Focus on Faculty Profiles

Nina Wurzburger

Nina Wurzburger

It has been said that the pursuit of a Ph.D. is not a sprint, but an endurance race. If that is true, forest ecology Ph.D. candidate Nina Wurzburger should have no problem finishing. She is the world’s top female duathlon competitor in her age group. Wurzburger began competing on the swim and track teams in high school and college, and she started biking to cross-train. She has competed all over the world, recently winning first place in her age group at the World Championship Duathlon in Fredericia, Denmark. She will also represent the United States in the upcoming 2005 long course World Championship Duathon in Barcis, Italy.


Pacific Grove, California

High School:

Pacific Grove High School

Degree objective:

Ph.D. in Forest Resources

Other degrees:

M.S., University of California, Davis, 2000 (Soil Science);
B.S., University of California, Davis, 1997 (Environmental and Resource Science)

Expected graduation:

May 2006

University highlights, achievements, awards and scholarships:

Since I’ve been a graduate student at UGA I have been awarded research funding or scholarships from outside institutions; Sigma Xi Grants In Aid of Research 2002, Society of Wetland Scientists Graduate Research Award 2003, as well as from on campus organizations. In 2003 I received the Martha Love May Memorial Scholarship from the Daniel B. Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources (WSFR), and the Graduate Research Prize from the Center for Biological Diversity and Ecosystem Processes in 2004. These awards have helped fund my dissertation research.

My greatest athletic achievements have been in the sport of duathlon (run-bike-run). In 2004 I qualified to represent USA at the Long Course Duathlon World Championships, in Fredericia, Denmark. This race was a 20 km run, 120 km bike, followed by a 10 km run. This race took almost 6.5 hrs and I placed first in my age group, making me an amateur, age group world champion. One month later I also became national champion after placing first in my age group at the National Championship for Long Course Duathlon.

Current Employment:

I am a research assistant and a teaching assistant in the WSFR. My research is in forest ecology, but more specifically, below ground ecology of tree roots and symbiotic fungi. Below ground ecology is fascinating to me because it is challenging to study and an important component of forest ecosystems. When people hear the term “forest ecology” they often think of trees, plants and animals (because they are all immediately visible). What some people might neglect to realize is that soils host very complex biotic communities which have a profound impact on what they see above ground. My dissertation research focuses on mycorrhizas—a symbiotic relationship between plant roots and fungi.

I chose to attend UGA because…

…I wanted to work under my current advisor, Ron Hendrick in WSFR. I met Ron in 1997, when I was still an undergrad, when he visited UC Davis, as he is a colleague of my former M.S. advisor. I discovered that we had similar research interests and I was excited at the prospect of working with him on a doctoral research project at UGA.

My favorite things to do on campus are…

…the things I do every day including research, TAing and going to Jittery Joe’s with my pal Chelcy Rae where we get heavily caffeinated and talk about “science.”

When I have free time, I like…

When I’m not working, eating or sleeping, I’m usually training. I am friends with an amazing group of multi-sport athletes, runners and cyclists that are not only my training partners, but some of my best friends. They are graduate students, professors and professionals of all different ages and with different backgrounds who share a passion for sport. Sometimes we have stimulating conversations, sometimes we trudge through a bike ride or run in complete silence. More often than not we question our sanity and always support one another. So, training is not simply exercise for me, but also important social time.

The craziest thing I’ve done is…

I train 10-20 hours a week. Does this sound sane to you?

If I could share an afternoon with anyone, I would love to share it with…

…my family in California because I don’t see them often. I’d especially love to spend time with my father, a talented stained glass artisan, and I’d like to watch him work in the Mert Studio of Art in Pacific Grove.

If money was not a consideration, I would love to…

…donate a large sum of money to research funding institutions (like the National Science Foundation) to increase our breadth of knowledge and to promote research in my field. On a more whimsical note, I’d buy a John Deere riding mower so that every morning, I could ride 2 blocks to Jittery Joe’s where I would have unlimited access to chai and Zim’s bagels.

The one UGA experience I will always remember will be…

One of my training partners is Kathy Parker, a professor in the geography department. Kathy is a cancer survivor and was selected by the Lance Armstrong Foundation to ride in the Tour of Hope, a bike ride across the country to raise cancer awareness. I’ve had the pleasure of training with Kathy while I’ve been at UGA, and I will always find her to be a source of inspiration.