PRBO Conservation Science
Quarterly Journal of PRBO Conservation Science, Number 160, Spring 2010: PRBO's Graduate Students


PRBO's Graduate Students

Enhancing PRBO's Conservation Science by Degrees

John M. Eadie, PhD

PRBO's Graduate Students
Stewart Udall and the Future of Conservation
Grad Student Profiles
A Past Grad Student Reflects
PRBO Highlights
Investing in Nature's Future
Focus on Feeding Frenzies
Letter to the Editor

From its early days pioneering the development of bird monitoring protocols to its current leadership in state-of-the-art species distribution models, the key element of PRBO's success has been its fundamental strength as a science-based organization. It is a daunting challenge for any organization to stay abreast of new ideas and approaches in conservation science. Yet PRBO has done so successfully by having a superb staff of scientists with a dedication and enthusiasm bordering on zealotry. But even these tireless researchers need an occasional influx of new ideas and fresh energy. Here, then, is another secret of PRBO's success —the embedded graduate student.
Libby Porzig in the gridded study area at PRBO's Palomarin Field Station.

This is a simple, yet remarkably effective model that pays manifold dividends. For PRBO, it is the energy, unbridled enthusiasm and pure horsepower provided by bright, young minds engaged actively in PRBO projects. Staff time is always a limited commodity, and too often there is insufficient time and funding to fully utilize hard-earned data before the next grant deadline looms. One solution: Embed a graduate student who can focus exclusively on this singular task. What's more, their involvement is a great deal economically! Support for graduate students (up to $30,000 per year or more) is typically provided by scholarships, grants, and teaching assistantships at the home university.

For the student, the payoff is equally large. The most pressing challenges facing our planet are about change—changes in climate, the oceans, and land-use patterns. But even with such rapid change, the time period over which most graduate degrees are completed (three to five years) is but a snapshot. To fully understand the processes driving these changes, one needs the benefit of hindsight, a vision that can only be provided by long-term data. With a veritable treasure trove of long-term, rigorously collected data, PRBO is in a truly unique position. What a remarkable privilege, then, for a graduate student to work alongside PRBO scientists in looking well beyond the meager time span afforded most graduate dissertations.
Rachel Fontana on a scientific survey with PRBO and NOAA.

And there are other mutual benefits of being "embedded." Graduate students working with PRBO receive rigorous academic training at some of the nation's best universities, and they are bringing these ideas to PRBO. But more importantly, PRBO is providing these students with front-line conservation training by one of the best non-profit practitioners of conservation science. Theory and application. "Book-smart" and "street-smart." It is indeed the best of both worlds.

PRBO has a long tradition of training new generations of bird scientists, and the names of past PRBO interns are legion. By expanding these ranks of "trainees" to include a growing list of current and former graduate students, PRBO stands at the forefront of advancing conservation science to an even higher degree.

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