Richard B. Root (2009)
From a “Focus on Ecologists” maintained by the ESA Education Office about 2009-2011.
|Full Name||Richard B. Root|
|Job Position||Professor of Ecology|
|Department||Ecology and Evolutionary Biology|
|Briefly describe your job path.||I entered the University of Michigan sticking to my love for ecology. I went directly to Berkeley after finishing at Ann Arbor. I carried out the field work for my dissertation at the Hastings Natural History Reservation in the Coast Range of California where two mentors helped me through the difficult initial stages: John Davis, who directed the Reservation, and Jimmie Bell, a local rancher.
After finishing graduate school I moved directly to Cornell where I was hired as an Assistant Professor of Insect Ecology in the Department of Entomology. After a few years, I was given a joint appointment in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. I moved up through the ranks at Cornell to where I am currently Professor of Ecology. With Cornell as a base I have been able to widen my experience on leaves from campus. These include a year as a member of the Field Staff of the Rockefeller Foundation with headquarters in Cali, Colombia; a year with Sir Richard Southwood at Oxford University; a return to the Hastings Reservation to work on lygaeid bugs; and visiting professorships at the Bodega Marine Laboratory and at the University of Washington. I have a long affiliation with the Archbold Biological Station in Florida and I am currently a Trustee of the Archbold Expeditions Foundation.
|What challenges did you need to overcome?||I sought ecology on my own. Many of my teachers and friends tried to discourage me from going into ecology, a topic which seemed rather strange to them.|
|Who or what inspired you to become a scientist (or other profession)?||I wanted to be an ecologist from an early age. When adults asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, I was frustrated because I did not know of a profession that dealt with my interests. I told people that I wanted to understand how the “woods works”. It was a relief when I discovered the word “ecology” because it finally gave identity to what I wanted to do. I can remember sitting alone in the woods and wondering how things interacted with each other I must have been 10 or 12 years old at this time.
My grandfather, a farmer, was one of the best ecologists I have ever encountered. I often worked with him, which gave us ample opportunity to talk. I learned the lore that 3 generations of Roots had gained from working the same ground. The importance of historical events was demonstrated at every turn and experimentation was just a normal part of my grandfather’s style of farming.
|What is the most valuable advice a mentor gave you or that you would offer to someone who’d like to do the same job as you?||1. Start any new investigation by making extensive observations on your study system or taxon. Discipline your observations by writing out notes. Maintain a journal where you put down your insights, worries, etc.
2. Know enough about the fundamental issues to design a study that will be of broad significance but you also need to stay “open” to what Nature is telling you.
|Award Name||Eugene P. Odum Award|
|Year originally profiled.||2004|