John Pickering -- 5-year post-tenure review -- March, 2006

March 12, 2006

Dr. Alan Covich Director, Institute of Ecology University of Georgia

RE: Post-tenure Review of John Pickering

Dear Alan:

A Post-tenure Review of Dr. John Pickering was conducted in February and March of 2006. The review committee consisted of Ron Pulliam (chair), Patty Gowaty, and Jim Porter, all Professors in the Institute of Ecology. The review committee met with Dr. Pickering and requested that he provide an updated curriculum vitae (attachment 1), and a statement of future plans (attachment 2) to the committee for review. The committee also requested and received copies of his annual evaluations from the Director of the Institute of Ecology.

The review committee finds Dr. Pickering's overall performance for the past five years satisfactory. The purpose of post-tenure review is "to examine, recognize, develop, and enhance the performance of tenured faculty members at the University of Georgia." In reviewing Dr. Pickering's contributions, the committee concludes that many of Dr. Pickering's past contributions have not been fully recognized and appreciated by the University of Georgia, and we recommend a number of steps can be taken to further develop and enhance his contributions in the future. Below, we first review his teaching and scholarly contributions and then we offer some specific recommendations.


Dr. Pickering is a gifted teacher and a dedicated student mentor. However, the committee feels that his teaching talents are not currently being utilized to the full benefit of the students of the University of Georgia. To evaluate his teaching contributions the committee compared his teaching assignments in the past five years to his earlier teaching assignments at the University.

The primary courses taught by Dr. Pickering since coming the University in 1986 and the number of times he has taught each course (in parentheses) are as follows:

ECOL 3500 -- General Ecology, 1986-1999 (x20)
ECOL 4110/6110 -- Insect Diversity, 1998-2004 (x5)
ECOL 4130L -- Ecological Methodology, 2005
ECOL 8170 -- Natural History of the Hymenoptera, 1999-2005 (x4)
FRES 1020-- Natural History seminar, 2001-2005 (x5)

Dr. Pickering's teaching talents are attested to by numerous personal testimonies and by the official recognition of the UGA Sandy Beaver Award for Teaching Excellence (1994) and the Outstanding Upper Division Advisor Award (1996).

From 1986 to 1999, Dr. Pickering taught the core ecology undergraduate course (ECOL 3500) 20 different times and to over 1500 students, in total. However, since 2000, his teaching has been restricted to teaching smaller, more specialized upper division and graduate courses. Among these, the Insect Diversity course (ECOL 4110/6110) is especially noteworthy since it is one of the few intensive field courses offered to our undergraduates. Dr. Pickering has also taught numerous Independent Study courses providing students an opportunity to become involved in research during their undergraduate years. He has also supervised a large number of graduate and undergraduate theses. Finally, beyond his traditional teaching role at the University, he has conducted a number of Discover Life training workshops in locations around the world.

Although the quality of Dr. Pickering course offerings remains high, the specialized courses he now teaches attract relatively few students. The committee feels that his teaching contributions at the University can be strengthened by re-engaging him in the core undergraduate course (ECOL 3500) and he has expressed a willingness to do so.

Scholarship and Public Service:

Dr. Pickering has made fundamentally important contributions to the study of biological diversity, albeit not always in the form typical of most academic scientists. Like other academics, he has conducted original research, published in peer-reviewed journals, and obtained competitive research funding. He has worked on a wide range of problems including the epidemiology and virulence of infectious diseases, and sex ratio theory. He is one of the world's leading experts on the natural history of the Hymenoptera (ants, bees, wasps, and sawflies) and has pioneered in the development of comparative inventories across tropical and temperate sites and the long-term monitoring of populations and communities in response to environmental and experimental changes.

Since 1991, he has worked on an Insect Diversity Project to quantify how climate, biogeography, habitat type, disturbance, land-use, and landscape fragmentation affect species abundance, diversity, and trophic interactions of insects in terrestrial ecosystems. He has also been involved in a large-scale comparative study of insects in old-growth and secondary forests in Panama, Costa Rica, and eastern North America. The study has sought to quantify how seasonality, El Niņo cycles, fire, and other large-scale factors influence insect diversity in time and space.

Dr. Pickering's most important contributions have not come through the traditional venues of academia but rather have involved using new technologies to distribute biodiversity information to a multitude of scientists, students, natural history enthusiasts, and decision makers around the world. He is the founder and moving force behind Discover Life, a web-based information source designed "to provide the technology to enable an army of scientists, students, and other citizens to work together, study biodiversity, and share information on a grand scale." Under his leadership, Discover Life has organized information technology centers at the University of Georgia and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, and has already gathered and organized information on 250,000 species. By adding information at a pace of 590 new species per day, Discover Life is on track to build an on-line Encyclopedia of Life of a million species by the year 2012. Each month, Discover Life serves approximately 3 million pages and images to 70,000 IP addresses. Its online tools include a global mapper that enables users to compare the distribution of taxa across geographic scales.

In addition to Discover Life, Dr. Pickering has played a major role in establishing two other major biodiversity initiatives: the Great Smoky Mountains National Park's All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory and the Polistes Foundation. The All Taxa Biodiversity Inventory is a massive study involving scores of scientists and hundreds of park volunteers in a systematic effort to inventory all of the species in the Great Smokey Mountain National Park. The Polistes Foundation was established in 2002 "to assemble and share knowledge about nature in order to improve education, health, agriculture, economic development, and conservation throughout the world."

Summary and Recommendations

Judged strictly by the number of courses taught, student credit hours generated, peer-reviewed papers, and competitive research grants obtained in the past five years, one could wrongly conclude that Dr. Pickering has not been as productive in the past five years as in his previous years of service at the University. However, these traditional measures of academic success do not begin to quantify Dr. Pickering's overall contributions to science and education during the past five years.

John Pickering is a truly remarkably scholar who marches to a different drummer than most academic scientists. Having reviewed his work in the past five years, the review committee concludes his scholarly contributions, though unconventional, will likely have more long-lasting impact on biodiversity science and education than the contributions of a dozen more traditional scholars. When asked about his long-term goals, Dr. Pickering provided the committee with a remarkable 20 year plan (attachment 2), that includes completing Discover Life's online Encyclopedia of Life and further developing a powerful new technology that will allow field researchers and laymen alike to identify, map, and record biodiversity information anywhere in the world.

Unfortunately, Dr. Pickering's contributions, because of their unconventional nature, have been under-appreciated by the University of Georgia. He has not been promoted to Full Professor despite his time in service and he has received substantially below average salary increases for many years. As a result, he has gotten the message that the University of Georgia does not appreciate his contributions and, accordingly, he has withdrawn from participation in faculty governance and has reduced his undergraduate course participation. He has indicated to the review committee that he would be willing to participate more in Institute activities and undergraduate instruction if his participation were recognized and rewarded.

The post-tenure review committee makes the following four recommendations aimed at recognizing, developing, and enhancing Dr. Pickering's contributions to the University:

1) Recognize that Dr. Pickering's contributions to Discover Life and related activities are legitimate scholarly contributions that are appreciated and will be rewarded by the University;

2) Immediately initiate a review process and solicit outside letters of recommendation to consider promoting Dr. Pickering to the rank of Full Professor;

3) Make an immediate salary adjustment to bring his salary in line with other faculty with similar time in service in the Institute;

4) Engage Dr. Pickering more fully in the undergraduate course offerings of the Institute and ask him to renew his teaching role in Ecology 3500 making it clear that outstanding teaching contributions will be rewarded by the Institute.

The review committee feels that these are necessary steps not only to enhancing Dr. Pickering personal productivity and contributions to the University but also in sending the message to other faculty that outstanding contributions beyond the standard ones measured by number of publications and grants are appreciated and will be rewarded by the University of Georgia.


H. Ronald Pulliam
Chair, Post-tenure Review Committee

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