Dr. Carol Brewer
The following profile courtesy of the P.A.C.E. website
As a kid living all over the USA, Dr. Carol Brewer always lived on the edge of wild places - farms, woods, streams, mountains, and beaches. "When we were children, my brothers and I had many adventures exploring these 'wild' places. These experiences catalyzed a deep appreciation of nature while I was still in grade school. This was further kindled by seeing pictures of the earth taken from space as the space race took off in the 1960's - more than anything space exploration sparked my early interest in science." Her grandfather was a passionate gardener and early mentor, and in the process of teaching her how to grow plants he taught her a lot about plant physiological ecology (even though he did not call it that). At CSU-Fullerton two especially influential undergraduate mentors - Jack Burk and Mike Horn - introduced Carol to research as an undergraduate and cultivated early interest in plant functional morphology and ecology. Nancy Stanton, an Ecologist at the University of Wyoming and one of the three women science professors she had during her entire college career, has been an important mentor since her first grad school days.
As part of the first generation in her family to go to college, Carol was naive about what constituted good preparation for being successful once she got there. "Where I went to school in the mid 70's, girls were still tracked out of science and advanced mathematics. Instead, I focused my studies in art and literature." Consequently, when she switched majors from art to biology, she had a lot of catching up to do, especially in mathematics. After finishing a B.A. in Biology, she took a job in California looking for abandoned hazardous waste disposal sites to save up money for graduate school. She completed her masters at The University of Wyoming on Aquatic Macrophyte Ecology and Biomechanics. During her time as a graduate student she became interested in how people learn science. Simultaneously completing a B.S. in Science Education with her M.S. degree, she started publishing in education journals while working on her dissertation. Although this interest has served Carol very well, her graduate advisors were not terribly enthusiastic at the time. However, they never put up roadblocks to pursuing these dual interests. Afterwards, she accepted a Research Fellowship to study Macrophyte Ecology with Bjorn Rorslett at the Norwegian Institute for Water Research in Oslo. She continued her studies at The University of Wyoming receiving a PhD in the ecophysiological significance of leaf surface wetness.
Landing a position in the Division of Biological Sciences straight out of graduate school, Carol was in a position where she was expected to do research in both Ecology and Education. She professes "I was at a disadvantage because all the other new professors in my department had 2-5 years of post-doc experience, data, and publications and, therefore, considerably more momentum in starting up new labs. It was a challenge to develop research programs in both ecology and education, and there was no established tradition for how to evaluate someone with these dual responsibilities." Working as a professor allows Carol the freedom and flexibility to combine all of her diverse interests. Today she has graduate students in both fields in her lab, and reveals "I am getting a lot better about finding the balance between my two research programs, and between work and the rest of my life."
As an Ecologist and research mentor, Dr. Brewer recognizes the importance of developing skills for communicating with managers, policy makers, and the public, and being able to find ways to link research to public awareness and decision making. This is an important part of the researcher's role in promoting scientific literacy - communicating about science in ways that capture the imagination and understanding of the communities in which we live. "Personally, I have resolved to translate the research I do in ways that are meaningful for non-scientists (e.g., leading workshops for teachers, publishing in science education journals, participating in community outreach). Modeling and practicing these skills with my students is one step toward communicating the science we do beyond our scientist peers."
Carol's advice to future ecologists is to "seek out lots of volunteer and paid job experiences to find your passion so you can make sure you are not training for a career you will not like. Develop skills that will set you apart from everyone else, particularly cultivate your quantitative skills, learn another language, and read within and well beyond the boundaries of your field. Find out how people learn so you will be a better teacher. Take risks to keep yourself fresh and open to learning new things. And remember to enjoy life all along the way."
Dr. Brewer and her lab group are actively involved in basic research in plant biology, as well as science education. She mentors graduate students and post doctoral fellows in both areas. She currently serves as the Vice President of the Ecological Society of America for Education and Human Resources, Associate Editor for the journal Conservation Biology (Education), and is leading the education visioning for the new National Environmental Observatory Network (NEON) initiative. Her research program in Physiological Ecology has two main foci: functional plant morphology, particularly at the leaf level, and conservation biology of temperate forests in southern South America.