Elizabeth M. Wolkovich

From a “Focus on Ecologists” maintained by the ESA Education Office about 2009-2011.

Full Name Elizabeth M. Wolkovich
Degree PhD
Job Position Postdoctoral Fellow
Organization NCEAS/UC-San Diego
Professional Affiliation Academic
Research Discipline Conservation Biology
Research Habitat Grassland
Research Organism Terrestrial invertebrates
Describe what you do and briefly describe the activities that your job encompasses I am currently starting my postdoc, splitting time between NCEAS and UC-San Diego. My postdoctoral research uses long-term terrestrial and freshwater datasets to help understand the key factors that link community and ecosystem ecology. I have a particular interest in the major factors that regulate this link under global change and will be studying how earlier springs interact with species’ phenologies to alter community assembly.

That means just now I spend a lot of time in front of the computer, analyzing empirical data, modeling results and writing. However, I still spend some of my time in the field measuring plants, arthropods and soils, and some time meeting with collaborators and starting exciting new projects.

What do you love most about your job? Many things: the people I work with, the time outside, analyzing data and the flexibility in what I do with my days just now.
For each degree you’ve obtained, list the degree, field, and institution. PhD Dartmouth College (Ecology)
B.A. Wellesley College (Major in Biology)
Briefly describe your job path. I always wanted to be a biologist. In college I majored in biology, but spent most of my time learning Spanish and Russian to gain a larger perspective. I studied abroad in Oaxaca, Mexico and visited Lake Baikal one summer through a fantastic inter-departmental course. After college I took time off to have a regular office job, and a regular life. Then I started graduate school at Dartmouth. I spent a good chunk of each year working at my field site in San Diego. Now I have just moved to southern California to start an NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship in Biology working with Elsa Cleland at the University of California – San Diego and Steph Hampton at NCEAS.
What challenges did you need to overcome? Having my dissertation-research field site located across the country was a challenge. It meant I had to find enough funding to cover not just supplies, but cross-country airfare, housing and transportation in San Diego, which meant writing lots of grants and getting rejected a lot before finally obtaining funding to cover my PhD work. The other challenge was finding collaborators who could support my work in California, which considers soils, plants and arthropods. I was lucky enough to meet David Holway at the University of California – San Diego and David Lipson at San Diego State University my first year and they supported me in San Diego with local lab space, advice and morale, while my advisors, Doug Bolger and Kathy Cottingham, supported me at Dartmouth.
What’s one thing you hope to do in the future? Bike from San Francisco to Santa Barbara.
How do you describe your job when you meet people at a party? It depends on the party but usually I say I am a conservation ecologist who studies the effects of global change on community-ecosystem interactions. Or I describe that week’s current project.
What is your family background and what did they think of your career choice? I grew up in a great home with my Mum, a sister and brother and wonderful animals. I have a family truly supportive of me doing whatever I want as long as I am happy, so unless I am unhappy I don’t hear much about what they think of my career choice.
Who or what inspired you to become a scientist (or other profession)? I have been interested in ecology for as long as I can remember, as a young child growing up in suburbia I wanted to be one of the scientists I saw on the program Nova, discussing my work with ocean, forest or desert as my backdrop. I also thought it was really cool that the people on Nova were older but still got to have backpacks as part of their day jobs. When my family moved to a more rural location, I was still fascinated by Nova, but also by the streams and woods in my backyard and how different they seemed than my old suburban woods. My mother receives credit for the move and also as my inspiration to do whatever I wanted in life and to appreciate nature.
Who currently inspires you? People who work fewer hours than me yet get more done. And my mother; she has excellent priorities, a fantastic spirit, is well-read and thoughtful.
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? Find good collaborators, appreciate them, and learn to be one.
Keep a daily log of your lab and/or field work.
Read. Read for fun, and for your work.
Find a place where you can get work done, and go there sometimes.
If your career is not consistently contributing to your happiness consider another career.
What would you like people to remember about your life as a scientist (or other profession)? That I was a good collaborator and did useful, creative science.
How do you feel your work has contributed to society? As a researcher, I spent my PhD examining how invasive grass litter impacts the communities and ecosystems of southern California’s coastal sage scrub habitat. That research has direct impacts on how we may manage invasive grasses but its results also extend beyond to suggest a framework for how we might consider and study the effects of invasive plants in many semi-arid systems. In general, I strive to have research that has on-the-ground utility for the refuges, parks and habitats I work in, but also advances conservation ecology in a broader fashion by highlighting important connections. As a teacher and teaching assistant in the classroom, field and lab I hope I have inspired students to become engaged in nature and science.
Award Name Buell
Year originally profiled. 2009

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