My name is Ren (they/them pronouns) and I just completed my Ph.D. in Ecology at Duke University in the Clark Lab. I study tree health in urban forests, specifically 1) how tree maintenance can increase tree health and 2) how patterns in urban tree health vary within cities

Educational and Work Background: 

I completed my undergraduate degree in Biology (with a specialization in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology) from the University of Chicago in 2018, with a minor in Environmental and Urban Studies. During undergrad, I worked on various research projects, starting out in Neuroscience but moving to Ecology (and more specifically working with plants).

After graduating, I worked first as a Conservation Land Management intern for the US Forest Service at the Dorena Genetic Resource Center in Oregon. While there, I worked primarily with Lee Riley doing horticultural work and seeing how the Forest Service partnered with other agencies to do restorations. I also worked with Richard Sniezko and others to investigate the degree of local adaptation in Pacific madrone, a local hardwood species. You can see more about that project on the research page.

I next worked at the non-profit Columbia Land Trust right across the river in Washington State. I supported on some of their grant writing (particularly with GIS work), community outreach, and squirrel surveys. Both my time at the US Forest Service and with Columbia Land Trust helped me see how land managers and conservation practitioners apply scientific research. These experiences help ground my approach to applied ecology research.

At Duke, I received the NSF GRFP and worked with The Nature Conservancy as a NatureNet science fellow. With colleagues at Duke, the city of Durham, the US Forest Service, The Morton Arboretum, and The Nature Conservancy, I have studied patterns in tree health in both Chicago, IL and Durham, NC in the U.S. Our work uses archival research, field data, GIS data, and remote sensing to look at tree health across scales.

For full CV, see here

Grounding Vision:

I grew up in various places, both inside the US and in other countries, but have almost always lived in cities. Growing up, I thought of “nature” as being in other places, where you road trip to. Don’t get me wrong, I love spending time in national parks, going on long backpacking trips, and seeing the milky way when you’re far away from city lights. I just hope we can also appreciate the life and diversity (both human and non-human) that exists in urban areas.

We are in the midst of tackling an impending climate crisis, ongoing economic inequality, racial injustice, the carceral state, and colonial exploitation. Reckoning with the failures in our current social and economic system is long overdue, and I hope that we can use this opportunity to reimagine how we, as humans, live with and among the rest of the natural world. I aim to be part of that reimagining by looking at our urban forests, organizing for societal change, and interrogating some of the values embedded in ecological science.

General background on me

Academic research interests

young people in vests looking at an apricot tree, two squatting down and one entering data in a tablet standing up

Technicians since 2019

Activism outside academic research

Interviews, podcasts, science writing, and more

Full academic CV