Ecology conference focuses on career development for students

Emily Drinks April 29, 2015 0

Elizabethtown College hosted the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the Ecological Society of America (ESA) Conference titled “Careers in Ecology.”

The conference is held annually for undergraduate and graduate students studying ecology and biology, as well as individuals with careers in ecology. The conference is open to all members of the Mid-Atlantic Chapter ESA in addition to anyone interested in attending. Approximately 140 people attended the conference this year.

“The majority of people that make presentations are students, so that could be graduate students or undergraduates. The ratio of undergraduates to grad students varies depending on place,” Associate Professor of Biology Dr. David Bowne, who functioned as the chair of the 2015 Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the ESA Conference, said. Bowne added that the conference being held at Etown contained more undergraduate students than the conference does if held at a university, such as the University of Maryland.

The conference began with an evening reading on Friday, April 17, at the Bowers Writers House. Students from Bowne’s and Assistant Professor of English Dr. Matthew Skillen’s “Ecology in Short Fiction” class read ecological short stories they had written for the class. Undergraduate and graduate students and their faculty mentors participating in the conference attended this reading.

Each year the conference has a different theme. Bowne selected the theme of “Careers in Ecology” for this year’s conference. The morning session on Saturday, April 18, was devoted to career development. “By tradition, the morning session tends to be keynote speakers,” Bowne said. “This year I decided to get away from that and devote the morning sessions to career development.” Phyllis Thibodeau, a career development coach, presented on how an individual would go about getting a career in ecology.

A panel discussion followed. The panel consisted of four representatives from different sectors of ecology. Richard Pouyat represented the U.S. Forest Service, Doug Boucher represented the Union of Concerned Scientists, Jeffrey Hartranft represented the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and Joe Berg represented Biohabitats, Inc.

During lunchtime on Saturday, the students had an opportunity to pair up with a professional in the field of ecology as part of a career development workshop. Additionally, both undergraduate and graduate students displayed their research during the afternoon poster presentations session. Topics ranging from “movements of painted turtles in the changing water temperatures of Lake Placida” to “using geographical information systems technology to develop an agricultural management system for a family-operated farm in Bucks County, Pa” were displayed.

The students presenting placed their posters in different areas of the Masters Center, and attendees of the conference could walk around and view the posters as well as ask the students questions about and discuss the research.

The banquet speaker for Saturday evening, Melissa Anley-Mills, gave her background working as the Social Media lead for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Research and Development.

“The one thread that everyone was saying, and it actually bookends really nicely with what Phyllis [Thibodeau] said in the morning and then Melissa [Anley-Mills] said at night, was the importance of being able to communicate,” Bowne said. He added that ecologists, no matter what field they enter in ecology, need to communicate with the general public or with clients they may have.

On Sunday morning, the conference annually holds a field trip for attendees. This year, the field trip was to two stream restoration sites in Lancaster: the Conewago Creek and Big Spring Run. Professor of Biology Dr. Thomas Murray and Bowne are each involved in a separate stream restoration project.

Murray spoke about his approach to restoration of one of the streams, and Bowne discussed his approach to the other stream in order to give attendees different perspectives on how stream restoration projects could be conducted.


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