|In this issue:|
Upcoming Opportunities & Deadlines
- ESA Annual Meeting Travel Awards
- Chapter Maintenance Grants
- Chris McLaughlin
- Tony Joern, PhD
- New SEEDS Chapters
In the News
- Importance of Diversity Study
Ecology Bulletin Board
- Woods Hole Opportunities
- Research Experience in Costa Rica
- Amgen Undergraduate Summer Research
- Kansas State University REU
- University of Michigan REU
SEEDS: Newsletter > Volume 5, Issue 1 - February 2007
How did you become interested in science?
Growing up, I was always interested in science-type things, and in nature, and always enjoyed being outside poking around and finding things. I was probably lucky that I always had pretty good teachers in my small-town schools in the Midwest, and supportive parents who encouraged my scientific interests by giving me opportunities to see things. I always lived within close walking distance of woods, creeks, rivers and old fields that were well explored. A lot of camping experience reinforced the natural history angle, so my ultimate decision was probably a done deal. Although biology was always most interesting to me, and I made a pretty early decision that I would do something in this area, any option in biology was open and remained so until I was a senior at the University of Wisconsin Ė Madison and was trying to decide between neurophysiology and ecology. I decided on ecology because of my interest in being in the field, and an ecology of fish course that introduced the value of mathematical models to understand ecological questions. I was hooked by this combination even if I didnít know how it all fit together. Of course, I didnít fully understand what science really was until I had a chance to do my own research in some upper division courses, undergraduate experiences which proved invaluable in showing me how exciting science can be.
What are your specific research interests in ecology?
My research has taken many directions to fill in gaps as they arise, but I am generally interested in species interactions, plant-insect herbivore interactions and food webs. My research uses grasshoppers as a primary model and how these magnificent insects interact with their food resources and with their natural enemies. My research began in deserts and very arid grasslands and is now located at Konza Prairie Biological Station in a mesic tallgrass prairie. In my studies, I employ comparative studies among sites, field experiments at small and intermediate scales, large scale landscape manipulations of fire and grazing, and with assistance, mathematical modeling.
What has been your experience with SEEDS and what effect have you seen it have on students?
It is very clear to me that the SEEDS experience gets students to believe in themselves and their ability to succeed in studying science. Based primarily on my interactions with Chris McLaughlin as well as a group SEEDS visit to Konza Prairie, I see incredible energy and commitment by students, other mentors and the ESA staff to making the goals of the program come alive. SEEDS students are excited, inquisitive and increasingly confident as they progress through the program.
Chris McLaughlin has worked with me to understand the impact of bison grazing to vegetation structure of grassland and how it might influence habitat for grasshoppers. In Chrisí case, he visited the site the summer before writing his proposal to get a sense of possible projects and what it would take to do them, a great help as he was writing his proposal. Chris determined where bison were spending their time by regular censuses and then measured the impact of bison on vegetation structure and the degree of spatial heterogeneity that results from different levels of grazing pressure.
What professional advice would you give to other students thinking of making a career in ecology?
Make sure that whatever you decide to do, really want to do it. You should have deep interest in your chosen area if you want to keep interested over the long term. There are a number of things that one can do early on as an undergraduate to make the road easier. (a) Read as much of the ecological literature as you can as soon as you can. For example, read some actual papers that are the basis of points made in your ecology course whether they were assigned or not. Select a variety of topics to see what you find most interesting and talk to your instructor about each of theses areas. (b) You also need a strong background in organismal biology and natural history, areas that are often deemphasized in todayís undergraduate biology major curriculum. This also means taking time to go experience natural situations in the flesh Ė put on some old tennis shoes and just walk right into the next pond, river, lake or stream, see what you can find and then go back and identify the stuff. If you hesitate or are uncertain about getting wet and muddy without putting on a whole lot of gear, you need to think about your goals. (c) Make sure to get a broad background in science, including math, geology, geography, astronomy, and make sure you can distinguish questions that have a historical basis from those that do not. (d) Do undergraduate research in the summer, and longer if possible. The more summers you can fit in the better. (e) Pick a graduate program and more importantly, an advisor who is simpatico, maintaining an active research program and still publishing on a regular basis, and most importantly working on questions that also interest you. Early on, this is what you need to do and it is much better to be in an active, supportive group while you are getting started. And, finally, (f) trust your own instincts about what is right for you, but donít ignore advice from others with experience in the areas you are interested in.