A Graduate Student’s Guide to Necessary Skills for Landing a Job


By Helen Bothwell

Many of our readers and contributing early career ecologists are at that point in their careers where they are transitioning from graduate school life to that thing we have been working towards for so long – a job!  For those of you who have jumped that hurdle and successfully landed positions, I welcome your advice and suggestions from the trenches on this topic.

In a recent publication in Conservation Biology, Blickley et al. (2012) presented a “Graduate student’s guide to necessary skills for nonacademic conservation careers.”  While they focused on conservation jobs, their findings are broadly applicable to students preparing for numerous careers in the sciences.  At the heart of their study is the notion that graduate coursework and thesis or dissertation research don’t necessarily translate into skill sets essential for the job market.  A well-respected scientist once told me that a graduate degree is kind of the booby prize.  To be competitive in the job market, there are many additional skills we need to be developing beyond the minimum requirements of a graduate degree.

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ScienceNOW Coverage of Ecosystem Dynamics in Yellowstone NP

Dr. Kristin Marshall measuring willow stems in Yellowstone National Park.

Dr. Kristin Marshall measuring willow stems in Yellowstone National Park.

Our very own Dr. Kristin Marshall is getting quite a bit of press these days. This past week, she published an article in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences on the dynamics of riparian ecosystems following wolf re-introduction in Yellowstone National Park. This 10-year study concludes that the story of species interactions within the Park is not as simple as we once thought. Turns out, the beaver plays a crucial role in both willow growth and ecosystem functioning! Check out the ScienceNOW coverage of the story, and read Kristin’s own communication of her research right here.

Yellowstone wolves, elk, willows… and beaver

By Kristin Marshall

Everyone loves a good story. But all good writers know that a really great story is a balancing act between creating a trajectory that your audience can connect with, and including all the relevant facts and details. Stray too far in one direction and the story becomes overly stylized and not believable, too far in the other leaves you with a pile of facts and no story at all. The same can be said for doing science.  We want to boil down all of our observations to a simple theory that explains what we observe, but we also want to balance that simple theory with the complexity we know exists in the natural world.

This post is about finding the sweet spot in telling an important conservation success story: the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park.
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Trees on the Move? Debating Assisted Migration in Climate Change Mitigation

Tree Crossing. Borrowed from Clint Peters.

Tree Crossing. Borrowed from Clint Peters.

By Sarah Bisbing

Trees on the move?! I know you’re thinking, “Come on, Sarah. Trees can’t move.” And, generally, you would be correct in that statement. Tree species are now, however, in a position where movement may be necessary for survival under changing climatic conditions. How trees will move is under debate within the ecological community, but why trees will move is accepted as a survival strategy related to the adaptation of species. Continue reading

Conservation photography as more than just a hobby: Part 2

By Guest Bloggers Jerod A. Merkle with Bethann G. Merkle

In our last piece, we raised the topic of conservation research photography, and highlighted some potential uses: monitoring individuals, studying population dynamics, and researching behavioral patterns, to name a few.  We concluded with a ‘Pandora’s box’ of questions and issues facing associated with photography as a tool: photo database management, comparing and matching photos, assessing error rates, and figuring out how to apply it all to research and management questions.  What follows is a case study describing how Jerod has addressed some of these questions. Continue reading

Forty years after “The Limits to Growth”: A focus on global food production

Satellite images by Earth Observatory (2006); composition by WK Smith (2012).

By Bill Smith

“Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio.  Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio.  A slight acquaintance with numbers will show the immensity of the first power in comparison of the second.” 

Thomas Robert Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population, (1798)

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the seminal book The Limits to Growth, which details the first, global-scale computer model (developed by researchers at MIT) to analyze the potential future outcomes of unchecked economic and population growth in a world of limited resources.  The main factors considered by the analysis included world population, industrialization, pollution, food production, and resource depletion.  The take-home conclusion of the analysis was simple: if we control growth and resource consumption, a “stabilized world” is achievable (Figure 1a); if growth and consumption continues unchecked, “overshoot and collapse” is the only system response (Figure 1b).  So how has humanity responded since the publication of this thought-provoking, anxiety-inducing analysis …

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Conservation photography as more than just a hobby: Part 1

By Guest Bloggers Jerod and Bethann Merkle

An Introduction to our Guest Bloggers:

Jerod is a wildlife research biologist who hails from Arizona and Montana and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. at Université Laval (Québec, Canada).  His wife, Bethann, is a communications consultant, author, artist, and educator who hails from Montana.  They became interested in writing for our blog, as they were “intrigued by the premise of the Early Career Ecologists blog because we are both under 30 years of age, work actively in ecology and scientific communication, and often discuss how important it is to communicate about this work across disciplines and beyond academia.”  Jerod and Bethann enjoy collaborating on personal and professional projects, including this article about one aspect of Jerod’s current research project.

Conservation Photography

Facial recognition in humans is important for identifying and monitoring criminal behavior.  For ecological conservation, identifying individuals is important for estimating and monitoring ecological parameters such as survival, reproduction, and habitat selection.  Ultimately, recognizing individual humans and wild animals offers social and conservation benefits. Continue reading