If you haven’t met Mark Schildhauer, you’re truly missing out.
As NCEAS director Ben Halpern notes, “Mark has a deep curiosity about a truly wide and diverse range of topics, and loves to share his passions with others. When you see Mark coming down the halls of NCEAS, you know you’re in for an interesting (and often delightfully esoteric) conversation. His impacts on the infrastructure, vision, accomplishments and community of NCEAS have been profound.”
Mark joined NCEAS in 1995 as its fourth employee and Director of Computing. For 22 years, he has been responsible for building and maintaining NCEAS’ international reputation in ecoinformatics and promoting computational solutions to serve the global environmental science community. Mark has also worked on several collaborations to improve standards for knowledge exchange over the Web.
This week, Mark wraps up a life chapter as he retires. Before he goes, we would like to share some of his reflections with the NCEAS community.
What has been most notable to you about NCEAS’ evolution over time?
Mark Schildhauer: When NCEAS first started, it was the only ecological synthesis center in the country. There was a lot of skepticism that existing data could be brought together to reveal new scientific insights and that scientists would be willing to share their knowledge, data, and techniques in collaborative working groups. The achievements and success of NCEAS’ many working groups dispelled this skepticism.
Support for scientific synthesis has grown partially because of NCEAS. There has also been an increase in the value of using open-source, multi-platform analytical tools for collaborative analyses. These tools provide transparency and reproducibility of scientific results, emphasize the value of the open science approaches that NCEAS has long advocated for, and help reinforce public trust and understanding in the scientific process.
NCEAS is now much more than a synthesis center for ecology. Our SNAPP program examines the connections between conservation science and human wellbeing. We are also the home of the Network Communications Office for the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) program; a core site for the Ocean Health Index; and are maintaining NSF's official data repository for Arctic-related research, as well as the ESA's vegetation plots database, VegBank. Finally NCEAS is one of the core nodes in the DataONE confederation of environmental data repositories.
What value has NCEAS provided to science, society, and to you personally?
MS: NCEAS working groups have produced pivotal, pioneering research outcomes over the past couple decades. Its postdoctoral scientists have shown remarkable curiosity and receptivity to new ideas, and unique enthusiasm for assisting each other and building collaborations more broadly. Those postdocs now occupy influential positions in academia, NGOs, and industry, and have thus spread our vision of the value of collaborative and integrative science to other institutions.
For me, NCEAS has been a consistently stimulating environment in which to work. It has been rewarding to support researchers’ production of solid, relevant science. I also believe that NCEAS' consistent advocacy of synthesis science has been borne out in the current and still growing interest in "data science" and of the value of "open science."
I have particularly enjoyed how NCEAS established links with international colleagues, like researchers at synthesis centers in France, Germany, Australia, South Africa and elsewhere. I think this is a great trend, because ecological research must increasingly address regional and global-scale issues, and the best science will almost certainly involve strong international cooperation.
What do you hope for the future of NCEAS?
MS: I believe in the critical role that technology will play in scientific synthesis. So it will be rewarding to see NCEAS continue to represent and address the needs of the environmental and conservation sciences in that regard.
What are your plans for retirement?
MS: I won’t disappear entirely from NCEAS. I plan to continue working on special projects, such as developing semantic web solutions for the environmental and conservation sciences. Other than that, I hope to get more time in the ocean and on the trails, and spend less time looking at a screen. I also hope to binge on the Criterion Collection (a different type of screen) and make a bigger dent in the pile of books by my bedside.