Recognizing Students Conducting Creative Research

rafe photoThe Western Society of Naturalists established the Rafe Sagarin Award in 2015 to recognize students conducting creative research that includes a strong component of observational ecology. Rafe was a remarkably innovative thinker, and judges of student talks will seek to recognize students who are not afraid to “think outside the box” in developing and applying observational approaches to address important ecological and societal questions.

Rafe’s own research interests were incredibly broad and he championed the value of observational ecology in many realms. It is therefore appropriate that students eligible for this award may be selected from a similar breadth of research topics. Rafe spoke and wrote eloquently about the need for rediscovering natural history, which he recognized as core to observational ecology. Therefore, students whose work demonstrates exceptional natural history in any study system will be strong candidates for the Sagarin Award. However, Rafe’s conception of observational ecology also encompasses more than traditional natural history, because it embraces new technology such as remote sensing and molecular tools like genomics. Rafe’s vision for observational ecology also includes looking beyond academia for knowledge, for example by employing social science methods to interview fishers and other local observers, or by seeking out long-term, historical data sets in unconventional places. Rafe was especially fascinated by the power of observational approaches to address questions spanning large spatial and temporal scales that are not amenable to ecological experiments, such as questions related to biogeography and global environmental change.

Overall, WSN hopes that this award will encourage students to continue Rafe Sagarin’s legacy by addressing important ecological questions through observational approaches applied in novel and creative ways.

WSN also sponsors an annual competition for research grants to support graduate students and post-doctoral scientists conducting creative work with a strong component of observational ecology.  To learn more, please visit the website for the Rafe Sagarin Fund for Innovative Ecology.