GREENFIELD, Mass. – Over the top of her computer screen, Addie Rose Holland eyes a stainless steel assembly line, where shredded pickled carrots get scooped from buckets and packed tightly into 15-ounce Mason jars.
Three years ago, Holland looked out on a vastly different view – the frozen surface of Siberia's Lake El'gygytgyn. She was there as a paleoclimatologist, probing lake sediment for clues on how past climate changes impacted the Arctic.
The research and panoramas were eye-opening. But the world of science ultimately proved too remote and abstract. Driven by a desire to spur change in her own backyard, Holland swapped her parka for a hairnet: She's incorporating her world of science into her world of pickles.
But her company can, she hopes, help nudge the corporate world toward a more sustainable, healthier, less energy-intensive model. "We're contributing to a global warming solution by helping to reorient our food system," she said.
Off the academic track
Holland isn't done with science. She holds a part-time position as interim program manager for the Interior Department's Northeast Climate Science Center, based at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where she organizes a speaker series on climate impacts and solutions. The center provides tools and information to help land managers plan for and adapt to climate impacts.
While Holland's career path may be unique, her attempt to balance a life of research science with a desire for more concrete impact is not.
At virtually every stage in the geosciences, women drop out of the academic track faster than men. One 2008 study found that, while approximately 45 percent of all students in geoscience masters degree programs are female, the percentage drops to 34 percent in doctoral programs.
Subtle gender biases, grueling hours and a paucity of female role models play a role, according to Mary Anne Holmes, a mineralogist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and former president for the Association for Women Geoscientists. "These small, almost imperceptible hurdles add up," she said.
Holland didn't perceive a gender bias. What frustrated her, however, was how quickly chats about her research could go sour. Holland thrives on the positive vibes she gets as customers make the connections among her pickles, local farms and benefits to their community. Talks about the implications of climate change proved far more frustrating.
"Conversations about climate change often turn either to denial or guilt or depression," she said. "But pickle conversations are full of laughter and hope."
Those climate conversations, she added, are extremely important, and the challenge of connecting that information to the public is a big part of what keeps her in science. If she can get to climate through pickles, she said, the conversations are "invariably much lighter."
"But you can't always get to climate conversations through pickles." And the desire to bridge that gap is why her work communicating climate science remains a big part of her life.
Someone else's mess
Holland's path into science started at a Connecticut state prison where she used soil microbes to help clean up groundwater contamination from dry-cleaning solvents.
She took a job with a Connecticut-based engineering company, Fuss & O'Neill, that focused on cleaning up environmental messes created by industry. The work required a lot of soil and groundwater testing, which she enjoyed. But she found it hard always being the one showing up to clean someone else's mess. "The relationship with the client was always negative. I wanted my life to be full of positives," she said.