Ecologists who are awesome at things besides ecology

In this old post asking readers “What were you, or what were you going to be, before you became an ecologist?”, several examples came up of ecologists who were or are very accomplished at something besides ecology or some related academic discipline. Several examples of ecologists who were elite-level athletes, good enough to attend NCAA Division I universities on athletic scholarships and even compete for national and international championships. One who was a professional ballet dancer. Many who are accomplished musicians. Nick Gotelli is one (follow the link for others). Another is Celtic/punk/folk band Warblefly, which counts ecologists Frank Van Veen and Andy Beckerman among its members, and Owen Petchey as a former member.

So, just for fun, share examples of ecologists (including yourself!) who are awesome at something besides ecology.

I’d add my own name, but I don’t think “making zombie jokes” and “pretending to be a philosopher” really count as skills or talents. 🙂

31 thoughts on “Ecologists who are awesome at things besides ecology

  1. Well, I’m really really good at Boggle. Everyone is awesome at something. Some people’s awesome makes great art, makes them rich, saves the world, makes other people happy, or something else to be celebrated. But me: I’m really really good at Boggle. 😦

  2. Does publishing in history journals count? Something I intend to do more of, time willing.

    Other than that, I was a pretty poor acoustic singer-songwriter for a while, but a better roadie, working with guys who later went on to roadie and sound engineer for bands like Radiohead.

    • “Does publishing in history journals count?”

      Sure, publishing outside your own field counts! I’d say it probably counts more, the further you get from your home field. Are you planning to publish on history of ecology, or history further removed from ecology?

      A grad student at Calgary turned his term paper for my class on Darwin’s Origin into a paper in a history journal. It was on a 19th century president of Princeton University and his views on evolution and religion.

      Being good enough at something that’s not ecology to have worked with people who eventually went on to great success at that something is an interesting subcategory of its own. My cross country team in college included several elite runners, and the team won two national titles. But I can’t really say that “I was a good enough runner to be on a national champion cross country team”. Anybody who wanted to could join the team and run the early-season races–but only the top 7 guys got to run in the championship races. So me being on those championship teams is more like me happening to have lived on the same street or worked in the same building as elite runners.

  3. E. O. Wilson wrote a novel, of course: Anthill. I haven’t read it. It seems to have gotten mixed reviews, with the most positive comments on the central section, which apparently comes close to being popular science rather than fiction:

  4. A colleague of mine while I was at McGill, Louis Lefebvre who works on bird behavior (innovation) also writes well-respected and well-read mystery novels (in French). As his website makes clear he also is a pretty good painter and photographer although I don’t know if these have reached the professional level like his writing has.

  5. Ooh, fun! A call for bragging post. I was an internationally ranked fencer before giving competition up to enroll in grad school. In college, I fenced NCAA’s and made the championships once (and just missed them once). As an adult, I fenced in the U.S., Canada, and in Europe, won local, regional, and national competitions. At one point I was ranked 11th in the U.S. — enough to start getting “elite fencer” correspondence from the national body governing fencing (and warnings that I could be dope-tested at any time).

    By chance, I moved to the Twin Cities in 2007 because my (soon-to-be) husband had enrolled in a PhD program at the University of Minnesota. What we (he’s a high-level fencer, too) discovered is that one of the top U.S. fencing coaches lives and coaches there. I trained with him for a couple years before starting grad school myself.

    In the 2012 Olympics, my fencing event (women’s epee) was represented by my Twin Cities teammate Susie Scanlan; Maya Lawrence whom I had fenced against regularly in college; Courtney Hurley, whom I’d fenced once at a national competition; and Kelley Hurley, the only one of the four I’d neither met nor fenced. (Since I’m bragging here, I’ve also beaten all the first three in competition at some point — but, I should note, not when they were at the top of their fencing careers, since I’d given up competition by then.) They were coached at the Olympics by none other than my Twin Cities coach Ro Sobalvarro. And the team took BRONZE in a sport that is usually dominated by the Europeans. Watching them compete (online) was exhilarating.

    • That’s *really* cool Margaret! Thanks so much for sharing.

      I tried a month-long fencing course as an undergrad, it was great fun. Also more demanding of one’s quads than I’d realized. 🙂

      One of the best runners on my collegiate x-country team was, if memory serves, the US junior national champion modern pentathlete. Which means he must’ve been a good fencer, though I’m guessing not on your level (especially since I recall him telling me that the 3200 m was his best event).

      So basically, if you ever got in a sword fight with Jarrett Byrnes, you could kick his butt *really* fast:

      Memo to self: do not get into a sword fight with Margaret Kosmala. 🙂

      • Funny thing: I did some theater stuff in college, too — stage design, lighting, and played clarinet in the orchestra for several musicals. And Jarrett and I went to the same college. And we overlapped. So we actually know a bunch of the same people through theater (though we didn’t meet until we both started citizen science projects and met at a Zooniverse conference in Chicago). Small world.

  6. I was on John Bell’s PhD committee at UW Milwaukee (pollination biology). This was his second career – before that he was an upper manager in the food industry and (honest to god) invented chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. He was headhunted immediately upon receiving his PhD to become CEO of a large consulting firm (Applied Ecology?), and after a few years moved on to other positions at other firms. He was the most organized and with it student I’ve ever worked with. And he knows a hell of a lot about ice cream too.

    • “he was an upper manager in the food industry and (honest to god) invented chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream.”

      Ok, I’m taking back the thread win for the astronaut and giving it to you! Along with a bowl of delicious chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream. 🙂

  7. Took me a while to remember:
    Marten ‘critical transitions’ Scheffer (Wageningen, Netherlands) is also an accomplished guitarist with a large number of cd’s on his name:
    Jordi Bascompte (Sevilla, Spain) does an awesome magic show ‘mathemagics’, and I once saw the two of them doing the evening entertainment at a conference.
    Wim van de Putten (NIOO, Netherlands) is farmer at night.
    I myself was in a number of punk and metal bands (including releasing albums and touring) after finishing my Master’s, but before starting my PhD research. Though one can question how much talent is really needed for playing punk rock.

  8. Geoff Parker (yes, THE Geoff Parker) is well known not only for his Dixieland Jazz clarinet talents but also for breeding prize-winning show chickens.

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