Researcher

Meet Our Postdocs: Drew Gerkey

April 29, 2013

Drew Gerkey

Name: Drew Gerkey
Institution: SESYNC
Hometown: Stillwater, MN
Field of Study: Anthropology

What inspired you to choose this field of study?

I was an English Literature and Anthropology major in college. I decided to continue studying Anthropology in graduate school for two reasons. First, I found it exciting and challenging to document and understand cultural variation, to learn about different ways of understanding and being in the world. Before entering graduate school, I hadn’t traveled much abroad, so this had mostly been an intellectual exercise. I was excited to have a chance to experience some of these challenges firsthand and try to apply scholarly work on the ground. The opportunity to travel to amazing and interesting places and meet new people is definitely a perk of being an anthropologist, so I suppose that’s a second reason I chose to continue studying Anthropology. I love books and I love libraries, but it’s fun to be out there interacting with new people and places.

What is your favorite thing about being a scientist or researcher?

I’m always thankful for the way my job as a researcher allows me the flexibility and resources to pursue questions and ideas that I find exciting, perplexing, and important. I love learning and teaching, so to have a job that lets me make a living doing both is great.

What is the most important characteristic a scientist must demonstrate in order to be an effective scientist?

It’s hard to identify a single characteristic, but I think passion is probably the key to being a successful researcher. From what I’ve seen, the best scholars are passionate about the work they do. Whether it’s the ideas they explore or the issues they address that drive them most, you need to be passionate about your work in order to slog through the challenges you encounter along the way.

What about your field or being a scientist do you think would surprise people the most?

Anthropologists travel quite a bit and spend long periods of time away from home. People often assume that’s one of the hardest parts of the job, and it certainly is, but not necessarily for the reasons one might think. We spend enough time in the places where we work to develop connections to the people there. So the pull goes in both directions. When we’re traveling, we feel the pull of home, and when we’re home, we feel the pull of the places where we work. It can be unsettling, but it’s also important part of our process, and we learn from it.

What’s your favorite theory?

Right now, I’m excited about network theory. It provides some concepts and tools for scholarly research that are truly unique, and it’s easy to see how these ideas apply to wide variety of practical issues in the world today. For someone interested in synthesizing research across disciplines, it also gives us a shared framework that can be used by researchers working in very different contexts. Though network theory has a long intellectual tradition, there is also a sense that new insights are arising all the time, which makes it exciting to follow.

What are you reading right now?

For work, I’m reading two books (in addition to bottomless virtual folders of .pdf articles):

  1. Meeting at Grand Central: Understanding the Social and Evolutionary Roots of Cooperation, by Lee Cronk and Beth Leech
  2. Social Networks and Natural Resource Management: Uncovering the Social Fabric of Environmental Resource Governance, edited by Örjan Bodin and Christina Prell

For pleasure, I’m trying to find time to read the newest book by one of my favorite authors:

  1. The Round House, by Louise Erdrich

If you could only rescue one thing from your burning office, what would it be?

It’s a sad truth, but I can’t imagine what would happen if I lost my laptop, so I would grab that without thinking of my safety. But I also wouldn’t hesitate to push my luck and grab one more essential item, my Swingline High Capacity/Reduced Effort stapler. It hasn’t met a journal article it couldn’t handle.

Click here to read more about Drew.

SESYNC at White House Easter Egg Roll

April 5, 2013

SESYNC at Easter Egg Roll

by CYNTHIA WEI
Assistant Director, Education and Outreach

Cynthia Wei, SESYNC’s Assistant Director of Education and Outreach, was invited to participate in the 135th annual White House Easter Egg Roll earlier this week.

The Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) participated for the first time in the annual White House Easter Egg Roll on Monday, April 1, 2013. ASTC joined Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to provide hands-on science activities at the festivities. The challenge for all these organizations was how  to get kids interested in science amidst egg rolls, egg hunts, hula hooping, concerts, story-telling, and celebrity sightings.

The answer: start with fun. At the ASTC area, kids were enticed by hearing strange kazoo-like noises and the prospect of making a fun craft. Once the kids had come over to the tables, I introduced the science with questions: Did you know that a rubber band could be a musical instrument? Do you know how sound is created? After we made the “sound sandwiches,” I had the kids experiment by applying pressure at different points on the sound sandwich to discover how the sound changes.

What is the impact of making approximately 2,500 “sound sandwiches” on public understanding of science? That is difficult to quantify. But I can say that the impact extends beyond the kids: just as many parents and older siblings that accompanied the kids to the ASTC tables were engaged by the activity and learned a little bit of science. “Sound sandwiches” may be a long way from socio-environmental synthesis, but it illustrates how science can be incorporated into the public sphere and how interest in science and inquiry can be encouraged early and often. This is critical to all science.

SESYNC at Easter Egg Roll

Pastoral Social Ecological Systems Under Global Socio-Environmental Change

  
Pastoral social ecological systems (PSES) have responded to socio-environmental change over millennia. However, in the last decades, PSES have been driven into marginality, poverty, and vulnerability. This project analyzes the relationship between PSES and global change. The goals of the project are to:

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