Jessica Metcalf is Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Public Affairs at Princeton University. She also serves on the Philosophical Transactions B Editorial Board, and recently guest edited a theme issue on complexities and challenges for the elimination of infectious diseases. Here, she talks to us about some of her research interests.
Tell us a bit about your research.
I work on demographic questions ranging from the evolution of life histories to the impacts of demographic change on human health. Demography is the engine that drives ecology and evolution, shaping population declines, species coexistence, all the way through to the spread of genes. I’m fascinated by the ability that demographic models provide us with to understand features of the world around us (why have life-histories such as semelparity, where reproduction is fatal, evolved?) but also predict outcomes of public health relevance (where should we next introduce particular vaccines?). My research involves fitting demographic models to existing data to explore such questions.
What prompted you to work on these questions?
I grew up partly in Madagascar – which was easily enough to inspire a life-long fascination with biology. During my gap year, I met some wonderful graduate students who were doing their field work in Madagascar that further sparked a delight in evolutionary biology. During my postdoctoral years, the potential of the tools I was learning for tackling applied questions in the area of infectious disease drew me into considering questions relating to infectious disease dynamics and vaccination policy.
Why did you join the Editorial Board of Philosophical Transactions B
Philosophical Transactions is very different from the other journals I’ve been involved with. Rather than producing a regular journal that covers a broad theme – so that inevitably only a few of the articles may interest any given scientist in each issue – the goal for Philosophical Transactions is to produce a book. Every article in a Philosophical Transactions B issue should be of interest to someone working on the focal topic – and the best part is that they may be completely unexpectedly interesting to the reader, since the format fosters an interdisciplinary perspective.
What advice would you give to someone who want to edit an issue for Philosophical Transactions B
Pick out a question or area on which you wish there was a reference book crossing multiple fields; find a co-editor (or two!) who knows about things (people, research tools, model systems) that you don’t – and go for it!
What do you do in your spare time?
Read! Obsessively – mostly fiction – mixed in with a little running and hiking.