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Collaborations between academic ecologists and the private sector


UC Davis graduate students Meredith Niles and Noam Ross conceived off, planned, and hosted a symposium, “The Business of Ecology: Private Sector Collaboration and Career Opportunities.” The day-long symposium featured panels with presentations by guest speakers, a moderated discussion, and extended Q&A session with the audience. Ross and Niles, trainees in the NSF-funded Responding to Rapid Environmental Change IGERT, both gained valuable experience working in the private sector prior to graduate study, and developed the symposium to increase academic ecologists’ understanding of the potential benefits of collaboration outside non-governmental organizations and agencies as well as the potential for non-academic careers.

The first panel in the symposium, “Business Models for Ecological Knowledge and Business-Researcher Collaborations,” included Robert Capriola and Michael Hogan, who work in environmental consulting and restoration firms, and Deborah Rogers, who directs conservation science for a land management organization. They addressed business models for ecological research and potential collaborations between the private sector and academic ecologists. All three highlighted the importance of research collaborations and science-based decision making. They also discussed the importance for considering non-academic approaches to dealing with ecological restoration, including a sophisticated understanding of environmental policy.

The afternoon panel, “Career Paths For Ecologists in the Private Sector,” included Erica Brand from Pacific Gas and Electric, Richard Cudney-Bueno from the Packard Foundation, Ann Thrupp, who directs research for an organic winemaker, and Deborah Rogers. They focused on describing career paths and the importance of gaining experience working in applied projects with the private sector during graduate school prior to seeking a non-academic position. They also encouraged graduate students to gain skills in collaboration, leadership, writing, and speaking to become more competitive for positions in the private sector.

Each panel was also followed by a synthesis session with help from UC Davis and REACH IGERT faculty. The faculty members helped to summarize the conclusions of the panel and also discuss the potential for establishing programs, collaborations and workshops at UC Davis for students and faculty interested in engaging with non-academic and private sector organizations. The symposium concluded with a list of potential ideas for workshops, talks and career building opportunities for students. Niles, Ross, and REACH IGERT staff will continue to follow the topic and will work with UC Davis faculty to implement new opportunities for private sector careers and collaborations.

The participants included trainees and trainers from the REACH IGERT, faculty and students in UC Davis’ Conservation Management program, and other interested students from graduate programs in Ecology, Population Biology, Transportation and Technology Policy, Viticulture and Enology, Agricultural and Resource Economics, International Agricultural Development, Epidemiology, and MBA students from UC Davis’ Graduate School of Management.

Address Goals

Ecologists at UC Davis have long worked with agency scientists and researchers from non-governmental organizations. However, relatively few have experience in collaborating with members of the business community. The symposium hosted by Niles and Ross enabled both faculty and students to see potential research connections in a variety of arenas. Further, discussions with practitioners provided students with an array of career options that they otherwise might not have considered.