. Active CSA members can find Pam’s full profile in the member directory. Pam also recently shared about the Data and Metadata Working Group’s efforts to compile a compendium of data quality resources in a webinar in April- view the recording.

This blog post is part of an ongoing series featuring active CSA members. Have ideas about who we should talk to next? Email us at reanna[@] and let us know.

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