Meet a Data Scientist: Kaitlyn Gaynor

CDN Member Dr. Kaitlyn GaynorBackground

Dr. Kaitlyn Gaynor earned her BA from the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology at Columbia University. She trained as a behavioral and community ecologist in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management during her Ph.D. at UC Berkeley, where her dissertation focused on understanding people's roles and impacts on ecological systems, particularly how humans have changed large animal behavior and distribution in the US and Mozambique. As a Schmidt Science Fellow and postdoc at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, Dr. Gaynor branched out into environmental data science. She created interactive web platforms for analyzing and visualizing raw data, partnered with experts in machine learning to speed data processing, and synthesized data from across ecosystems to better understand the dynamics of wildlife recovery in altered environments.

Current Role

Dr. Gaynor just wrapped her first year as a P.I. and Assistant Professor in the Departments of Botany and Zoology at the University of British Columbia. Research in the Gaynor Lab, which is located in the Biodiversity Research Centre, examines the effects of human activity on global biodiversity, with emphases on the (1) behavioral responses of animals to human presence, (2) effects of anthropogenic disturbance on predator-prey and other species interactions, and (3) socio-ecological dynamics of conservation and coexistence. This work involves large-scale data synthesis and meta-analyses, and local field studies in North America and Africa.

Dr. Gaynor is excited to grow her lab this year. Several new people just started in September 2023, and she said that it’s been fun brainstorming research directions and working on new collaborative writing projects. Dr. Gaynor is also excited to join a new collaborative research initiative, AI for Biodiversity Change (ABC), which was just funded by the US NSF and Canadian NSERC. The interdisciplinary team will use artificial intelligence to accelerate the processing of vast amounts of data on biodiversity over space and time, to better understand how climate change and other forms of disturbance are shaping species distributions, behavior, and interactions. Their goal is to be better able to detect, explain, and mitigate changes.

In addition to researching and mentoring, Dr. Gaynor is also teaching a required intro biostatistics class for 250 undergraduates, which she described as rewarding because she helps students overcome their hesitation around statistics and become enthralled by the power of data and math to reveal patterns.

Career Advice

For budding data scientists, Dr. Gaynor advises you to pace yourself. When you’re early in your career, it’s a great time to dive deep into a few key skills and projects to hone your expertise. There will be ample opportunity throughout your career to develop new skills, launch new projects, and collaborate with experts in other fields, particularly within the field of data science. Dr. Gaynor said that data science skills are in high demand across departments and encourages you to keep an eye out for opportunities. The CDN’s career panel on tips for landing a data science faculty position also emphasized the growing demand for data science skills in academia. The panelists said that many universities are conducting cluster hires and are competing for talent.

If you’re applying for one of these positions, Dr. Gaynor recommended approaching each job application with an idea of what the department is looking for. Demonstrate how you are ready to hit the ground running with exciting and innovative approaches. Seek feedback from your peers and mentors at every step of the application and interview process, so they can help you put your best foot forward. It’s easier said than done, but try not to take rejections personally. The academic market is challenging and the application process can feel like an emotional roller coaster. Dr. Gaynor encourages applicants to lean on your people. Her support network was invaluable while she was applying for academic positions, through the highs and lows.

Outside of Work

Dr. Gaynor has been living in Vancouver, BC, for a year now, on the unceded homeland of the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh Nations. She loves how easy it is to explore all of the arts and culture that this vibrant city has to offer, and how easy it is to get out of the city and explore the surrounding land and sea.

How to Connect

Learn more about Dr. Gaynor’s research and how to get in touch by visiting her profile in the CDN Member Directory.

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