The University of Michigan Board of Regents recently approved the promotions of Christopher Dick and Aaron King from associate professor with tenure to professor with tenure, effective Sept. 1, 2016.
Christopher Dick is also promoted from associate curator to curator at the University Herbarium. A letter in support of the promotion from EEB Professor and Chair Diarmaid Ó Foighil points to Dick’s outstanding record in research, teaching, curation and service.
“A consistent theme running through the external letters is that Professor Dick is among the world’s leading tropical plant evolutionary biologists,” wrote Ó Foighil. “In particular, he has made a series of important new contributions to our understanding of how the planet’s largest and most ecologically important flora – the Amazon rainforest – has evolved its spectacular biodiversity.”
Dick’s scholarship has a number of impressive characteristics, including its integrative scope – ranging from gene flow (pollination and seed dispersal) to population genetics, phylogeography and the newly coined “geogenomics” – the use of rainforest tree genetic data to test hypotheses of continental geological processes. He is a fearless and proactive scholar, able and willing to take on large scale research challenges and to assemble the interdisciplinary teams and funding sources required to tackle the big important questions in his field. Dick’s strengths in Neotropical research are perhaps best exemplified by the Science news article that featured him and his research team’s expedition to Peru last summer.
He has an excellent teaching record that includes responsibility for a most remarkable course – Woody Plants (EEB/SNRE/PitE 436) – that involves undergraduate and graduate students and marries lectures on tree evolution and ecology with extensive field trips to local forests where they learn to identify all the species – a process that will be greatly aided by his upcoming coauthorship of a custom-designed book: “Michigan Shrubs and Vines.” His teaching profile is unusually versatile in that it also includes a graduate Molecular Ecology course, a freshman seminar and a graduate Field Ecology course, all of which get high evaluations. Dick is an excellent mentor of graduate students, as is exemplified by the fact that four out of five of his graduate students have won highly competitive NSF Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grants (DDIGs).
He has taken his curatorial role very seriously, pioneering new curatorial functions that include both molecular data gathering and electronic outreach capabilities. In particular, Dick has taken a local leadership role in an NSF Thematic Collections Network (TCN) grant to digitize the U-M Herbarium macroalgal collection as well as being the principal investigator and moving force behind a new TCN proposal targeting the Great Lakes plants and insects.
Dick has enthusiastically taken on important service leadership roles within the department. He has been a visionary director of the Edwin S. George Reserve, bringing great energy and focus to revitalizing the research and teaching scope of that facility. He incorporated a ESGR forest plot into the Smithsonian Global Earth Observatory. This year, Dick became associate chair for EEB’s U-M Herbarium collections, one of the most important plant research resources in North America.
Aaron King has an excellent scholarly record in theoretical ecology as evident from his impressive publication and funding record and his election in 2013 as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. External letters from leading global researchers in theoretical/mathematical and disease ecology spoke consistently and eloquently of their admiration of King’s outstanding scholarly contributions. These include the creation of powerful new statistical tools that enable a better understanding of complex ecological dynamics. They also include his successful application of these tools to yield important new insights into the disease ecology of major human pathogens such as polio virus, pertussis bacteria and Ebola virus.
“King’s academic star is very much in the ascendant,” wrote Ó Foighil. “Indeed, many of the external reviewers predict a quantum increase in his already high scientific profile as the innovative new statistical methodologies he and his collaborators have developed become widely adopted through his field.”
King’s background is primarily in mathematics rather than in biology, an academic profile that differs from most of his departmental colleagues. A number of the external letters point to his impressive ability to communicate complex statistical methods and analyses with unusual clarity in his research seminars. That facility carries through in his upper level courses at the U-M – Mathematical Ecology (EEB/MATH 466) and Model-based Statistical Inference in Ecology (EEB 480) – where he scores highly in student evaluations. Other notable aspects of his teaching profile include his significant mentoring of postdoctoral, graduate and undergraduate students and his teaching of a large number of national and international short courses and workshops. King developed an exciting new course for undergraduate biology majors (BIOL 202 Mathematics of Life: Introduction to Quantitative Biology) that is aimed at students interested in quantitative perspectives and who stand to gain considerably from his expertise.
The external letters expressed a keen appreciation of King as a good scientific citizen who is generous in sharing his mathematical insights, skill sets and analytical programs for the greater good of the field. That trait is also apparent in King’s service. At the department level he has served with distinction on a number of committees and he is a thoughtful and engaged member of our faculty community.
Nationally, he has served on a number of important programs and initiatives, as an associate editor for two top journals in his field, as a grant reviewer for NSF and a manuscript reviewer for an impressively extensive range of scientific outlets.