Ecologists don their research in an ‘eco-fashion’ show #ESA2016
Aug04

Ecologists don their research in an ‘eco-fashion’ show #ESA2016

Ecological scientists are not known for elevated fashion sensibilities. Many take pride in a sartorial identity rooted in a field work chic of practical hats, cargo pants, and judicious applications of duct tape. Button-downs in botanical prints and ties in tiny repeating motifs of anatomically correct fish are favored formal attire when researchers gather for the Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America (ESA) each August. But this year, ESA’s leadership will sport designer frocks inspired by the living objects of their research, breaking out of their comfort wear comfort zones to excite curiosity about science and the natural world outside of their usual cultural niche. They will model their eco-finery on the runway in an eco-fashion show directly following the first scientific plenary (“Ecological homogenization of Urban America”) on Monday, 8 August 2016 from 10:15–11:30 AM in the Greater Fort Lauderdale/ Broward County Convention Center, in southern Florida. “I love it when I wear my jacket and people stop me on the street to ask me about it,” said organizer Nalini Nadkarni, a professor at the University of Utah and ESA’s vice president of education and human resources. Spangled in overlapping leaves, her jacket evokes the forest canopies of Costa Rica, where she conducts research high up in the trees. Nadkarni will narrate the fashion show with fellow organizer and master of ceremony Doug Levey, a program director at the National Science Foundation, explaining the research connections as the scientists walk the runway. Reporters are welcome to come for the show and stay for the 2,000 research presentations scheduled throughout the week on biodiversity, animal behavior, climate change, coastal communities, mosquito ecology & infectious disease, and more. With a theme of “Novel Ecosystems in the Anthropocene,” this year’s meeting has a wealth of presentations on the ecological communities in our urban spaces. Designer Brenda Van der Wiel and tailor Eugene Tachinni will be on site at the fashion show to talk about translating scientific research into styles that are beautiful and compelling conversational focus points. The design team learned about ecology in order to create personalized garments for each scientist, but the learning flowed both ways; Nadkarni said she gained a new respect for the art of apparel design. A self-professed thrift store shopper, she said that before embarking on the project she did not appreciate the self-expression many people invest in their attire. “Ecologists don’t care much about what we shlup around in in the field,” said Nadkarni. “But other people care. It’s a lesson about listening. By adopting something I had not valued, I gained a portal into new conversations.” Nadkarni has a history of...

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What’s the Future of Ecologist-Communicators?
Aug15

What’s the Future of Ecologist-Communicators?

This guest post is by Holly Menninger, Director of Public Science for Your Wild Life at NC State University. Engage. Communicate. Reach out. Engage. Communicate. Reach out. These words echoed throughout the hallways of the Minneapolis Convention Center last week like a mantra. From organized symposia to high-energy Ignite sessions, ecologists both urged for and heard a rallying call to cross boundaries during this year’s Annual Meeting – to leave the ivory tower, to connect to policy makers, to connect to educators, to connect to resource managers, to connect to communities. The battle cry reached a crescendo in the standing-room-only Ignite session on Thursday afternoon: A Conversation on the Future of Ecology. Past and future leadership of the Ecological Society of America called on us to – in the words of our past president Steward Pickett – be fearless, to connect our science to society. I’ve been attending the ESA Annual Meeting since I was an incoming graduate student in 2000. More so than any time in the last 13 years, this year’s meeting in Minneapolis featured a sustained waving of rally caps in support of ecologists participating in public engagement, communication and policy, greater than I’ve ever witnessed before. In fact, I wildly swung my own rally cap during an earlier Ignite session about bridging the gap between basic and applied science – I spoke passionately about the lessons we’ve gleaned from building a successful science outreach and communication program about biodiversity. I suggested approaches that could enhance other scientists’ efforts to connect their science to the public, as required for addressing our planet’s grand environmental challenges. Continuing the drumbeat at the Future of Ecology session, there was a call for ecologists to learn how to communicate and to recognize that communication is not a one-way transfer of information. Agreed, I thought. But then, as I surveyed the room full of nodding heads, I felt something powerful well up in me. It wasn’t anger. It wasn’t heartburn (although I did have Mexican food for lunch). It was more like that red-faced indignant feeling one gets when one is either deliberately or inadvertently ignored. I felt ignored because I sensed that many in the room (and those avidly live-tweeting the session) didn’t realize or recognize the awesome pool of communications and outreach talent already within ESA’s membership. The rallying calls for increased and improved science communication seemed aimed squarely at the Society’s mid-to-late career academic scientist crowd, a crowd that has long needed arm-twisting and cajoling to engage the public, not a group that had already embraced public engagement as a core value. I am a scientist-communicator. It’s my...

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