Felicia Keesing (2004)
From an “Ecologist Directory” maintained by the ESA Education Office about 2004-2005. Profile circa 2004.
Degree Ph.D. 1997
Position Associate Professor
Department Department of Biology
Organization Bard College
I became interested in ecology by accident. For my first few years in graduate school, I was studying evolutionary biology. In my third year, while looking for a new dissertation project, I stumbled across an ecological question that fascinated me immediately – whether small mammals played any significant role in the ecology of African savannas.
At the time, it was generally assumed that the only important consumers were large mammals. I decided to investigate the potential for competition between animals as disparate in body size as elephants and mice. After finding that large and small mammals compete strongly but asymmetrically, I began to study how savanna communities function differently when large mammals aren’t there.
I have been teaching at small liberal arts colleges since I got my Ph.D. in 1997. I’m currently an Associate Professor of Biology at Bard College, which is about 1.5 hours north of New York City and has about 1500 students. This position has allowed me a wonderful mix of teaching and research. I maintain two active research programs – one on the Africa work and one on the ecology of Lyme disease risk in the northeastern U.S. – while still having the opportunity to teach small groups of fantastic, engaged students. My classes never have more than 25 students, and both teaching and research are highly valued at my institution.
I encourage students – both undergraduate and graduate – to be fearless in the pursuit of the answers to important research questions. That means being willing to learn new disciplines and new techniques when necessary, to find collaborators from different fields when needed, and to define themselves not by the type of training they’ve had, but by the questions they want to answer.