Smithsonian's Conservation Biology Institute
Year zoo career began:
Alexandra DeCandia is a conservation geneticist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute where she uses molecular tools to study and manage wildlife in captivity and in the wild. Specifically, she uses genetic, epigenetic, and microbiome sequencing techniques to understand wildlife health and disease in different settings. Each day is different, but some of Alexandra’s common tasks include designing new projects, collecting samples, performing laboratory work, analyzing data in R, writing scientific studies and popular science blog posts, presenting results to colleagues, visiting elementary and middle school classrooms, and traveling to visit collaborators around the country. Alexandra primarily studies North American mammals, including gray wolves living in Yellowstone National Park, island foxes living in California's Channel Islands, and black-footed ferrets living in captive breeding facilities.
Alexandra grew up in New Jersey where she found local wildlife captivating and sought out nearby coasts, marshes, and forests for exploration. When she learned about climate change and other threats to wildlife, she decided to become part of the solution. Alexandra earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental biology from Columbia University in 2015 before continuing her education and earning a master’s degree and a doctoral degree in ecology and evolutionary biology from Princeton University in 2017 and 2020, respectively. While in school, Alexandra held multiple paid and unpaid positions, including serving as an arctic arthropods research assistant at the Columbia University Earth Institute, conservation genetics research assistant at the American Museum of Natural History, and an environmental health and safety intern at Estée Lauder Companies.
Alexandra’s favorite part of her job is its collaborative nature. Studying and managing wildlife requires so many different people -- with unique backgrounds, interests, and skillsets -- to work together towards common goals. Alexandra would advise future conservation geneticists to get involved in wildlife clubs, seek out citizen science opportunities, and reach out to wildlife professionals. She was able to discover her career by seeking out mentors, and she encourages aspiring scientists to make connections, don’t get discouraged, and follow your passions wherever they lead!