Faculty

A Conversation with Dr. Jack Williams

Dr. Williams, teaching.

What led you to geography?

My research interests are inherently interdisciplinary and so is Geography.  I study the responses of plant species and communities to past and present environmental change, and vegetation feedbacks to other biological and earth systems.  My research combines elements of geosciences (we measure fossil pollen and other paleoenvironmental proxies extracted from lake sediment cores), ecology (modeling species range dynamics and interactions among species), atmospheric sciences (understanding the climatic drivers of past and future ecological dynamics), cartography and geovisualization (we need effective visualization solutions for highly multidimensional data distributed in space and time), and informatics (global-scale insights requires building community-curated data networks of our local-scale, site-level observations).

What excites you about Geography?

It’s a fast-changing world right now and Geography is in the thick of it.  We live in an era of big, complex, and heterogenous data: Geography leads the way in spatial data informatics and geovisualization.  An era of rapid changes in our global environment, with novel climates and ecosystems emerging:  In Physical Geography we are measuring these changes and drawing lessons from past periods of rapid global change.  An era of complexly intertwined physical, biological, and social systems:  Geography is one of the few disciplines positioned to seamlessly move among these different systems and their intersections.

Why Madison?

Dr. Jack Williams documenting while coring in the field at Timashamie Pond in Columbiana County, Ohio, August 2015.

Madison is amazing.  It’s one of the best research universities in the world in one of the most beautiful cities and states in our country.  My students and I have close collaborations with colleagues across campus, including Atmospheric, Ocean, and Space Sciences, Geosciences, Forest and Wildlife Ecology, Zoology, Botany, and the Nelson Institute. The city of Madison is hard to beat for quality of life, with its active downtown, good schools, and beautiful lakes, parks, and country.  And, I am inspired by UW-Madison’s mission as a public university, embodied by the Wisconsin Idea – that through the discovery of new knowledge and sharing that knowledge through our teaching and public engagement, our university improves the quality of life for the people of the state.

Why is it important to have geographers out in the world?

Geography attracts and trains flexible, interdisciplinary, and spatial thinkers who study complex systems and the interconnections among these complex systems.  As an academic discipline, Geography achieves both breadth and rigorous depth, with many specializations to choose from within it and career paths that lead from it.  Many of our undergraduates and graduates go on to careers in the fields of geoinformatics, interactive cartography, and geovisualization, in the environmental sciences, and elsewhere. At UW-Madison, Geography is popular both as a primary major and second major, as students integrate their Geography training with other disciplines in e.g. Economics, International Relations, or Environmental Science.

Learn more about Dr. Williams’ work and course offerings here.

Learn more about the Williams Lab here.

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