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Interview with Frances James, November 20, 2015

Richard B. Russell Library for Political Research and Studies, University of Georgia
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00:00:38 - Early life / Education

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Partial Transcript: So they start off with this question: what motivated you to pursue a career in ecology and how did it happen?

Segment Synopsis: James talks about how she has been interested in birds since she was a little girl. She attended Mount Holyoke College and majored in zoology, and then continued on to the University of Louisiana for graduate work in ornithology. She discusses her research trying to figure out if small song birds were using the Mississippi River for navigation. She later married a professor at the University of Arkansas, where she did Ph.D work in ecology.

Keywords: Boy Scouts; Dick Johnson; George Lowry; George Sutton; University of Kansas; University of Oklahoma; ecomorphology; intraspecific variation; morphology; niche concept; red wing black birds; wind

00:10:11 - Next steps in career

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Partial Transcript: Which brings us to the next step of your career then. You left Arkansas when?

Segment Synopsis: James says that she left Arkansas after the end of her marriage, and she became a program officer at NSF(National Science Foundation). Later, she became a professor at the University of Florida, where she studied the transfer of bird eggs from one nest to another. She also discusses studying woodpeckers in Florida in the 1980's and the controversy involved in preserving the woodpecker's habitat.

Keywords: Jim Karr; Mexico; National Institute of Health; community ecology; single species ecology; taxonomy

00:20:13 - Career influences

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Partial Transcript: So you've also been one of the people who has always been involved in the responsibility of ecologists to environmental questions and policy.

Segment Synopsis: James talks about being involved with environmental policy boards, and identifies other common themes in her career, such as habitat influences and morphology. She discusses how being a woman has affected her professionally, saying that she remembers there being a lack of female graduate students but she never felt like she had to fight for advancement. She also discusses how her graduate students have influenced her, and says that she encourages independent work in her graduate students.

Keywords: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Nuclear Regulatory Commmission; The Nature Conservancy; dinosaurs; ecological morphology; paleoecology

00:28:14 - Changes in ecology and the ESA

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Partial Transcript: So they want us to think about how ecology has changed during your career.

Segment Synopsis: James discusses the ways in which ecology has changed and says that some problems in hypothesis testing still need to be resolved. She also talks about how the Ecological Society of America has evolved, expressing appreciation for the new journals, like Frontiers, that it publishes.

Keywords: AIBS; Chuck McCulloch; Sue Silver; Washington office; community ecology; disturbance; empirical models; modeling; ornithology; statistics; theoretical models

00:34:23 - Advising graduate students / Work during retirement

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Partial Transcript: So the last question I really had was that, now as I get older, I get all of these younger colleagues, and they are asking me how do I carve out a career in some way?

Segment Synopsis: James talks about the need to teach graduate students to work as a team. She also discusses the research she has been doing during her retirement, including wrtiting book reviews about protofeathers.

Keywords: ESA; NSF; biodiversity; soil; teamwork; writing

00:40:10 - Conservation biology / Critique of ecology trends

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Partial Transcript: Which actually brings me to one last question. It's because I've watched some talks recently by some conservation biologists, who've talked about this major shift in the paradigm of conservation ecology.

Segment Synopsis: James discusses how the paradigm has changed for conservation biologists from protecting what we have to trying to solving problems such as climate change. She talks about how she does not like it when ecologists make generalizations, such as "all the birds are declining.

Keywords: breeding bird survey; deciduous forests; dry bulb temperature; habitat protection; physiological ecology; thermal ecology