Austin Holland

Austin Holland is a geographer who studies how humans interact with the environment, specifically with a focus on conservation policy. As a doctoral student in Department of Geographical & Sustainability Sciences, his research is supported by a Post-Comprehensive Research Award by the Graduate College.

The overall goal of Holland’s work is all about improving current policy. He wants to improve how various groups work together to protect natural resources by identifying the barriers of governance.

Q: Why did you pursue graduate school / become a researcher?

A: Prior to pursuing my PhD, I was working as a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Analyst for a county government. I spent most of my day creating a variety of maps for almost every department. I enjoyed this position, because I liked creating web maps and the people that I worked with, but I rarely got the opportunity to develop or study my own interests. I really missed using my skills to evaluate and understand conservation policy. This was the main reason for returning to pursue my PhD.

Q: Describe your research in non-expert language?

A: Through qualitative methods, like interviews, I aim to understand how people view environmental issues and possible solutions. Using GIS, I evaluate the impact that these policies have on the landscape. I have researched everything from local restoration projects to freshwater governance to federal agricultural policy.

Q: What impact has your work had on the field/world? What impact do you hope to have on your field/world?

A: I hope to evaluate the social-ecological impacts of conservation policy to ensure the policy is meeting its intended goals. If it is not meeting its goals, then I want to figure out why it is not working and how it can be improved. In general, I hope my research will lead to better conservation policy.

Q: What programs or resources (on or off campus) have influenced or supported your academic goals?

A: I have been very fortunate in terms of support from the University of Iowa. The Graduate College and the Graduate Professional & Student Government have supported my research as well as provided funding to present it at conferences. The Graduate Teaching Fellowship, through the UI Center for Teaching, has helped me grow as an educator over the past year. My home department, the Department of Geographical & Sustainability Sciences, has been extremely encouraging of my goals and research as well. Outside of the University, the Iowa Lakeside Laboratory has been instrumental in my development as a graduate student. Overall, I am grateful for the support I have received during my time at the University of Iowa.

Do you have any role models, mentors, or inspirational people who have encouraged you to pursue your work?

A: I’ve had a lot of people who inspire me to pursue my work, but I will try to keep it short! My advisor, Dr. Silvia Secchi, has been extremely encouraging since my arrival on campus. The PhD process can stir up a lot of self-doubt, but Dr. Secchi provides constructive feedback of my work while simultaneously bolstering my self-confidence. This is a trait that I will try to emulate in the future. Similarly, my entire PhD committee are all great people who do amazing work that pushes me to do the same. Also, the ongoing research by the faculty and graduate students within the Department of Geographical & Sustainability Sciences is a constant source of motivation. We have a small department, but geography is a far-reaching discipline. Because of this, the faculty and graduate students in our department study a variety of topics ranging from health geography to hazards to urban ecology. Being surrounded by this array of research is constantly pushing me to think about my own research in different ways. Lastly, mentors from my previous institutions, Dr. Gillian Acheson, Dr. Richard Waugh, and Dr. RJ Rowley originally encouraged me to pursue a PhD and they continue to support me today.

Q: How has your graduate experience shaped your career goals?

A: I think my graduate experience has shaped my career goals in a couple of ways. When it comes to research, early on I was focused on a single facet of conservation policy research. After spending some time here, I realized that I was missing other components of the system that are vital to holistically understanding policy. This led me to broaden my scope in ways that have led to me becoming a better researcher, which I hope to continue to do after I leave Iowa. Also, when I decided to pursue my PhD, I was really research driven, but this changed after my first semester as a teaching assistant. It turns out that I really enjoy teaching and learning more about pedagogical techniques to enhance my capabilities as an educator. Whatever happens after leaving the University of Iowa, I would like to continue to teach in some capacity.   

Q: If you could go back to a time at the beginning of your graduate career, what advice would you give yourself?

A: I would probably just repeat what most people have told me my entire life: SLOW DOWN. Trying to nail down your dissertation project can feel overwhelming at times. The first year or so is going to be a little bumpy, but if you continue to work, the results will eventually come. It’s like looking for crawdads as a kid. Just because the first five rocks you turned over don’t have anything, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t there. You just have to keep turning over rocks until you find one.

Austin Holland