In a 2010 editorial in Science, William Schlesinger warned, “Unless the discoveries of ecological science are rapidly translated into meaningful actions, they will be quietly archived while the biosphere degrades.” Schlesinger introduced the term translational ecology, described as efforts to “convey … ecological information accurately and in ways that stakeholders … can understand.” Quickly, the definition of translational ecology expanded to include not only the sharingof ecological knowledge but also the co-production of research. Enquist et al. (2017) defined it as “an intentional approach in which ecologists, stakeholders, and decision makers work collaboratively to develop and deliver ecological research that, ideally, results in improved environment-related decision making.” They identified six principles and goals of translational ecology: collaboration, commitment, communication, decision-framing/context, engagement, and process. It was this broadened definition that a group of ecology doctoral students referenced when they proposed “that universities hire translational ecologists as faculty and build formal training programs in translational ecology” (Hansen et al. 2018). This presentation describes a decade of experience providing formal university graduate training in translational ecology as broadly defined.
I offered Utah State University’s first translational ecology course in 2011, and it has been taught most years since. The syllabus reflects a pedagogical framework for translational ecology focused on three themes: social-ecological context, communication, and engagement (Brunson and Baker 2016). Students typically enroll to learn informal communication skills, but they quickly embrace the need to engage directly with non-scientists. While designed for graduates in ecology, the course draws students from ecological, physical, and social science disciplines as well as humanities. Disciplinary diversity facilitates learning about engagement with communities as students bring different strengths and knowledges to the course, and also must practice during each class period how to speak and listen to people with different disciplinary backgrounds. The course structure blends a typical graduate seminar structure, reviewing publications on translational science, with practical and sometimes impractical exercises designed to build translational skills. Students learn to identify audiences for their work and to anticipate stakeholder perspectives. A final assignment to “do something translational” has led to a number of creative projects, from designing ecology games and a science poetry event to organizing a social influence campaign and a public discussion on climate change.