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KDE Ecologist Elsa Cleland Talks About Her Work

Credit: Stephen Francis Photography

"One of the great things about being an ecologist is that every day is a little bit different. Some days I spend the whole day outside, for instance, if I'm setting up an experiment or taking measurements. When I do experiments I'm often trying to understand why particular plant species do well or do poorly in different habitats. I spend a lot of time identifying plants and measuring how big they are. I also measure aspects of the plant's habitat, such as how much nitrogen or water is in the soil, and the other kinds of plant and animal species that are also there.

Other days I spend the whole day in front of a computer, looking at the data I've collected, doing statistical analyses to help me understand the results, and writing papers to describe those results to other people.

I also spend a lot of time learning about the experiments that other ecologists are doing. This is another one of the great things about being an ecologist (and it's true for any scientist), that you get to spend your whole life learning, even after you've finished with all the schooling. To keep learning I attend lectures or seminars where ecologists describe their work, or I read papers that they have written.

Lastly, every day I talk with the other ecologists that I work with. The kinds of experiments and analyses that we do take a lot of time and expertise, and it would be very hard for one person to do it all - so we work together. This is much better than working alone on a project because we get to learn from one another, and it's just plain fun to work together. "