Aquatic Ecology Section: An ocean of opportunity for students


Elizabeth Cerny-Chipman is a PhD candidate at Oregon State University. She is studying how environmental variation related to climate change affects predator-prey interactions in a rocky intertidal ecosystem. She is also interested in how sea star wasting disease will affect community structure in coastal Oregon. She has been an ESA member since 2012, and is the current Student section liaison to the Aquatic Ecology section. 

By Elizabeth Cerny-Chipman, Aquatic Ecology Section Liaison

Water covers most of the Earth’s surface, so it makes sense that the Aquatic Ecology Section would encompass a lot of ESA members. United in the study of freshwater and marine ecology, there are over 800 members this largest and oldest section of ESA*. The goals of the section are to promote and coordinate aquatic ecology research and its dissemination to broader audiences. With such a breadth, it can be tough to pinpoint what the Aquatic Ecology section is all about. For me, the section is shaped by the mission of giving members opportunities to meet other ecologists working in aquatic systems, to apply for student awards, and to share research at the annual meeting and beyond.  In this post, I want to highlight some opportunities for students to engage with the section.

If you are an aquatic ecologist but haven’t taken the plunge into your Aquatic Ecology section, this year’s meeting in Baltimore is a great place to start. In the vastness of the ESA annual meeting, the section provides an easy way to connect with aquatic ecologists from various backgrounds and career stages. A recent student I spoke with said the section was like a “mini conference-within-a-conference” that provided a supportive space for students to see familiar faces each year. The best way to take advantage of this supportive space is to stop by the mixer and say hello. Chances are you’ll have interesting conversations with ecologists working on related systems. The mixer is always lot of fun.

In the past, the mixer has often conflicted with the Student Section mixer, forcing aquatic ecology students to make a tough choice. This year, the two mixers fall on different days, so there is no reason not to attend both. The Aquatic Ecology Section Mixer is Monday, August 10, from 6:30-8:30 PM in the Camden Lobby of the convention center.

Another main mission of the section is to provide awards and scholarships for students studying aquatic ecology. If you are a student or early-career aquatic ecologist, there is likely a relevant award for you. The section has had somewhat low application levels for these awards in the past, so opportunity abounds.

Are you a graduate student who recently published a paper that represents a solid contribution to the field of aquatic ecology? The Exceptional Promise in Graduate Student Research recognizes research in aquatic ecology conducted as a graduate student and published in a peer-reviewed publication.

Perhaps you are a recent PhD who had a strong publication in aquatic ecology from your graduate research? The Thomas M. Frost Award for Excellence in Graduate Research honors a publication from graduate work of those who have received their PhD in the last two years. The section has recently modified the award criteria to be more family-friendly; those within 3 years of receiving their PhD are encouraged to apply if there were major life events, such as having children, that prevented them from meeting the 2-year deadline.

Maybe you are a graduate student for whom the publications haven’t exactly been rolling out the door (I hear you), but you have some exciting research to share at the Annual Meeting? The Aquatic Ecology section honors one student each year with an award for the Best Student Talk in Aquatic Ecology at the Annual Meeting.

Finally, if none of these awards are a good fit, there is still an award for you. The Aquatic Ecology section funds several travel awards to help students offset the costs of attending ESA. To qualify, students must be presenting a talk or poster and must be a member of the Aquatic Ecology section. The awards are given out lottery-style, and can make a very tangible difference in being able to attend the meeting.

When it comes to awards from the Aquatic Ecology section, it is worth taking the bait yourself: self-nomination is highly encouraged. More information about the awards can be found on the newly redesigned section website ( Unfortunately, award applications were due in early June, but stay tuned for next year.  

Beyond the mixer and awards, there are many opportunities to get involved in the Aquatic Ecology section. Outgoing section Chair Dr. Meghan Duffy wanted to emphasize that the section really wants more student input and involvement. If you are interested in taking a bigger role in the section or have ideas for ways the section can expand its reach, contact the section (you can even tweet the section at @ESAAquatic). Dive on in, the water’s fine!

*Since it is the centennial year, a little history of the section according to ESA: in 1917, members of the nascent ESA created a Fish and Fisheries Committee. This committee was concerned with stimulating research about freshwater fishes, but petered out after a few years. The Aquatic Ecology Section as it exists today was formed in 1961 with E.S. Deevey as the first chair. Learn more at: