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Interview with Scott Collins, October 28, 2014

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:00:28 - Early life / Education

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Partial Transcript: Alright, well speaking of your birthday, what activities did you enjoy as a youth that may have led to an interest in ecology?

Segment Synopsis: Collins discusses the things that led to him becoming an ecologist, saying that he liked to watch birds when he was young and he was interested in biology in high school. He received his masters degree from Miami University in Ohio, and then went to on to pursue his PhD in plant ecology at the University of Oklahoma, where he did research on grassland birds and vegetation.

Keywords: Florida State University; Frances James; Indiana sand dunes; Ipswich, Massachusetts; Smokey Mountains; community ecology; environmental impact statements; experimental ecology; hydrology; organismal biology; plant succession

00:09:35 - Development of ecology / Major turning points in Collins research

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Partial Transcript: Alright, we are going to move into the next segment, but if you think of something else you would like to add we can always come back. We're going to talk a little bit about the development of ecology as a discipline and your contributions to it.

Segment Synopsis: Collins discusses how ecology has transitioned from more observational ecology to more experimental ecology. He also talks about becoming involved in fire and grazing experiments in the Konza Prairie in Kansas, and mentions a post-doc at Rutgers University where he studied pine barrens and island biography.

Keywords: Population Biology of Plants; John Harper; animal community ecology; competition theory; disturbances; experimental design; grasslands; plant population ecology; predator-prey dynamics

00:15:44 - Career challenges and controversies

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Partial Transcript: What have been the major challenges in your career?

Segment Synopsis: Collins talks about the major challenges of his career: finding a job after graduation, and leaving a tenure position at the University of Oklahoma to work for the National Science Foundation (NSF). He also discusses the controversies that he has been involved in, saying that he tries to avoid them but he received backlash when he said that grazing was beneficial to grasslands.

Keywords: Konza Prairie; bison grazing; conservative politics; pattern predictions; program officer; rotating positions; scaling

00:23:54 - Reflections on career

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Partial Transcript: In your opinion what effects has your work had on the field?

Segment Synopsis: Collins says that he has tried to influence the field of ecology by taking new perspectives. He talks about what he would do differently if he could go back in time, saying that he would not have "dabbled in so many topics" as a graduate student and that he would have learned more about statistics and programming.

Keywords: Fran James; John Vankat; Lu Loucks; Paul Risser; arid-land systems; distribution abundance patterns; hierarchy theory; mesic grassland; rainfall; vegetation ecology

00:33:40 - Plans for future studies / NCEAS / LTER Program

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Partial Transcript: Let's see, and this is a nice transition, what are your plans for future studies?

Segment Synopsis: Collins discusses his plans for the future, saying that he doesn't plan on adding too much to his agenda at the moment. He talks about his role in the development of the National Center of Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), saying that he helped find the University of California, Santa Barbra to host program. He was also involved in the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) Program while he was a program officer at NSF.

Keywords: Institute of Theoretical Physics; Jenn Rudgers; Jim Brown; Konza Program; National Ecological Observatory Network; Santa Fe Institute; Stephen Carpenter; Tom Miller; Will Murdoch; plant fungal interactions; population dynamics

00:44:59 - Future of Ecology

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Partial Transcript: Let's get a little broader again. What do you see as the future of ecology?

Segment Synopsis: Collins says that ecology needs become more solutions-based and that ecologists need to work together with social scientists to solve problems like climate change. He also talks about how graduate students need to understand that other career tracks besides academia, like government work, are worth pursuing. He also believes that graduate students should be trained to do more collaborative research.

Keywords: anthropology; applied research; basic research; birds; fossil fuel; nuclear power; statistics; wind turbines

00:53:57 - Involvement in ESA

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Partial Transcript: So we're going to shift over to talk about ESA as a professional organization.

Segment Synopsis: Collins discusses his presidency of the Ecological Society of America (ESA), saying that the main issue that he faced was federally-mandated open access to journals, since the organization depends on the revenue from journal subscriptions. He also talks about his involvement in various ESA committees, including the Public Affairs Committee.

Keywords: Ecosphere; ESA awards; LTER; SEEDS; open access fee; vegetation