Meet Krissa! Conservation Scientist & Botanist

What’s your name?

Krissa Skogen

Where are you from? Where do you currently live?

I grew up in Fargo, ND and currently live in Highland Park, IL, just to the north of Chicago.

Where did you go to school and what did you study?

I have a Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Connecticut and a B.A. from Gustavus Aldolphus College in Minnesota.

Where are you in your career & what do you do?

I am mid-career. I am a conservation scientist and botanist at the Chicago Botanic Garden and mentor graduate students and teach classes at Northwestern University. As a botanist, I am fascinated by the rich diversity of flowering plants and the insects that interact with them - both pollinators and antagonists (herbivores, seed predators, etc.) - and how these interactions may help explain the great diversity we see today. I’ve been studying hawkmoth and bee pollination in evening primrose species in the western US for over a decade. I am also committed to plant conservation efforts, including investigating the impacts of anthropogenic factors on plants and pollinators.

Describe yourself in three words.

Loyal, hardworking, chatty

Why did you apply to Homeward Bound?

I’ve long been invested in everything that Homeward Bound stands for. My scientific career has always been driven a desire to contribute to conservation and biodiversity challenges. I am equally committed to creating a diverse and inclusive scientific community that fosters and supports opportunities for women and underrepresented groups while tackling the most urgent and challenging threats to biodiversity and human health of our time. While I love what I do, being a woman in science has been challenging, difficult and isolating, at times. I endlessly chase the ephemeral goal of work-life balance. As a young scientist, I’ve looked up to women who’ve come before me and now feel a deep responsibility to help make the path forward easier for those who follow. I strive to ensure that achieving their goals is not inhibited by the constraints of bias (implicit and explicit) and a society with different expectations for men and women in the public and private spheres. Homeward Bound is foundational to my ability to achieve these goals. While I have a passion for diversifying science and for the science I do, I find myself at a crossroads, realizing that just as the caregiver needs care, the leader needs to be led and supported to continue to be effective. I want to learn how to advocate for my own needs so that I may better serve myself and others. I also seek to develop tools to ensure that I and others are heard by those in positions of power. I crave a community of like-minded women in science seeking an integration of their personal and professional selves. Homeward Bound provides such an opportunity, for which I am endlessly grateful. I welcome the opportunity to learn from the Homeward Bound community and feel part of something bigger than myself, to step off the island I often feel I inhabit, into a rich community of support and resources for leading women and for finding my way myself.

What’s your favorite part of Homeward Bound so far?

I’ve meet and been inspired by women that I never would have met without Homeward Bound. I’ve learned from them and am grateful for the community and solidarity they provide and value their input as we work in parallel and the various challenges in our lives.

What is your favorite thing about your career?

I love that my career has required me to travel so much and to do so with colleagues and students who get excited about the nerdy things I love. I commonly refer to fieldwork as nerd camp, it is so very fun.

What inspires you?

The potential to make an impact on young people to understand science and respect the natural world. I am also inspired by the potential to uncover things about the natural world that no one has documented.

Why did you decide to do the work you are doing now?

I decided to become a scientist because I love to ask questions that I think are interesting, I want to find solutions to conservation challenges and I love working outside. I also really enjoy working with students and love plants.

What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned?

You can only control your response, you cannot control the way people behave. Still working on it.

What do you hope never changes?

The kindness of strangers

What are you interested in that most people haven’t heard of?

I study nocturnal pollination by hawkmoths, which are lovely, beautiful insects that hover in front of a flower while they drink nectar, much like a humming bird. Many people have seen them but don’t know what they are or that they are extremely important pollinators for many plant species.

What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives?

Sit in front of a flowering plant in a natural area for an hour, watch what arrives at the flowers and take in the sights, sounds and smells while the natural world unfolds in front of you. It’s fascinating and relaxing, very meditative.

What was a turning point in your life?

When my grandmother was near the end of her life, I flew with my 4-month old daughter to sit with her for 3 days before she passed away. Her mind was as sharp as it had always been and though she was in intense pain, she carried on as though we were sitting in her kitchen catching up. We talked about things big and small - what it’s like to be a mother, why she didn’t nurse her babies, how much she loved writing letters and how much fun I’ve had traveling. Between the naps both she and the baby would take, I reflected on just how very lucky I was to get to know her as an adult, in a completely different way than you know your grandmother as a child. I had her love and support my whole life, and as I grew older, got to know her in a fundamentally different way, which added depth to our relationship that I couldn’t have anticipated when I was younger. I was also struck by the fact that the material things we desire and treasure in life are absent at the end. We all know it on some level, certainly, but this experience really struck me in a way that nothing else had. The things that bring us comfort aren’t things, but relationships and taking the time to show up, engage and to put the work into maintaining those relationships. This experience deepened my commitment to the relationships that I hold dear, to reconnect with dear friends and family and work harder on staying connected and present. To do this, I realize the need to work on aligning my goals, priorities and how I spend my time so that I can be completely present to stay connected in a meaningful way with those I love.

What bends your mind every time you think about it?

The speed of light – wha????

And that celery root soup tastes so good, why? It’s celery root??

If you could make one rule that everyone had to follow, what rule would you make?

Laws would be required to be backed by the best peer-reviewed scientific evidence at the time and must be reviewed and updated as additional evidence becomes available.

What’s the best and worst piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Best: Go easy on yourself and others, everyone is struggling with something.

Worst: Sleep is for the weak

What are three interesting facts about you?

My last name means ‘the forest’ in Norwegian; my career as a botanist was predetermined, it seems.

I wore an eye patch in kindergarten to encourage a lazy eye to not be so lazy. My husband refers to me as the kindergarten pirate from time to time.

I’d rather sleep in a tent – as long as it’s not at a crowded campground.

What do you want to be remembered for?

A willingness to help, kindness, and doing my best.

What is one thing you will never do again?

‘Snowplow’ straight down a black diamond ski run in the Rockies.

If you could have a video of any one event in your life, what event would you choose?

13-year old me ‘snowplowing’ straight down a black diamond ski run in the Rockies. Drone footage of the whole ordeal would be ideal, with cuts to my brother telling me it's a very bad idea as I sped past him, other skiers dodging out of my way. Final shots on my face when I realize that I hadn’t crashed at the bottom of the run. 

What do you like to do in your free time?

I love to be outside, in/on/by a lake or working with plants in my garden or in the field in the Western US, preferably with my family and friends.

If you suddenly became a master at woodworking, what would you make?

A canoe

Who inspires you to be better?

My daughters, Ingrid and Frankie.

What is one of your favorite smells?

Linden tree flowers in June

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