Ask Us Anything: how to move into ecology from another discipline

A while back we invited you to ask us anything. Here are our answers to our next question, from Andrew Krause: what is your advice for those from other disciplines who have an interest in ecology? Particularly those interested in pursuing interdisciplinary work.

Jeremy’s answer: As you said yourself in your linked comment, finding good collaborators is key. So is learning to write well for an audience of non-theoreticians. Steve Ellner has some advice on this, and his papers are great examples to follow. And it helps to be good at spotting analogies between disparate systems. For instance, spotting when a physics model can be reinterpreted as a biological model (e.g.), or recognizing the applicability of an analytical technique or mathematical concept to ecological models (e.g., Goldwyn and Hastings 2008, Nolting and Abbott 2016).

Brian: I did this myself (undergraduate math major, 9 years in computer industry before returning for a PhD in ecology). You don’t say what career stage you’re leaving or looking to move into ecology at. Which makes it harder to give specific advice. EG if its not too late, getting a PhD (or postdoc) in your new target field is highly feasible and very desirable. But yes collaborations is big. But really its bigger than that. Its a mindset. Don’t just look as your field ecology colleagues as bringing you interesting math problems. Meet them half way. Go out in the field with them. Understand what questions underlie their careers. Don’t just read papers in the mainstream ecology journals when they’re cited in a theoretical paper (you’ll miss a lot of work). Read diversely. And go to conferences and conference talks diversely. And expect the really world changing collaborations to take several years to develop.

2 thoughts on “Ask Us Anything: how to move into ecology from another discipline

  1. Thanks for responding! This was definitely useful to hear, as I presently don’t have any ecological collaborators (but may look into building those connections as I get beyond an early-career postdoc). Ellner’s short little bit of advice is also a handy guide, likely generalizable outside of theoretical ecology to a large degree.

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