Faculty Spotlight | Emily Southgate, Hood Senior Scholar

Emily Southgate

Emily Southgate teaches in Hood College's Coastal and Watershed Studies Program as a Senior Scholar.

Emily Southgate, Hood Senior Scholar


  • Environmental Biology (M.S.)


  • Biology

"I enjoy working with the Hood College students, especially those in the Environmental Biology graduate program. They are enthusiastic, smart and a pleasure to teach. The faculty have also been very supportive of my courses."

Please share briefly about your educational and professional background, including the new book you published last year.

I have always loved plants and grew up in the country where I spent many hours wandering in fields, marshes, and woods, noticing, without being particularly aware, that they changed over time. I started college planning on becoming a forester, but in those days, this was not a career open to women.

After getting my B.S. degree in biology at Denison University, I spent a year as a Fulbright Fellow at the University of Paris, where ecology necessarily included a consideration of the importance of history in studying field sites.

I received an M.A. in botany at Duke University. While there, I took a course in Pleistocene Ecology, and decided that I wanted to eventually continue on to a PhD looking at the importance of history in shaping ecosystems.

To acquire the appropriate skills to use historical documents in research, I got an M.A. in history at Rutgers University, with a minor in geology where I learned the techniques of palynology (fossil pollen analysis). I followed this with a PhD also at Rutgers, but in botany, with a dissertation in the then non-existent field of historical ecology, using historical documents, palynology, and field work to reconstruct the vegetational history of a part of northern New Jersey.

I continued my historical ecology study as a Research Associate Professor at Rutgers, doing research projects for organizations such as the National Park Service and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, always looking at the interplay between ecology and history.

I published a lot of this work in refereed journals, such as the Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club (now the Journal of the Torrey Botanical Society), Ecology and the Journal of Ecology. This eventually led me to write “People and the Land Through Time. Linking Ecology and History” as an introduction to the field of historical ecology, published in 1997 by Yale University Press.

By 2010 my book was becoming out-of-date because of all the new research, and I got a contract with Yale University Press to do a second edition, which was published in 2019. In writing it, I was amazed at how much new work had been done and how the field has moved ahead -I added several hundred new references, and with that just sampled the highlights.

How did you end up teaching at Hood College? What do you appreciate the most about Hood?

My career has not been a straight-forward move through a tenure-track position. Because of my marriage, I stayed in New Jersey after I got my doctorate, but did not find a tenure-track position there. However, I was able to continue to do research and teaching as an associate professor at Rutgers.

At that time, the Hood College biology department  was looking for some new courses, and had environmental history on the books, so they hired me to teach this. I enjoyed the experience of teaching at Hood and they liked what was doing, so I have continued this relationship as a part-time faculty member.

After a few years, I added field courses, such as woody plant identification and field methods in plant ecology. I have since stopped teaching the full semester historical ecology course, since I am more or less retired now. I continue to teach field courses and to interact with the Coastal and Watershed Studies Program as a Senior Scholar.

I enjoy working with the Hood College students, especially those in the Environmental Biology graduate program. They are enthusiastic, smart and a pleasure to teach. The faculty have also been very supportive of my courses.

Do you have any advice for students who are considering an Environmental Biology degree?

Follow your interests. If you like knowing plants, pursue this as  much as you can, as this is a field with few new people coming along and a demand in state and federal environmental programs, such as the state natural heritage programs and the National Park Service, as well as non-governmental non-profits, such as NatureServe and local organizations.

Get data analysis, statistics, GIS and math skills. These are critically needed in almost all areas of environmental research.

I heard a talk recently by a graduate student who was studying the spatial relationship between poverty and air pollution in a city, relating these statistically to routing of polluting vehicles through poorer neighborhoods.

This required GIS and statistics skills to come up with good numbers that might influence policy, as well as understanding of sociology and political science.

Do you have any advice for students who just graduated from the program and are looking to find a job?

Expand your horizons. Governments at all levels hire environmental scientists. Environmentally oriented NGO’s do as well, and often provide opportunities to use your imagination to come up with new programs.

Look for opportunities abroad. Other countries are approaching solutions to environmental problems in different ways, suggesting ideas that can be useful here. Don’t be discouraged by rejections. It only takes one offer to get you started. 

Inspired by Emily Southgate's academic journey? Explore Hood's graduate programs including the Environmental Biology Master's program by clicking here.