From tropical forests to peer mentoring, Erika Marin-Spiotta is an emerging force in Earth Science

i-9dc84d4d9156dccb30d5f62466b4219a-swblocks.jpgi-d5f9774dcd33335f25c1e0e8b741516e-marinspiotta.jpg After tropical forests are cleared for agriculture and then abandoned, secondary forests regrow on the site. But how do plant species composition, biomass and soil organic matter differ through this succession of primary forest, pasture, and secondary forest? Employing tools of biogeochemistry, ecosystem ecology, and land-use/land-cover change to examine those and related questions, Erika Marin-Spiotta earned a Ph.D. in environmental science, policy, and management from the University of California at Berkeley, a post-doctoral fellowship at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and, starting this fall, a faculty position in the Department of Geography at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

As a first-year assistant professor, she's settling into faculty life in the Midwest and looking for students to continue and expand her research at scales from the molecular to landscape level, and on topics from hydrologic controls on soil organic matter to legacies of land-use on ecosystem dynamics. According to her website, she uses "stable and radioisotopes, spectroscopic, and analytical techniques to quantify process rates, identify sources and sinks, and better understand underlying mechanisms controlling stabilization and losses of organic matter and elements within and across ecosystems." She is starting new research projects in Puerto Rico and more locally in the Midwest.

i-da357db99cd657659d9b04db99103863-eswn2.gifAlong with an impressive and inter-disciplinary research program, Marin-Spiotta is impressively committed to community building and peer mentoring among women earth scientists. As a member of the leadership board of the Earth Science Women's Network (ESWN), she helps coordinate the on-line and real life interactions of over 600 women with professional interests in Earth science (atmospheric science, oceanography, geology, geography, Earth system science, ecology, environmental health, environmental policy, etc.). ESWN has an active e-mail list-serv where topics from syllabus development to conference housing to breastfeeding issues are discussed, and they run a second open list-serv for job postings. (Running a search and want to reach a diverse candidate pool? It's free to post to es_jobs_net.) ESWN has also hosted several career development workshops and helps set up informal networking get-togethers at earth, atmospheric, and ocean science meetings around the world. (Want to join? Send me an email and I'll be your person-to-person contact.)

Last month, the ESWN leadership board was awarded an NSF ADVANCE PAID award to support their activities. PAID stands for "partnership in adaptation, implementation, and dissemination." The PI of this grant is Meredith Hastings of Brown University, with Marin-Spiotta, Christine Wiedinmyer (NCAR), Tracey Holloway (U. Wisc-Madison), and Allison Steiner (U. Michigan) serving as co-PIs. This grant will fund the development of a rich web presence for member use and for publicity, three career development workshops, more networking events at meetings, and a coordinator to help manage the logistics. This award should help ESWN manage sustainable growth, without completely overburdening the young faculty like Marin-Spiotta who are doing a fantastic job putting together a vibrant community of earth scientists, while still juggling the teaching, research, and personal demands of their own lives.

Speaking of juggling work and life and making the transition from postdoc to faculty in a new part of the country, Marin-Spiotta recently told me:

I am really enjoying this new stage in my life. It can be overwhelming; but it's also very exciting to set up your own lab, to make new relationships with students and colleagues, to explore a new university and town... Madison has a vibrant multicultural scene, including great salsa dancing, so the transition from California hasn't been that difficult.

I can't overstress the importance of seeking out mentors. This career track can select for very independent personalities, and sometimes you can risk becoming isolated...We're taught to separate our professional and social lives, so it's easy to forget that science is very social. Networking can make you more productive in the long-run, because you become both proactive about and receptive to meeting new people (who may even become research collaborators) and it makes it so much more enjoyable... Peer-mentoring is also very important, as you share common experiences in real-time. While it is daunting (and downright scary) at times, I am also thrilled to be a mentor to students myself, as that's to me one of the most rewarding aspects of this job.

Good luck to Dr. Marin-Spiotta as she completes the challenging first year on the tenure-track, and I look forward to hearing many more good things about her research and about ESWN in the future.

This post was inspired by the great community I've gotten to be part of as a member of ESWN, but pushed to the top of the to-do list by this edition of the Diversity in Science blog carnival, being hosted by Drug Monkey in honor of the US National Hispanic Heritage Month.


More like this

leave the forest not cut them down in the name of science for loggers to destroy this God given beauty...ehp

By Earl Pethel (not verified) on 08 Oct 2009 #permalink

Nice post SciWo. I've spent the past three days networking and talking career issues. Its important, both for ourselves and the students!