Director’s Blog February 2, 2019
By Ian Billick, PhD
I’ve spent the last several days in Portland, Oregon listening in on Toolik Field Station discussions. Located on the North Slope of Alaska TFS is operated by the University of Alaska and hosts a long-term ecological research site run out of Woods Hole/MBL. There is a Cooperative Agreement funded by the National Science Foundation through their Arctic and Antartica programs that provides a baseline of support. It would be transformative for RMBL if we were able to negotiate either a cooperative agreement or an LTER program with NSF in terms of our ability to support scientists and support collaboration through data management.
I’m the outside member of the advisory committee that met Thursday. The committee consists of scientists, staff, and polar support and met all day Thursday. It’s a real privilege that I’ve been able to participate for about five years. Through time it’s like being adopted into a second family/community. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to put what we do at RMBL within a larger context.
I learn more from them than they from me. RMBL’s Title IX office emerged from some of the groundbreaking work TFS has done. They are helping us think about how to deal with the fact that there are a lot more people dealing with behavioral challenges. They have an Environmental Data Center that generates community-wide data products. They have demonstrated the value of such support and it has informed our strategic plan. They have a research administration tool that we’d love to collaborate on to make it easier for scientists to interface and work at RMBL.
And just comparing RMBL numbers to Toolik’s is fascinating. They have about 45% of the science days that we do. Their administrative budget is much larger than ours (admittedly working on the North Slope above the Arctic Circle is not a simple thing). They use even less water than we do-at about 20 gallons per day per person they are right on the threshold of what the UN considers a minimal amount for a human.
They are thinking about many of the same issues we are, which provides comfort that we are thinking about the right things. How do we shed light on dark data? It is clear that the ability to integrate drones and mapping tools to inform field work is growing rapidly. They are working on using drones to scale plot level phenology data as well as to provide high resolution spatial data on snow melt emergence data. Can their research administration tool be used to facilitate collaboration while making the lives of scientists easier?
On Friday they had an all scientist meeting with talks to spur collaboration and conversation. There were 15 talks and 2 of them were given by postdocs who were undergraduates at RMBL. A big shout out to Dr. Helen Chmura who worked on marmots at RMBL, did a PhD at UC-Davis doing field work on white crown sparrows at Toolik and is now a postdoc at Univ. of Alaska-Fairbanks working on ground squirrels at Toolik. And a shout out to Dr. Becky Hewitt who worked on phenology and plant-insect interactions at RMBL, and after a PhD at Univ. of Alaska is a postdoc doing fungal/soil work at Northern Arizona University, working at Toolik the whole time. I love catchingup with RMBL alum!
We transformed our undergraduate program about 5 years ago and our numbers and impacts have only grown. Maybe in 10 years 25% of the talks at Toolik’s All Scientists Meeting will be by former RMBL undergrads!