Alexandra Davis’ big picture focus

Growing up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Alexandra Davis was always fascinated by the ocean. Though she didn’t see it with her own eyes until she was 12 or 13, she remembers being curious about marine science early on—“I think that stems from being raised in the desert.”

A Bachelor’s degree in English literature landed her in Monterey Bay, California but it was the water that kept her there for more academic work. “I basically said, What better place to learn marine science than here? So, I went back and got another degree,” says Davis, whose new program gave her the opportunity to study GIS, seafloor mapping, science diving and scuba diving along the way.

“It was a really cool way of helping me create a holistic picture for how we can look at marine science from a bunch of different angles. I think of myself as an ecologist, but I love looking at the bigger picture. I love studying fish, but I really like how things work together. That for me is one of the biggest driving forces in where I seek opportunities. Can I work with people who are looking at big picture things? Are they asking and answering questions from multiple angles instead of just looking at one aspect of whatever they’re working in?”

"One of the things that really gets me excited is finding out who can do conservation and using that broad spectrum of opinions about what conservation is to achieve goals."

That holistic focus is what led her to pursue her postdoctoral fellowship with the University of Alberta’s Dr. Stephanie Green, who she says is “is looking at science in a way that I’m trying to make sure I look at science in.” There, Davis is leading research to develop new interactive conservation tools to inform the spatial management of marine invasive species. She’s building on her past work with Indo-Pacific lionfish and expanding her framework to manage European green crab populations, an initiative her Postdoctoral Fellowship award from MEOPAR supports.

Regardless of what she’s working on, Davis says hearing out every person’s voice, and opinion—whether on conservation or the atmosphere in the department—is a top priority for her. It’s a philosophy that stems from her advocacy for equity, diversity and inclusion in marine science, a passion that’s lead her to play an active role in programs and committees that strategize solutions and, more importantly, bring awareness to issues women and BIPOC face in academic settings.

“My involvement sprung out of a need to find other people like me when I was a graduate student. Because I’ve always been, one, a woman in STEM, but also a visible minority in STEM and the departments I work in, I have just always felt like an outsider,” she says. “It’s a weird place to be in because you feel like you’re representing an entire group, being the only one within your working group. So, just making it so that others who come later don’t have to have that feeling of aloneness is my motivation for this.”

In early February, Davis was the recipient of a 2020 Liber Ero Fellowship grant, which will advance her work to implement a management strategy for green crab on the west coast of British Columbia and build on her network, strengthening collaborations she’s already established with government agencies, academics, local communities and First Nations.

“One of the things that really gets me excited is finding out who can do conservation and using that broad spectrum of opinions about what conservation is to achieve goals. And trying to incorporate that joy of what science was when I was a little kid—the wonder and exploration—and harness it that to achieve conservation goals,” she says.

“Working with multiple different groups really allows me to draw on that joy. As an ecologist, you can get bogged down by data and research, but by incorporating different views and ways of thinking, it makes science more joyful to me and answering these conservation questions more interesting.”