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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Saturday, May 28, 2022
Monica Turner

Ecologist Monica Turner studied forest fires in Yellowstone. 

UW-Madison ecologist leads national society through changing scientific sphere

As scientific fields rapidly evolve, putting more emphasis on effective communication skills and accessibility, the newest president of the Ecological Society of America said she will use decades of experience as an ecologist to navigate the organization through changing times.

Monica Turner, the Eugene P. Odum Professor of Ecology and Vilas Research Professor of Zoology at UW-Madison, started her presidential tenure in August, after serving as an ESA member since her second year in graduate school.

The ESA is a professional organization of ecological scientists that publishes peer-reviewed journals while engaging in science education, outreach and public policy reform. As president, Turner said she will provide vision and leadership to the ESA’s more than 10,000 members.

“You can’t just come in and change everything from one year to the next,” Turner said. “But you’re kind of responsible for having vision and then helping to steer the ship.”

As an ecologist, Turner studied how ecosystems bounce back after disasters like severe forest fires and invasive species. Now, as president, she said she will deal with the daily “frequent fires” of a changing scientific domain.

One of her first priorities will be helping to transition the ESA’s publications to work with a commercial publisher, something she said is becoming increasingly common with the shift from traditional print media to digital.

She will also work to educate both budding and established scientists on a new set of skills she said they need to have.

“The expectations on our younger scientists are quite different from what they were when I was coming through grad school in terms of the level of communication that one is expected to do now,” Turner said. “It’s not just talking to your own peers and other scientists, but we’re all expected to be able to speak to journalists and the public and really make our science much more accessible to people.”

Throughout her three-year term, Turner said she will continue working with both introductory level biology students and graduate researchers, a dichotomy she has enjoyed over her 21 years at UW-Madison.

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