21st Century Ecologist Subgroup Discussion

This subgroup evolved organically from discussions of all the challenges and opportunities submitted to this project as opposed to arising from a certain topic of challenges and opportunities, as was the case for all the other subgroups. As such it deviates from the normal format of listing the challenges and opportunities discussed to presenting what we decided to be the relevant points regarding this topic. Specifically, we focused on producing an all-encompassing definition of the 21st century ecologist and discussing the type of training and evaluation they should receive. 

Definition - Anyone who contributes to the science of ecology

  • Needs to be inclusive, hence the use of “anyone”
  • Scientific aspect needs to be emphasized, hence the use of “science”
  • Needs to reflect the “future ecologist,” not necessarily current ecologists, hence our choice of "contribute" which lacks connotations of degree requirements or other formal training. 


  • We are involved in more big data and teamwork than ever, yet our training emphasizes individuality and collection of unique, original data
  • People should pursue interests in a shared problem but pose different questions about it
  • Ecologists are specializing rather quickly but simultaneously are expected to become a jack of all trades
  • There is no set list of things that all PhD ecology students should be able to do which makes it difficult to gain any bearings in terms of career progression
  • Ecology is relatively young and evolving faster than career opportunities
  • Individuals must take responsibility for identifying  and seeking out the skills they need and advisers (if applicable) must be flexible in working with students to attain them
  • Potentially important future skill sets that should receive more emphasis will be:
    • Big data, computer programming, and quantitative skills
    • Diverse outreach and communication skills in social media and art
    • Business acumen
    • Teamwork (since no ecologist will be a master of all skills)


  • The field is new and evolving faster than career opportunities and metrics of success
  • There is an increased need to reward and encourage collaborations (both within and across disciplines) as these will be important going forward in the era of big data and global environmental issues
  • Measures of success must be updated by increasing emphasis on teaching, contribution to collaborations, and improving ecological outcomes
    • Maybe create an ESA task force to review and update metrics of success every 5-10 yrs

The big ideas are

  • Ecology is young and evolving faster than career opportunities and metrics of success
  • Students must seek out opportunities for diverse training
  • Institutions must update metrics of success
  • Ecology in the 21st century will be about big problems which require big solutions, not attainable by individuals. However ecology currently trains individuals to work as individuals
  • We can specialize and work hard to collaborate with other specialists; complementary but non-overlapping training
  • We should identify and work on big problems, but attack these from diverse specialist viewpoints
  • The 21st century ecologist therefore is any team player who contributes to the science of ecology and contributes to his or her team a unique skill or interest