Hello from beautiful Estes Park, CO, where we are attending the 2012 All Scientists Meeting (ASM). The week is coming to a close, but before it does we wanted to recap the success of the graduate student contingent at the meeting, particularly at the Graduate Student Symposium (GSS) on Sunday, Sept 9th.
The GSS took place the day before ASM officially got started, and included about 150 graduate students from across the LTER network, about ¾ of whom were attending their first ASM. We had a great time getting to know everyone and learned a lot throughout the day! Our theme for this year’s GSS was “Thinking outside the ecological box: Incorporating additional disciplines in ecological research.” To address this theme, we had a plenary address by Dr. Nancy Grimm from the CAP LTER, who spoke to us from the two “perches” from which she has a gained a unique perspective: as the lead PI of the CAP LTER and as an NSF program officer. Nancy discussed with us the why, what, where, who, and how of working across disciplines, including advice such as:
- Ecology tends to inherently draw on other disciplines for their tools, mechanisms, etc; but be aware that not all questions need to be cross-discipline in nature.
- Get investigators from other disciplines involved early (at the question development stage) and keep them involved throughout the project.
- Ask questions that are at the cutting edge in both/all of the disciplines you are working in.
- Find commonalities in discussion with investigators from other fields, but don’t get hung up on differences in terminology.
- Many NSF programs encourage research than spans disciplinary boundaries, so be on the lookout for many funding opportunities for such work. Graduate students and post-docs may particularly be interested in IGERT and the SEES Fellows Program. Additionally, NCEAS and SESYNC offer great ways to get involved in interdisciplinary research.
The last activity of the morning was a panel of PIs who work across disciplines, including Drs. Nancy Grimm, Nik Heynan (CWT; social science), Mary Spivey (CDR; citizen science), and Dave Gutzler (SEV; climatology). They had some great advice for how to incorporate additional disciplines into ecological research during our dissertation work and beyond, including:
- “Get a life” – meeting new people will facilitate an exchange of ideas that might shift your perspective.
- “We don’t work with assholes” – collaboration is fun!
- “Push back on your advisor” – of course this is good advice!
- “I work with citizen scientists, so ask me if you need free labor” – check with your education reps at each site for details.
We spent the afternoon in a series of concurrent working groups, organized and led by graduate students. Participants had the option to attend groups ranging in topic from patchiness in plant communities to identifying best practices to cross-disciplinary research. The working groups were all well attended and many will result in ongoing collaborations, including data synthesis and starting up new cross-site experiments!
Overall, the day was a resounding success. We all left feeling a little brain-weary, but full of excitement for future collaborations and continued friendships.
-Kim La Pierre and Sally Koerner, graduate student co-chairs