David Inouye

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

Degree                           Ph.D. 1976 (University of North Carolina)
Position                         Professor & Director
Department                   Department of Biology & Sustainable Development and Conservation
                                       Biology
Organization                 University of Maryland

davidinouyeWhen did you become interested in ecology?
An elementary school teacher, my parents, and my grandmother were all important in getting me interested in biology and ecology. A college faculty member stimulated my interest in plant ecology. Another important element of my training was participation in two tropical ecology courses through the Organization for Tropical Studies while I was a graduate student; that experience helped steer me away from behavior towards ecology. Exposure to field biology at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory was also an important element in the development of my career.

How did you learn about ecological careers?
I didn’t learn much about careers in ecology until I became a graduate student. I’m now Professor in the Department of Biology, and Director of the graduate program in Sustainable Development and Conservation Biology at the University of Maryland. I’m also an affiliate faculty member in the School of Public Affairs, and Secretary of the Board of Governors of the Ecological Society.

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 was an undergraduate zoology major at Swarthmore College, received a Ph.D. in zoology from the University of North Carolina, took a job in the zoology (now biology) department at the University of Maryland, and later did a NATO post-doc at the Botanical Institute at the University of Vienna. For two years I was Director of the University of Colorado’s Mountain Research Station. My sabbaticals in the Snowy Mountains of Australia, the Smithsonian’s Tropical Research Institute, the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, and University of Natal were also important training experiences.

What advice do you have for communicating ecology to diverse audiences?
Take a course at a biological field station. The kinds of courses they offer are not available at many schools, and you’ll learn about field biology first hand.  Take advantage of the NSF program for Research Experience for Undergraduates, and get paid to learn about research by doing it.  With these experiences you’ll learn enough about natural history to be able to ask interesting research questions, and develop the skills needed to learn how to answer them.

What key advice would you offer a student today?
The work you do is of interest to non-scientists, and you can learn how to communicate it to them. For example: write an article for the local newspapers, invite reporters to visit your research project, talk on a local radio program, write (and get paid for it!) articles in magazines like Natural History, give talks to garden clubs, school groups, or events like wildflower festivals.

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