Graduate Student Alumni Spotlights

Suzanne Pierre

Suzanne Pierre's (she/her; Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, 2018) Ph.D. research focused on the biotic and abiotic drivers of soil nitrogen (N) cycling and availability to plants and microbes. Suzanne was advised by Professor Tim Fahey (Natural Resources) and co-advised by Professor Peter Groffman (Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies/City University of New York). Suzanne was initially motivated by the fact that global forest productivity is greatest in warm, moist parts of the globe, and that within those forests, the nutrients that support forest growth are recycled by temperature-sensitive soil microbes. Knowing that global climate change promises rising temperatures around the world, Suzanne sought to identify the mechanisms that control the response of soil N-cycling microbes to rising temperature using an environmental functional gene approach. (Pierre et al. 2017, Ecology).

In addition to this research, Suzanne initiated the first student and faculty dialogue on diversity and racial equity within Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and co-founded the Diversity Preview Weekend program alongside fellow Ph.D. student Cait McDonald. Suzanne was a funded Trainee in the NSF Cross-Scale Biogeochemistry and Climate IGERT program, a Sloan Fellow, a member of the Bouchet Honors Society, and was awarded the Cornell Diversity Change Agent award in 2017. After her PhD, Suzanne was a UC President’s Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, focusing plant ecophysiological responses to water stress and interactions with mycorrhizal fungi. She is a 2021 Osher Fellow at the California Academy of Sciences, and is the founder and director of the Critical Ecology Lab, a nonprofit research and anti-oppression organization dedicated to studying the ways exploitative human systems drive global ecological change.

Marjorie Weber

Marjorie Weber’s (she/her; Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, 2014) Ph.D. research focused on the evolution of plant traits involved in mutualistic interactions with arthropods across micro- and macro-evolutionary scales. Working with Professor Anurag Agrawal (Ecology and Evolutionary Biology), Marjorie was motivated by the idea that plant traits that mediate plant-animal interactions evolve through natural selection because of their influence on plant fitness (microevolution) but that their evolution, in turn, can shape macroevolutionary patterns of species diversification (Weber & Agrawal 2012, Trends in Ecology & Evolution).  Focusing on extrafloral nectaries and leaf domatia – two plant traits that service arthropods that, in turn, defend plants against enemies – Marjorie demonstrated the traits’ adaptive value through manipulative field experiments and their broader role in plant diversification (Weber et al. 2012, American Naturalist; Weber & Keeler 2013, Annals of Botany).

While at Cornell, Marjorie was supported by an NSF graduate research fellowship and an NSF doctoral dissertation improvement grant. She has continued to pursue her interests in the intersection of micro- and macro-evolutionary processes shaping plant traits through her Center for Population Biology Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of California, Davis, and as an Assistant Professor in Plant Biology at Michigan State University (Weber & Straus 2016, Hembry & Weber 2018, Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution & Systematics). 

Marjorie is also involved in pedagogy research, asking whether exposure to a diversity of role models impacts student learning and sense of belonging in STEM. She is a co-founder and host of Project Biodiversify, an online repository of teaching materials and methods that highlights the contributions of biologists from diverse backgrounds and identities, in order to promote inclusivity in biology classrooms. When not at work, Marjorie enjoys painting, and together with her husband, is busy raising two children and a dog!