Community Highlight – Nathan Kiel

Nathan Kiel is a Doctoral candidate in iBio graduating May 2024. Before he transitions to the next phase in his career, we talked with him about his research and graduate student experience in iBio and UW-Madison.

Nathan’s research focuses on understanding how forests are changing with a warming climate and widespread wildfire. He has done most of his work in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in the Rocky Mountains as part of the research team in Dr. Monica Turner’s lab. Forests in Greater Yellowstone are threatened with climate change and more frequent wildfire. He is studying how plant communities and ecosystem processes are currently responding to better understand the future of Greater Yellowstone’s forests as climate and fire continue to change.

Nathan is interested in conducting research that addresses the needs of natural resource managers as well as communicating science to broad audiences. This led him to minor in translational ecology, a subdiscipline of ecology that prioritizes impactful research that leads to real-world outcomes. With this training, he has written two popular press articles communicating his research to National Park Service land managers and the general public, given several public webinars, and developed biology and ecology undergraduate curriculum to help train the next generation of scientists.

The opportunity to work with Dr. Monica Turner, a leader in the field of ecology, is what first drew him to UW-Madison. However, he soon realized that the university and department were well-suited to support his career goals of becoming a professor at a primarily undergraduate institution. iBio’s flexible coursework requirements allowed him to prioritize professional development in teaching and mentorship that he wouldn’t have gotten elsewhere. But the graduate student community in the department and Dr. Turner’s lab was what really convinced him that it would be a great place to pursue his PhD.

When we asked about the most valuable experiences he had in iBio, he feels like his skills as a scientist have been greatly improved from collaborating with fellow graduate students on research projects. He has also grown a lot as a mentor, working closely with several undergraduate students on their independent research projects for one of the department’s introductory biology courses. Finally, some of the most fun he has had while conducting research has been while collecting data for his dissertation in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks!

Nathan says after graduating in May, he is starting a post-doctoral research position at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, where he earned his Bachelors degree. There he will be studying the effects of climate change on tree species’ migrations across mountains in New York and New England.