Reflections on a sabbatical in SILVISland
Visiting professor Sarahy Contreras reflects on her year-long sabbatical spent in the SILVIS lab. She outlines her research on hummingbirds and compares the research cultures of Mexico and the United States, in addition to sharing her impressions of Madison, WI.
Sarahy Contreras is a professor of ecology and natural resources at the University of Guadalajara in Autlán, Jalisco, Mexico, is just finishing her sabbatical visit to the SILVIS lab. I had a chance to sit down with her recently to talk to her about her experience.
Her ties to Madison began 12 years ago, when she completed her MS work under professors Timothy Moermond, Nancy Mathews and Jack Huddleston. Anna Pidgeon, one of two professors in the SILVIS lab, along with Volker Radeloff, also did her graduate work with Nancy Matthews. Several years later, Contreras and Pidgeon met at an international conservation congress and started talking about how nice it would be if they could work together on a project. Not long after, she was back to Madison.
Contreras's work at SILVIS explores how different hummingbird species interact with varying stages of successional forest that occur over time following a wildfire event. She found that different species did react differently to the disturbance, with some species preferring the early successional forest and some doing well only many years after the fire. She also showed associations between abundance and richness of hummingbirds and several environmental factors, such as annual mean temperature and humidity.
Contreras has greatly enjoyed her stay in Madison, calling it, "the best city in the Midwest." "When I first arrived for my MS, it was January, and the cold was a real shock," she says. "But when I came for my sabbatical last year, it was August and the weather was perfect. One of the things I most like about Madison is that you get all of the seasons, but you also get enough time to adapt to the changing weather." She especially loves the fall, with the abundance of colors and the weather that's not too hot and not too cold. She enjoys that the countryside is never far away, and that there are an abundance of beautiful lakes and parks within the city (she specifically mentioned Tenney Park and Picnic Point as favorite destinations).
The people of Madison are also a major plus for her. She finds it unique and wonderful that Madison has such a diverse collection of cultures together with a high education level. She has found the inhabitants to be very friendly, welcoming, and open-minded.
Even authentic Mexican food is close at hand - she was impressed by the international foods aisle at Woodman's and by Madison's many wonderful farmer's markets. She hastened to add that she loves the cheese in Wisconsin.
Considering that Contreras has now completed 3 years as a master's student and a year as a visiting professor in the United States, and also spent 15 years as a research assistant and professor in Mexico, she is in a unique position to compare the academic environments in the two countries. She had nothing but good things to say about the United States in this regard.
She also mentioned that technology and access to technology is much better in the United States, which can greatly improve productivity and the efficiency of research. Considering all of the positives of research in the United States, why is she leaving shortly to return to the University of Guadalajara? The answer is simple: she believes that her country needs her. She would like to take what she has learned here, especially the understanding of how collaborative research and open information sharing can facilitate research, and try to improve the academic environment in her native Mexico. But she's quick to stress a very important point: "I'll be back!"