Timothy L. Dickson (2004)

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

Position                                                Graduate Research Assistant
Organization                                        University of Kansas

dicksonWhen did you become interested in ecology? Who was most influential in guiding you into ecology?
I became interested in ecology near the beginning of college. Professors Mike Swift and Charles Umbanhower from St. Olaf College influenced my early intellectual development in ecology, and the biodiversity / ecosystem function research of Drs. Shahid Naeem and David Tilman led to my interest in community ecology.

How did you learn about ecological careers? What is your position title now?
I learned about ecological careers from professors and by phoning people who work in different areas of ecology. My current position is a graduate research assistant at the University of Kansas.

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?
I spent much of my childhood in a riverside park near my home, and I gained a love of being outdoors. This love of the outdoors led me to ask questions about how nature “worked” and to pursue ecological studies in college and graduate school. The only major challenge that I have needed to overcome thus far has been that my parents would have preferred me to be a lawyer or a medical doctor. However, since I began graduate school they have been supportive of my choice.My training in ecology has been directly related to the positions I have held. I participated in a REU program at St. Olaf College where I studied aquatic mussels. I also have held plant ecology research internships at Cedar Creek Natural History Area and Archbold Biological Station, and I worked in an agricultural plant fungus lab at North Dakota State University.

What key advice would you offer a student today?
I would recommend trying to determine where you want to end up after yourschooling is completed, and then making sure that your schooling / training is preparing you for the job you eventually want to have. I would also recommend to those people beginning a graduate research program choose a “big question” which excites them, and then have another somewhat safer project as a backup. Projects looking at major questions are generally harder to successfully complete, but it is easier to stay motivated about the project and other people will be excited about the results if the study produces usable results.

What advice do you have for communicating ecology to diverse audiences?
Know something about your audience and communicate ecology so that your audience can relate to it. The audience will probably not understand or care what you are talking about unless you use examples from their everyday lives.In the realm of ecology relating to environmental issues, it is good to take into account other factors that affect a person’s views about the ecological problem in question. For example, when telling a group of farmers about buffer strips along a stream, instead of just talking about how buffer strips can reduce sediment and nutrient deposition, it might also be good to talk about how the government offers financial incentives for buffer strips and to offer several case studies of farmers who have created buffer strips and the perceived pros and cons from the farmer’s view.


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