A Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies search committee has selected Marlyse Duguid FES ’10 GRD ’16 to be the school’s first Thomas G. Siccama lecturer, a new teaching position that will give students more opportunities to get involved with field-based research.
The creation of the Thomas G. Siccama lecturer position was funded by $1.5 million in contributions from F&ES friends and alumni. F&ES Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs Danielle Dailey said that aside from increasing students’ exposure to field-based research, she hopes this addition to the school will encourage more undergraduate involvement in F&ES resources.
“We wanted to ensure that there was a means for students to benefit from hands-on instruction in environmental and field studies, natural history, soils and local flora and fauna,” Dailey said in a Monday email to the News. “We think it is important for our students to have a strong basis in field ecology, even if they are going out to work on policy or conservation work after graduation.”
The first lecturer appointment in the school to be created in this manner, the position honors former F&ES professor Thomas Siccama, who passed away in 2014 and was renowned for his expertise in forest ecosystems of the northeastern United States.
As the inaugural Thomas G. Siccama lecturer, Duguid will be in charge of creating and leading a 10-week field ecology summer program geared toward undergraduate and master’s students. She described the curriculum as “a kind of crash course on what it means to be a field ecologist,” noting that students will receive a mixture of training on field and lab methods and have the opportunity to interact with Yale scientists who will be rotating through the program.
Dailey added that while the summer program seeks to strengthen ties between Yale College and F&ES, students from other universities will also be invited to apply.
“Every student who has come through [F&ES] tends to connect really well with the field-based courses, but there’s only so much time,” Duguid said. “It’s such a great opportunity to have a faculty position based on the field side of doing things and to start a program from scratch. There’s no cookbook for what I’m going to do, so it’s a really nice challenge.”
Duguid’s new role also involves overseeing a fellowship program for students interested in conducting independent research at the Yale School Forests. In this role, she will supervise a committee that reviews proposals and provides grants for undergraduate and graduate student research.
One of her goals, Duguid said, is to make the School Forests more accessible and known to undergraduates. While many undergraduates pursuing research at the School Forests come from the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department, the forests can also be an ideal site for projects in public health, epidemiology, economics and geology, she said, adding that the forests can provide a diversity of education outreach and internship opportunities.
Mark Ashton FES ’90, who advised Duguid on her Ph.D. and headed the lecturer position’s search committee, described Duguid as a keen and motivated researcher who is “driven by questions about understanding how forests work.” Duguid’s research expertise and her ability to devise teaching plans that motivate students to get into the field made her an ideal candidate for the position, Ashton said.
F&ES sent out the initial call for applications last August, searching for candidates with interdisciplinary expertise who had proved their “ability to inspire students through practical, hands-on teaching,” according to the job description. The school ultimately received a total of 50 applications from around the world, Dailey said.
The top five candidates were invited to the University campus to meet with F&ES faculty, staff and students and discuss their teaching philosophies, research interests and plans for developing the new programs. The candidates also led a field ecology teaching demonstration at East Rock Park as another part of the selection process. Dailey said that Duguid’s passion for field ecology and demonstrated excellence in teaching resulted in overwhelming support from all constituency groups after the interview process.
In addition to designing the field ecology and research fellowship programs, Duguid is currently working with the F&ES curriculum committee to develop new field-based courses, to be offered starting fall 2017. Although Duguid said she expects these classes to involve a substantial amount of natural history, she emphasized that there will be a focus on both theory and hands-on learning.
“It’s one thing to learn about ecological theory,” Duguid said. “It’s another to see it on the ground and what works. I anticipate [the classes] will be a balance of both — you can’t have one without the other.”
The Yale School Forests are managed by F&ES and include 10,880 acres of forestland in Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont.