Campus News

Ecology administrator’s career merges interests from two worlds

Dorset Trapnell

When Dorset Trapnell was 17, she knew “beyond a shadow of a doubt” that she wanted to be a biologist.

“As a kid, I thought about being many things. But the minute I saw my first coral reef at the age of 12, I was in love,” said the Austrian-born scientist, who was raised in Bermuda. “While snorkeling for the very first time, I crossed paths with a juvenile damselfish that struck me as the most magical thing I had ever seen. In that moment I became completely enchanted by this habitat.”

Trapnell took a roundabout route to that magic, detouring first to get an M.B.A. and earn her CPA. She spent the 1980s hard at work in private industry for a high-powered corporation. Interest in the natural world could not be denied and eventually Trapnell returned to school to pursue a less lucrative career in molecular ecology and tropical biology.

“While I don’t regret my time spent in the business world, I always knew that I would return to science one day,” she said.

Today, as assistant director of the Institute of Ecology, Trapnell’s work seems to have retained aspects of both worlds. Her responsibilities include strategic planning, and preparation of budgets and research proposals. In her spare time, she explores the strange and myriad mysteries of neotropical plant species such as orchids.

“My professional interests in molecular ecology and tropical biology are a natural fit for the institute and its faculty,” Trapnell said when asked how she bridges such different fields. “I think that the tools I obtained while I earned my M.B.A. and CPA training and worked in the business world can only serve to help me perform my administrative duties better. While working for a major accounting firm I learned a great deal about budgeting, resource management and personnel management. These are all things that a scientific department needs to run efficiently and complete its mission of research, education and service.”

Like her subjects, Trapnell is always finding new niches to fill. The mother of two teenagers is also a botanical watercolor artist, and enjoys horseback riding, canoeing and hiking with her family.

“I basically enjoy doing anything athletic, outdoorsy related to art,” she said.

“With continued advances in the field, it is important that we periodically reassess and identify areas of focus that will keep us at the leading edge of ecological research,” she said.

“We have a unique opportunity to create cross-disciplinary interactions that build on the strength of faculty in the biological sciences. The trend is to develop larger interdisciplinary research groups, and we need to be looking outside the institute to develop partnerships with our colleagues here at UGA and at other institutions.”