Helping to train the next generation of conservation scientists: running the IGERT on biodiversity conservation in novel ecosystems

A large new IGERT grant aims to revolutionize how students are trained and collaboration occurs, and, in the process, push our understanding of novel ecosystems. The model for student training is Yo-Yo Ma, an unrivaled virtuoso, yet also a brilliant ensemble performer. The approach is to create a 'community of practice' comprised of committed members and centered on common goals and activities. Shelley Maxted is helping to create this community.

It should be hard, but it's not', that's how Shelley describes herding wolverines. Or, more accurately, administering a large new grant aimed at training the next generation of conservation-minded scientists. Research topics range from economics to entomology, genetics to geography. Research locations literally span the globe. But to Shelley, it's a treat. What some might describe as complex or challenging, Shelley describes as 'Getting to work with this amazing group of talented, intelligent and interesting people.' The challenge is to figure out how to actually implement, in a concrete way, the lofty goals set out in the IGERT grant recently received by UW-Madison, and led by Volker Radeloff: 'IGERT: Novel ecosystems, rapid change, and no-analog conditions: the future of biodiversity conservation in human-dominated landscapes.' The IGERT is set to try to revolutionize how students are trained and collaboration occurs, and, in the process, push our understanding of novel ecosystems. As such the IGERT will tackle research questions such as: What are the drivers and future patterns of novel environments? How will species, communities, people and the environment be affected by and adapt to these novel conditions? How can conservation and management succeed given these changes? The goal is to foster graduate student research questions, while also enabling collaborative efforts. The model for the student training is Yo-Yo Ma, an unrivaled virtuoso, yet also a brilliant ensemble performer with musicians from the Silk Road to Appalachia to the Boston Philharmonic who is forever building bridges and charting new territories. The approach: to create a 'community of practice' comprised of committed members and centered on common goals and activities.

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Training in conservation started with a strong focus on depth in ecology and little breadth. It became more interdisciplinary, in that ecologists now draw upon other disciplinary skill sets. Our vision is to broaden the base, and train students to truly collaborate towards a common goal.
Shelley's first challenge is to encourage, cajole, create, and coordinate this community into being. Communities blossom when people have a good time together, so Shelley organizes trips -canoeing, hiking, skiing - that combine a healthy dose of fun, a little cooking, and a lot of time for chatting. To kick the community building effort off with a bang, she helped put together a week-long 'Wisconsin Idea' road trip last fall that showcased the great outdoors of northern Wisconsin, the changes in climate and land use that are occurring there, and the great people and organizations working to manage and conserve the landscape amidst these changes. Throughout the year, Shelley coordinates monthly 'Conservation Salons', a seminar with an aim to provide a casual environment to learn about interdisciplinary research in the context of novel ecosystems. 
As a result of these and the many other efforts of Shelley, and all of the IGERT PIs, the project is already viewed as exciting and fun by students. They want to participate, look forward to getting to know each other and faculty members better, and are eager to come up with new ideas to do better research together. As the grant matures, and the number of students involved increases, Shelley's focus will shift as well. That's part of the excitement and challenge of helping to create something new and big. Thanks Shelley!
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