The Accidental Ecologist

I always thought of myself as a good old-fashioned biologist. Maybe even a naturalist, though I'm not really sure what that means anymore... Anyway, I double majored in Biology and Philosophy, and went straight into my fascination which was about language and animal communication. I studied vocal communication in hyenas, and then got interested in Asian elephants. Well, it turned out the one of the people I most wanted to work with for my graduate degree was associated with an ecology & evolution graduate program. But she was a primatologist! No matter, I went ahead and applied anyway, and shockingly, I got in.

So here's me, my very first day in graduate school and my very first class, and it's on population ecology. So it wasn't until grad school that I ever had my first proper class in ecology! And boy did we completely crash into that material. But hey I found this was a great way to look at things - not just organism, but organism in environment. Though it surprised me when we stood around talking and anyone said "we're ecologists," I tried it out. I got used to saying it. I'm an 'ecologist'...hmmm.... I found that being in an ecology department, surrounded by people working on ecological questions, I too was thinking about my particular topics of interest (social behavior, communication) in ecological terms. But I found I was getting to be interested in not just that, but also on habitat interactions....etc. etc. and pretty soon, a whole new world of questions. So, now I'm an accidental ecologist. Serendipity smiled on me.

-Shermin de Silva
Ph.D candidate, Department of Biology, University of Pennsylvania
http://www.sas.upenn.edu/~sdesilva