Stephen R. Carpenter

From an “Ecologist Directory” maintained by the ESA Education Office about 2004-2005. Profile circa 2004.

Degree                                           Ph.D. 1979 (University of Wisconsin, Madison)
Position                                         Professor of Zoology
Department                                   Center for Limnology
Organization                                 University of Wisconsin, Madison

carpenterDr. Carpenter, along with his colleagues, is the recipient of ESA’s 2004 Sustainability Science Award, which is given annually to the authors of the peer reviewed paper published in the past five years that makes the greatest contribution to the emerging science of ecosystem and regional sustainability through the integration of ecological and social sciences.

When did you get interested in ecology? Who was most influential in guiding you into ecology?

My father, a chemist, spent much of his career working on environmental problems. He strongly influenced my thinking about science and the uses of science. Professor Stuart Fisher, my undergraduate mentor at Amherst College, helped crystallize my thinking about ecology and stimulated a lifelong interest in ecosystem science.

How did you learn about ecological careers? What is your position title now?

As an undergraduate, I spent a summer counting trees in Glacier National Park in a project organized by Professor Lincoln Brower of Amherst College. I realized I could get paid for a life outdoors. Presently I am Stephen A. Forbes Professor of Zoology, in the Center for Limnology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Describe your route to a career in (or using) ecology. What challenges did you need to overcome? What was your training, and what positions have you held?

The main challenge has been too little time for too many ideas. So far I have not overcome it. My undergraduate degree was in Biology at Amherst College. I went to University of Wisconsin-Madison for M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Botany, with minor in Limnology and Oceanography. There I was fortunate to work on the Lake Wingra Ecosystem project which was a spin-off of the International Biological Program. The multi-scale, interdisciplinary approach of that large ecosystem science project was eye-opening for me. After finishing my doctorate, I went directly into a faculty position at University of Notre Dame. There I started whole-lake experimental work at the University of Notre Dame Environmental Research Center, a marvelous research facility near Land o’ Lakes, Wisconsin. After 10 enjoyable years on the faculty at Notre Dame, I moved to the faculty of the Center for Limnology at U.W.-Madison. That institution offers extraordinary intellectual freedom to pursue interdisciplinary interests. Current research projects include long-term ecological studies of lakes and the landscapes around them, whole-lake experiments on the carbon cycle, and studies of lake districts as social-ecological systems.

What key advice would you offer a student today?

Read widely. Learn to write quickly and well. These skills grow together, and will open many doors for you.

What advice do you have for communicating ecology to diverse audiences?

Take time to do it. Learn by listening to your audience. It’s an evolving conversation.

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