I grew up mostly in Australia, although my parents are both from California, and their parents were of Lithuanian and Scottish stock. I had a childhood that was both scholarly and tomboyish. My two brothers and I were home schooled, and while growing up we spent a great deal of time with each other, and outdoors, and in the company of books.
In fact, my adulthood has been remarkably similar to my childhood: I have spent it mostly with books, or outdoors digging in the dirt or examining plants, although now I get to call it "research." Lucky me!
In the long-term, I would like to get a job that involves research, teaching, and writing. Perhaps I will work at the UN, or the USDA, or at a university. (Right now I am a postdoctoral researcher at UC Davis, working on climate adaptation in California agriculture.)
I am passionate about natural science, and enjoy conveying both the ideas and the enthusiasm to other people. Most of all, I feel that there is a great deal of work to be done to protect the human species and the other species on the planet. It is for this reason that I chose to become an ecologist, and for this reason that I shall never retire.
It seems odd to me to separate the description of myself from the description of my career. If you'd like to read more about my academic background, you can visit my old UC Berkeley website here: www.ocf.berkeley.edu/~akerr/socrates.
I got married in October 2011 to my long-time partner who patiently waited for me to come back from Africa. Now (as of early 2017) we have a four-year-old girl and a one-year-old boy. Life is busy!
There are many other things that I enjoy but am not very good at: Math. Ultimate Frisbee. Social dancing. Languages (English, French, Japanese, Chichewa). Modeling (the computer kind). Playing the piano. Sailing. Martial arts (I studied Yun Jung Do for three years).
Well, that's the first thing people notice about me in Malawi. I doubt it's the first thing people notice about me in California. Within my own culture, here are several traits of mine that people seem to remark upon.
In terms of appearance: I smile a lot and when I do, my eyes disappear into crescents. I have been told this makes me look like an anime character. Before I cut my hair short, people used to tell me I looked like Renee Zellweger. But she's not an anime character, so the comments can't both be true. (If I had to choose, I'd rather be an anime character, preferably one with superpowers like talking to animals and riding on a giant wolf.)
Let's see... the next thing people usually notice about me is my accent, or lack thereof. In the US: "If you're from Australia, why don't you have an accent?" In Australia: "You have a bit of an accent. Are you from Canada?" (Actually, my accent shifts depending on where I am, and it's not strongly American, but it's not noticeably Australian either.)
People also tend to describe me as friendly, articulate, and enthusiastic. The flip side of that is that I've been told that my language that is too formal, that I talk too much, and I ask too many questions. So over the past few years I have been trying to strike a better balance.
When I do read fiction, it is such a treat that I often overdose: I once stayed up until dawn with Barbara Kingsolver's "Prodigal Summer," and have also been known to stay up all night reading Harry Potter. A few years ago, I was introduced to the delights of Italo Calvino, and I expect to reread "Invisible Cities" many times. Other recent favorites (not surprisingly, set in Africa) are "What is the What" by Dave Eggers and "Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight," by Alexandra Fuller.
Movies: I constantly astound my friends with my lack of movie knowledge. But I love Star Wars Episodes IV-VI, The Princess Bride, and Princess Mononoke (or anything else by Miyazaki). Who could not like Amelie and Juno and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? I also highly recommend Hotel Rwanda even though I cried the whole way through. And I watched It Happened One Night about eight dozen times with my grandmother.
Music: I am eminently behind the times here. I mostly listen to classical music and am especially fond of piano (Grieg, Chopin, Rachmaninov, Ravel, Saint-Saëns, Dvořák and Bach are at the top of my list).Strauss waltzes make me grin and dance around the room. I love musicals, especially Rodgers & Hammerstein. I like pop music from my parents' generation (especially the Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel). And I do listen to music from this decade as well (They Might Be Giants, Coldplay, Sarah McLachlan, Dido, and Dar Williams, to name a few).
Foods: I love to cook, and I love any and all kinds of food. My favorite cuisines are Ethiopian, Burmese, Thai, and Indian. I am a staunch advocate of brunch, and frequently try to feed people French toast, pancakes, or crepes. I also love to bake (specialties include banana bread and oatmeal cranberry cookies), and I put chocolate chips in just about everything, except maybe apple crumble. I was raised an omnivore but have since transitioned to vegetarian, for environmental reasons. My very favorite food is potato pancakes, a delicacy for special occasions that has been handed down by the Eastern European side of my family.
• α- and β-diversity*.
• The ocean.
• The stars within a few hundred light-years of Earth. (I'm sure the rest of the stars in the galaxy are great too, I just feel more attached to the stars I can see.)
In the spirit of the question, I will also name my two most important belongings, with whom I spend a great deal of time every day:
• My bike Will Scarlet (he's a red Trek 1500 aluminum road bike).
• My computer Norman (the MacBook on which I am typing this). However, he'll never quite have the same place in my heart as my faithful white iBook, Clara, who was by my side through 5.5 years of grad school and fieldwork before succumbing to old age.
* α-diversity is the diversity of species within a given area; β-diversity is the difference between sets of species in different areas, sometimes called "landscape diversity."
- • Who my kids will grow up to be, and how I can help them get to where they wants to go.
- • My brothers, whose talents constantly amaze me. My parents, who are too far away across the Pacific. My amazing colleagues and friends here in California and around the world.
- • How to help farmers adapt to climate change. And how to solve environmental and social problems in general.
- • Amazing creatures like binturongs and chameleons and hoopoes and Lord Howe Island stick insects. Also, the intelligence of corvids.
- • Current events, especially those of broader importance: civil strife in the Middle East, the struggles of South Sudan, the economic growth of China, the potential for an AIDS vaccine, and so on.
- • Teaching. I try to invent interesting hands-on exercises for my students whenever possible. Once I gave my Bio 1B students cards that said "Phloem" and "Vascular cambium" and "Casparian strip" and so forth, and asked them to figure out how to arrange themselves into a correct cross-section of a stem and a root.
- • What gifts to get people for the holidays and their birthdays. And what to do for my friends and family in general.
- • Things I did wrong and times I made people upset. Sometimes this helps me improve myself, other times I just go round in circles.
- • What I'm going to have for my next meal. Or for a snack. Mmmm, food.
- • Words, definitions of words, and spellings of words. I like to craft my sentences carefully and I also love to memorize quotes.
- • Going to a Mountain View restaurant, talking about anything and everything under the sun, and quickly resolving any disputed facts with Wikipedia. (Oh, the blessings and curses of smart-phones).
- • Making dinner at home and watching the latest in the Netflix queue. For example, "My Neighbor Totoro."
- • Eating dinner with a small group of friends, where 2 <= "small" <= 6. We enjoy inviting friends over and cooking for them.
Other favorite weekend activities of mine: visiting the farmers' market; running (I run half-marathons to raise money for the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America, and have surprised myself by getting fast enough to win prizes); working in my small but abundant vegetable garden; doing laundry; calling a faraway friend on the phone; doing an art or cooking project (homemade birthday cards and homemade jam are two of my specialties).
I am unlikely to be: At a nightclub. At the movie theater. At a concert. (Unless it's the symphony or the opera, both of which I would consider a wonderful Friday night!)
First - Over the past decade or so, several of my relationships (in both the personal and the professional realms) have met with not-so-happy endings, to my bewilderment. I resolved to learn from these events, to seek logical explanations for them, and to become more aware of my own fallibility. But it was hard to strike the right balance between self-deprecation and self-confidence, and I tended to err on the side of self-deprecation. That pendulum has now swung back to the middle, and I have removed most of the "Under Construction" signs from my self-image. But I doubt I'll ever again be as blithe as I was in my youth - probably for the better!
Second - I am not religious, but I find myself to have more in common with some religious believers than with some atheists, because I strongly believe in living for something larger than one's self. I think former UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld explained the feeling perfectly when he said:
"You are the lens in the beam. You can only receive, give, and possess the light as the lens does. If you seek yourself, you rob the lens of its transparency. You will know life and be acknowledged by it according to your degree of transparency, your capacity, that is, to vanish as an end, and remain purely as a means."
(1) Passion about making the world a better place. There are any number of ways to do this, of course. What matters most to me is having a desire to contribute to society (not primarily to earn money, and/or to do something pleasant and amusing). If you, like me, had trouble separating the questions "Who am I" and "What am I doing with my life," then you probably know exactly what I mean.
(2) An academic / intellectual outlook. Most important is an insatiable curiosity about all sorts of things; the exact subject matter isn't of paramount importance. My training is mostly in the natural sciences, and I seem to find endless opportunities to talk about plants, animals, biogeochemistry, climate change, and energy technologies. But I realize that my favorite topics are only a tiny fraction of all the interesting things in the world, so I would expect and welcome a countervailing flux of information on your favorite topics.
There are a few other broad things it would be nice to have in common, but you can probably already guess those: an enjoyment of nature and the outdoors, a fondness for the English language, an international worldview, and a tendency toward silliness (or quirkiness, or unconventionality, or in general embodying the good-natured spirit "What do I care what other people think?").
Thank you for bearing with me through this rather long introduction, and feel free to get in touch. I'd be glad to hear from you!
P.S. If you're reading this on Quickmatch, please just look me up by my username, amberckerr, as I don't use Quickmatch.