I was born and raised in central Alberta, and received both my BSc and MSc degrees from the University of Alberta before dispersing to Vancouver to work on my PhD at the University of British Columbia. After that I became reasonably competent at trans-continental moving in the process of a post-doc at the University of Toronto, and then another back in UBC. From there, I moved to Missoula, Montana as a research associate at the Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit with the BBird nest-monitoring project, before finally arriving at the Lab of Ornithology at Cornell University in the spring of 1998 initially as a research associate and now a senior research associate.
Two themes have characterized my training and research work: big data and collaboration. I have been working with ever larger data sets from my MSc research, which made use of 5 years of field data for an 18 month MSc thesis because I inherited the field component of a project on which I had started as an assistant, until now where the Lab of Ornithology’s citizen science data contain tens of millions of records. So, while I am an ecologist by training, I have had to become comfortable with the management and analysis of large sets of data.
The theme of collaborations is another one that has run through my academic life. For my PhD, I studied Song Sparrows on Mandarte Island, B.C., working on a study system started by my supervisor Jamie Smith in 1971, and using data collected by Jamie and Peter Arcese, the previous PhD student to work on this system. Their willingness to provide access to the study system and data has benefitted not only me but all of the researchers to follow: the Mandarte Song Sparrows have now seen 4 academic generations of students as research questions have evolved to the present day. Collaborations are a central part of my research work to this day, as I am part of two large collaborations — one studying host-pathogen dynamics and the second involving the use of data from eBird — as well as shorter-term projects with various students, post-docs, and other researchers on a wide range of topics.