This has been one of those weeks when I've absolutely loved being a Professor at the University of Vermont and a member of our Environmental Program.
My class is humming along at full speed, and students are contacting me outside of class to talk about research opportunities in ecology and environmental studies. Yesterday, I talked with a couple of colleagues about an exciting study abroad program in Central America that will appeal to many of our students. This morning, I had a coffee with my friend and colleague Nick Gotelli (Biology, College of Arts and Sciences) to talk about a whole host of things. I also got to meet prospective students and their parents and tell them about our interdisciplinary, independently designed program, opportunities for internships, our team of advisors, and more. One of the parents I met today is an alum (class of '80), so I got to hear wonderful stories about life in the early days of the Program with Carl Riedel, Ian Worley, Tom Hudspeth and others.
Just now, I've come from a meeting with Rachelle Gould, Aimee Classen, Brendan Fisher from Rubenstein and Beverly Wemple and Cheri Morse (Geography Department, College of Arts and Sciences) where we shared our own research and explored the intersections of human well-being, biodiversity, ecosystem services, and ecosystem functions in mountain landscapes around Vermont. It's going to evolve into an exciting cross-campus research program, supported initially by a Gund Catalyst grant.
So it's been a good week of teaching, thinking about new courses, meeting prospective students (and their parents), and collaborating across campus on an exciting project - some of the many reasons I love being a part of the Environmental Program at UVM.
Happy Friday -
You might remember that last fall, I sent around an email about Alexander Pyron's views on biodiversity. His essay in the Washington Post was entitled "We don’t need to save endangered species. Extinction is part of evolution." As you can imagine, that essay by Pyron elicited some response, some of which I discussed a couple of months ago. But here's my favorite response so far. It's by the amazing Carl Safina (author of books such as A Sea in Flames, Voyage of the Turtle, Eye of the Albatross, and Song for the Blue Ocean). I really encourage all of you to go read it (it's also pasted below).
And if you'd like to study biodiversity (or other current and future environmental challenges), don't forget about the Ian Worley Awards! You can get up to $7500 for your research and scholarship, as long as you are an imaginative undergraduate Environmental Studies major or minor, an undergraduate enrolled in any 200‐level ENVS course, or a UVM faculty member who regularly teaches Environmental Studies courses.
I'm a firm believer in the value of getting undergraduate students engaged in research and scholarship early in their time at the university. It's important for a whole host of reasons. It increases retention and enhances complex problem-solving skills in students. And, well, undergraduates often make amazing discoveries that lead to academic articles. In fact, one of the things I'm most proud of in my career is that I've published 22 peer-reviewed papers with undergraduates as co-authors.
I also think getting students doing research and scholarship is important because it was important for me when I was an undergrad. I wouldn't be where I am now if I hadn't started doing research in the lab and field with David Dussourd and Deane Bowers when I was an undergraduate.
The Environmental Program has supported undergraduate research for many years. But I'd like to announce today that we're increasing our support. This year, we will make available nearly $50,000 to support environmentally related research and scholarship by undergraduate students at the University of Vermont. There are several awards this year, but today I'm just going to tell you about my favorite one, the Ian Worley Award. (Note that the forms and deadlines on our website are outdated). Please share this with your colleagues, students, classes, and others.
The Ian Worley Award
These awards foster and celebrate creative, integrative, imaginative, and innovative approaches in addressing current and future environmental challenges.
Who can apply? – Any imaginative undergraduate Environmental Studies major or minor, undergraduates enrolled in any 200‐level ENVS course, and UVM faculty members who regularly teach Environmental Studies courses.
What projects can I propose? – You may propose any creative or innovative project, whether in art, education, journalism, activism, community partnership, or academic research, etc., that addresses an environmental issue. We invite you to propose projects with new and even untested paths of mind and thought that address critical responses to persisting environmental ills or the sudden appearance of unforeseen threats, and/or the enhancement of flourishing environments and Earth’s well-being. Check out the projects of previous winners, and use these themes as guiding principles:
– New paths of mind and thought
– A broadly interdisciplinary approach
– Creative, integrative, imaginative, and innovative approaches – The potential to be a catalyst for change
How much can I ask for? - Anywhere between $500 and $7500. Multiple awards may be given.
When's the deadline? - Apply by March 23 to receive full consideration, though some applications may be considered throughout the spring semester.
How do I apply? - Send a single .pdf or .docx file to Nathan.Sanders@uvm.edu with Ian Worley Award in the subject line.
The proposal should have the following format:
1) A Cover sheet that indicates: a) name of project, b) name of proposer, c) contact information, d) faculty sponsor, if you are a student, e) proposed budget total, f) any additional funding support, g) project timeline.
2) A project description with details on the proposed project or idea, not more than 2 single-spaced pages in 11 pt font. The description should explain how the idea meets the award criteria, why the applicant is prepared and qualified to carry out the project, expected timeline and outcomes. You should include enough detail so the project is clear and understandable to the ENVS award review committee.
3) A budget description that includes an overview paragraph with budget rationale, and a detailed budget, line by line, of all equipment, items, travel, etc. necessary to complete the project. Proposed award budgets must be between $500-7,500 total. If additional funds are necessary to complete the work, explain how you will obtain them.
4) An equipment and necessary facilities description, if appropriate. State how these items will be obtained, and if costs are involved how those costs will be paid.
4) Letter of support from faculty sponsor (if a student proposal) indicating strengths of the idea and willingness to serve as sponsor, not more than 2 paragraphs long. This can be emailed separately to the Program Director if the letter writer prefers.
5) A resume of the proposer not more than 2 pages long.
6) Additional supporting and explanatory documentation is welcome, if concise. Check with the Program Director for appropriateness.
Note: If your project or creative activity involves human or animal subjects, we will need documentation for IRB clearance.
For questions on the application process, allowable expenses, or review process, please contact Nate Sanders, Director of the Environmental Program, Nathan.Sanders@uvm.edu (ie, me).
We hear a lot about the collapse of pollinators in the news (and probably in our courses too).
And we should. About 75% of all crops globally rely on pollinators. But most of the attention of late, at least in the US, has focused on the honeybee, Apis mellifera. We should be concerned about their potential decline, for sure. But, here's an important perspective published in Science magazine last week by a friend of mine from Denmark that I think many of you will enjoy reading. I've pasted the text below, and the citation for those of you who are interested.
(And I hope you all don't mind if I occasionally use this forum to share research and policy that are likely relevant to this community).
Happy Friday -
Conserving honey bees does not help wildlife
Juan P. González-Varo
Science 26 Jan 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6374, pp. 392-393
I'm just finishing up week two of teaching NR103 - Ecology, Ecosystems, and the Environment - to about 120 students. It's basically a general ecology course that's not too different from a course I've been teaching since 2001. Every time I've taught the course, I've started the class with a couple of examples of how ecologists think and do ecology. And I've also talked with the students about the eminent ecologist Robert MacArthur on the very first day of class (and he pops up throughout the class, for a variety of reasons).
For those of you who don't know Robert MacArthur, he was born in Toronto, but moved to Marlboro to go to college soon after his father was hired as the first scientist on the faculty there. MacArthur went on to get a PhD at Yale, focusing mostly on how warblers divide up space and resources, and the field work was done in forests near the family cabin in southern Vermont. After getting his PhD, MacArthur became a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and then moved on to Princeton.
But for the rest of his life, he kept a cabin in southern Vermont, and would go every chance he got. And some of the most influential work in the history of ecology was conceived and written at that cabin in southern Vermont. The Theory of Island Biogeography with EO Wilson was written there, for example. MacArthur died young (at age 42) of renal cancer, and on his deathbed (literally) he wrote an influential book called Geographical Ecology. Early in the book, MacArthur wrote “To do science is to search for repeated patterns, not simply to accumulate facts. . . . Doing science is not such a barrier to feeling or such a dehumanizing influence as is often made out. It does not take the beauty from nature." I love that quote, teach by it, and live by it.
But the real reason I introduce the students to MacArthur is that he was the consummate birder and figured out how to do it for a career. But he also knew that to make lasting contributions in his field, he had to couple that passion for birds with a quantitative toolkit. And that's what I'm trying to accomplish in NR103 - tapping into the passion our students have (or give them something to be passionate about) while providing them with a set of quantitative tools. It's especially rewarding to do that, with MacArthur as an inspiration, in Vermont.
Enjoy the weekend -
It's now "spring" semester here at the University of Vermont. To be honest, after some of the cold temperatures we experienced a couple of weeks ago, I'm happy with this balmy 27 degrees day.
My family and I spent most of winter break in Patagonia where we have a lot of good friends and a couple of research projects. Over the past ten years or so, I have tried to more effectively mix family, research, friends, and beautiful places, and this trip might have been the best example of that so far.
But while we were away from the University of Vermont and ENVS, lots of things continued to happen. The most exciting thing to me was the announcement of the new Gund Institute for Environment Fellows. Of the 14 new fellows, three came from Environmental Studies - Rachelle Gould, Bindu Panikkar, and me (you can see the full list here). My quick glance of the list of recipients indicates that no other department or program on campus had as many new affiliates named. Well done, especially for a relatively small faculty!
Similarly, The Gund Institute also announced recipients of the Catalyst Awards to establish new research projects (the full list is here). Again, our stellar faculty in ENVS were big winners.
Brendan Fisher, Rachelle Gould, Cheri Morse (Geography; ENVS '89), Bev Wemple (Geography), Aimee Classen (RSENR), and I got an award to work on how global change affects biodiversity, ecosystems, and livelihoods in mountains around the world.
Cecilia Danks and colleagues received an award to study biogas (e.g., CO2, methane) dynamics.
Jon Erickson and colleagues received funds to host an international symposium to develop a new research agenda for ecological economics.
Adrian Ivakhiv and Luis Vivanco (Anthropology) received funds to host an international symposium on ‘artscience’ and ‘eco-humanities.'
These awards, and so many other things, demonstrate what incredible scholars we have in Our Environmental Program. The collaborative grants we've received also demonstrate how we make connections across campus, and in fact, across the world, in our research and scholarship. And finally, these accomplishments highlight the truly interdisciplinary nature of our work and will undoubtedly enhance our teaching.
I hope you are all as proud of these faculty as I am, and as honored to be a part of such an incredible group of scholars.
Happy Friday -
I look forward to writing these missives each week. But this will be the last one until the start of the semester in 2018. I could look backwards on the year (and it is amazing that I've been here for a year already). But instead, I'd like to look forward to next year and tell you about some of the initiatives that are likely to be launched next year, or at least worked on seriously by many. You've read some of this before, or I've at least hinted at some of the topics in previous Friday emails. But here goes (and I'm certain I'll forget some things…).
Initiative 1. Preparing students for the world. Last week, I wondered aloud whether we are preparing our students for an increasingly connected world. Early next semester, I hope to have some brownbag meetings, across campus, to think about what we could be doing better, and what we could be doing that we're not doing. I know some faculty affiliated with Our Environmental Program are equally excited about talking about this. I am especially interested in connections with China and connections within the US, but would welcome any and all ideas.
Initiative 2. Advising and mentoring. Starting on February 1, we will have an additional professional advisor housed in Bittersweet. Kevin Chu is going to join us, and he's bringing both a wealth of experience and exciting ideas to the Environmental Program. Kevin graduated from Middlebury and has been working in UVM's Office of Admissions for a while. Once he's here, he and Ibit will be in charge of advising for all first- and second-year students, and they will be point people for all ENVS students across campus. Adding Kevin to our staff will transform, in a very positive way, how we support our students and our faculty advisors across campus. Plus, having Kevin as a colleague will allow Ibit, whose plate is always so full, to think about new projects and initiatives.
The search process was amazing. I’d really like to thank Brendan and his search committee (from RSENR, CALS, and CAS) for all of the hard work they did in getting the applicant pool down from ~100 applications to 4, and finally to Kevin. Amy Seidl got the ball rolling on this search way back in May and June. Cathy in our office did tons of leg work to make the search run smoothly and was an incredible asset on the committee. An incredible crop of thoughtful ENVS students met with each finalist, and their perspectives were a huge benefit. Ibit thought long and hard about each of the finalists and provided the committee with incredible insights about what each could bring to the position and ENVS. And Deans Mathews, Vogelmann, and Falls should also be commended for funding this position that is going to help us, and our students, in so many ways.
Initiative 3. Undergraduate research and scholarship. We will continue to support undergraduate research and scholarship in ENVS. In fact, we are going to increase our support. I will look to hire an undergraduate on an NSF-funded project for ~$5,000 this summer. We will also offer our usual ENVS Summer Research Award (this has traditionally been $2,000 per student, but I want to increase it). The Ian Worley award will be announced in January. And, I hope to announce news about supporting even more undergraduate research and scholarship in the very near future… Stay tuned.
Initiative 4. Strengthening our cross-campus connections. You all know this, but some of the best environmental scholars might not have offices in Bittersweet. (However, there are some darn good folks in Bittersweet). Instead, they are scattered across campus, in Philosophy, Classics, Biology, Political Science, History, Forestry, Plant and Soil Sciences, and elsewhere. Beginning in February, we will initiate a series of meetings with the goal of engaging with these incredible scholars and teachers even more than we do now.
Initiative 5. Building on our Program Assessment. Brendan Fisher has been going above and beyond to think about how we go about assessing our programmatic learning outcomes. We'll finish this up in the early spring. But our discussions have made many of us in the ENVS faculty think more deeply about what we're trying to accomplish, and what we hope our students leave UVM with. Maybe by the end of spring semester, we'll be able say more about this. But I think it's an exciting time in Environmental Studies.
Initiative 6. Alumni engagement. I've travelled a lot the past 3 weeks. Just this morning, I was in the Brussels airport, waiting to board a plane back to the US, when I recognized one of our alumni walking by me. We have thousands of alumni, scattered all over the world. But it was REALLY cool to bump into one in an airport in Europe. All semester, I've been thinking about our incredible network of alumni around the world, and how better to get their insights and thoughts and increased engagement in Our Environmental Program. Toward that goal, beginning in spring of 2018, I will invite a group of alumni to join an Alumni Advisory board for ENVS. I have some names in mind, but I would love to receive nominations up until February 15 (including self nominations!). I'll send out a reminder about this after the holidays.
Again, I'm sure I've forgotten some things. But that's what I'm thinking about now, and what I hope we can move forward on in the spring.
Until then, I hope you enjoy some time away from UVM to think, to write, to explore, to reconnect, to rebalance, to spend time with loved ones, to read, or, if you're Brendan Fisher, to work on Assessment Plans.
Thanks for a wonderful first year.
I'm just back from Japan, where I served as the external examiner on a PhD thesis at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST). It was my first time to Japan, and I hope to go back. The people were lovely, and the sushi was better than I could've imagined.
While I was there, I of course was thinking about Environmental Studies at UVM (honestly, I was). And here's why: the student who was finishing his PhD was from China, but he worked on biodiversity in Fiji. His advisor is a Greek-Canadian-American who is married to a Singaporean woman, and they live in Okinawa. The other external examiner was a lovely British ecologist who hasn’t lived in the UK for more than 40 years; instead, he's lived and worked in Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore, and China. While touring OIST, I met a Spanish myrmecologist who spoke English with a German accent and works in Madagascar; I had dinner with French grad student who is studying in Japan, but works on ants from Australia. And then there was me, who flew for about 20 hours to get to Okinawa. All of these people, literally from nearly all corners of the world, sat down together to talk about our understanding (or lack thereof) of the natural world.
Are we doing a good enough job at preparing our students for an increasingly connected world? To understand and solve problems that will require diverse approaches from diverse teams? To understand the cultural and social contexts in which many environmental issues are embedded? To be frank, I think the answer is no. Late this afternoon, I had an engaging conversation with two of our students (one of whom is graduating). I think, well, I know, they would both say the answer is a resounding no. No we are not doing enough to help our students deal with, let alone address pressing environmental issues in a diverse and interconnected world. So what do we do? I think it's time to start having the conversations about what we can, and should, do as The Environmental Program at the University of Vermont. And in the new year, I'll invite some of you to engage in these conversations. I hope you'll be willing.
Best wishes -
Why preserve biodiversity? That question has motivated me since I was a sophomore in college in the early 1990's. Since then, I've done research on biodiversity and the functions and services it provides, and I've given hundreds, if not a thousand, lectures about why biodiversity is important. Sure, there are scientific reasons to preserve biodiversity. And as you know, the Federal Government and other entities have traditionally focused considerable effort on saving endangered species. There are numerous ethical, economic, aesthetic, and other reasons that we could discuss, at length, for why we should work to preserve biodiversity and those species that are most threatened with extinction.
Maybe you agree with everything I've written above, or at least some of what I've written above. I guess I would be surprised that anyone would disagree with what I've written. But, as I've written before, I live in a bit of a bubble. But there are people who apparently disagree with the paragraph above. For example, here's a perspective that was published about a week ago in the Washington Post. It's entitled "We don't need to save endangered species. Extinction is part of evolution." The author, an Associate Professor of Biology at George Washington University named R. Alexander Pyron, writes "… the impulse to conserve for conservation’s sake has taken on an unthinking, unsupported, unnecessary urgency", "… we should feel no remorse about altering our environment…", and " Conservation is needed for ourselves and only ourselves. Conservation is needed for ourselves and only ourselves." I could go on, but you should go read it for yourself.
As you might imagine, when folks caught wind of Dr. Pryon's essay, there was dismay, anger, and some ridicule on platforms like twitter. And, many of us (and by many, I mean >3000 people, including ~20 from UVM) have signed a letter to the editor of the Washington Post that that counters much of what Pyron wrote in his essay. (And if you want to sign, go here by 7PM tonight, EST).
But the story gets a bit more interesting. Apparently Dr. Pyron posted a commentary on his Facebook page that included the following:
“In the brief space of 1,900 words, I failed to make my views sufficiently clear and coherent, and succumbed to a temptation to sensationalize parts of my argument. Furthermore, I made the mistake of not showing the piece to my colleagues at GWU first; their dismay mirrored that of many in the broader community. As I’ve explained to their satisfaction, and now I wish to explain to the field at large, my views and opinions were not accurately captured by the piece, and I hope the record can now be corrected. In particular, the headlines inserted for the piece for publication said “We don’t need to save endangered species,” and that “we should only worry about preserving biodiversity when it helps us.” I did not write these words, I do not believe these things, and I do not support them.”
Over at a blog called Writing Science, Josh Schimel writes the following, in a longer blog post that I would encourage you to read:
Dr. Pyron is saying things that are scientifically reasonable and thoughtful in his long, thoughtful, Facebook post. Unfortunately few will ever read the FB post; millions may read the op-ed. The public gets the wrong message, and his scientific peers are dismayed. Not a good outcome. Remember, always, that communication isn’t what you think you are giving, but what the reader gets. In this case, most readers get a message that was antithetical to Dr. Pyron’s true beliefs. Ouch. That is a true failure in writing. Worse, it is a failure that Dr. Pyron is going to have to live with because published is forever. You can’t unpublish something. [bold added for emphasis by Nate]
Equally, this is a powerful lesson in the value of peer review: Dr. Pyron did not run the piece past his peers and so never got feedback that indicated that readers were getting a different message than that he intended.
So, there are lots of lessons here, for all of us. One of course is that we should all work on communicating clearly. If someone doesn't understand what you've written or what you've said, it could be your fault. And, now that you've perhaps read Dr. Pyron's piece, you know how you would refute or rebut his arguments, given that you're all interdisciplinary thinkers who know (or are soon learning!) about the importance of biodiversity, and how to have a civil, engaging discussion with someone.
But wait! While I've been writing this, Dr. Pyron has updated his webpage with a longer defense/explanation of his Washington Post essay. Go see for yourselves what he has to say. (Now that I've read it, I have my own thoughts).
Hi all -
Happy Friday before Thanksgiving! At this time of the year, I think many of us are ready for a little break from studying, teaching, writing, advising, and thinking. I hope you all take some time away to recharge for the final push this semester.
One of the biggest differences between Denmark, where we lived for about four years, and the US is that Danes are serious about work-life balance. Most Danes adhere to the 37-hour work week, which means that when 2PM on Friday rolls around, many Danes start their weekends. Many of my Danish colleagues didn't email after hours or on weekends. They paused during the day for coffee breaks and cake breaks (Danes look for reasons to bring in cake). And they were generally happy at work.
But the Danes also embrace vacation time. Of course, it helps if you're guaranteed at least six weeks of paid vacation per year. Many Danes took the entire month of July off and would completely unplug. Some shops would close. Colleagues would turn off their computers and ignore emails. The Danes aren't alone. Workers in other European countries are guaranteed at least 5 weeks of paid vacation.
You might be saying, but surely taking all of that vacation time hurts productivity! Well, I wouldn't be writing about vacation time and productivity if that were the case. Nine of the top 10 most productive countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in 2015, measured by GDP per hour worked, are in Europe. The United States ranked sixth. And of course that time off can also reinvigorate the mind and body and provide inspiration.
All of that is to say that I hope you all get to enjoy some time off over the next week, that you come back ready to finish up the year. And finally, my sincere hope for all of you is that you have many things to be thankful for, and you get to celebrate with good food, good friends, and your loved ones.
All the best -
If you would like to work with Nate
Please email him a summary of your research experience and research goals, along with a CV.