“So, what does a quantitative ecologist do?”
This is the first question most people ask me when I rattle off my job title. Basically, I use math to study and solve ecological problems. I am living a giant math story problem and enjoying it! I use ecological model, computational mathematics, and advanced statistics to not only solve problems, but also define them. For those of you familiar with the term, I consider myself a quant. Unlike most quants, I primarily study the environment. On any given day, I might be modeling where a species occurs or studying how a chemicals affect wildlife. In addition to the environment, I also dabble in medical biostatistics and quantifying risk for business. Statistics and mathematics allow me to “play” in many different field’s backyards.
How might one become a Quantitative Ecologist do you ask?
Growing up, I always enjoyed the outdoors. As a family, my parents, brother and I would go on hikes and bike rides often. Through scouting, I went on many a camping trip ranging from backyards and pastures to wilderness areas. This led me to restore a prairie for my Eagle Scout project with a wildlife biologist. My project motivated me to study wildlife ecology for my undergraduate major. However, the wildlife job market is very tough! So, I chose to go to grad school for environmental toxicology.
Okay, so I see you’re why you’re an ecologist, but where does the “quantitative” part fit in?
Growing up, I always liked to play computer games and enjoyed math until it became hard in high school (I still hate calculus to this day!). I did not link the two interests formally until grad school. I developed a mosquito/dengue model for my MS research. One of my MS committee members, and future PhD co-adviser, told me that I needed to learn mathematics if I wanted to model. Begrudging and almost whimsically, I followed this advice and eventually even took it to heart. Two years of coursework later, I completed a doctoral minor in mathematics. This coursework helped me to completed my doctoral research where I studied the effects of pesticides on Daphnia.
I saw a posting on the TWS Biometrics Working Group email list adverting a postdoctoral position to study the effects of wind energy on cave bats. I applied for the position, and am now a “Quantitative Ecologist”.