Name: Pete Guiden
Profession/Area of Study: Ecology, University of Wisconsin- Madison
How did you get become interested in your field?: When I was a senior in high school, I became fascinated with BBC’s Planet Earth series. I remember seeing so many fascinating and diverse forms of life on the show and thinking to myself, “Wow, I just want to learn about this all.” Seven years later, I’ve been lucky enough to observe so much of earth’s diversity first-hand, both internationally and at home, and I haven’t looked back.
Are there any STEM developments you are especially excited to see play a part innovating your field? Sure. Ecology is really the youngest science—it’s only been formally studied for maybe sixty or seventy years—so we’re discovering new things all the time. My personal favorite innovation is the idea of integrating “spatial context” into ecological research. Our field is so ridiculously complex, since any organism has myriad interactions with other living and non-living things that affects its ability to survive and thrive. The variation in these interactions can make it hard to find strong support for general principles. For example, soil in one spot can be totally different from soil three feet away depending on the shade cast by plants, the topography, whether an animal walked over it, etc. Research that integrates spatial context tries to untangle these complex interactions. Ultimately, advances in ecology will advance our understanding of mathematics in the same way that physics has in previous centuries.
Any advice for students considering studying/working in your field? Develop your analytical skills at an early age! This includes knowing basic math and statistics, as well as how to apply them. If I was an undergraduate again, I would have taken an extra math course or two.
That was awesome, thanks Pete! Check in next Monday for another installment of #facesofSTEM