The American Academy of Arts and Sciences announced its 214 new members on April 17, an honor distinguishing leaders across disciplines. Members on the list include former First Lady Michelle Obama and author Jonathan Franzen, as well as two Cornellians — Prof. Stephen Ceci, human development, and Prof. Kelly Zamudio, ecology and evolutionary biology.
Unlike most professors, Ceci said he loved working on multiple research projects at the same time. He is currently running programs with three different focuses — children’s memories, children’s intellectual development and women in science.
“I find it somewhat refreshing to work on [several programs] at the same time. [Switching among programs] rejuvenates my thoughts,” Ceci said.
Ceci started his program in children’s memories more than 40 years ago, when he was still in graduate school. His lab now applies his research to informing the ability of children to testify in a legal context, according to Ceci. And he has also filed briefs in U.S Supreme Court cases.
One of these cases was Ohio v. Clark, in which a child claimed that Darius Clark, who was the boyfriend of the child’s mother, beat him and caused bruises on his face. Ceci co-wrote a brief with another colleague to support the argument that a child’s memories were reliable enough to count as sufficient evidence to convict Clark.
Ceci has also been actively involved in “radical collaboration” faculty task forces that encourage interdisciplinary collaboration. According to Ceci, he is close to finishing a project about why there are so few women in fields like particle physics, for which he is collaborating with a particle physicist, an information scientist, a sociologist and a psychologist.
“Because we come from very different disciplinary training backgrounds, we see things very differently. And it makes it very hard to collaborate,” Ceci told The Sun. “…[But] I think there is a big payoff. I think what we are going to produce is better than what I would have done with my psychological background.”
These interdisciplinary collaborations often come from national debates, according to Ceci. Scholars from different fields would go back and forth when arguing with each other, but the arguments eventually ended up becoming great collaborations.
“If your personality is such that you can tolerate the uncertainty of working with people in other disciplines and accept that they know really important things you don’t know, then [you will] find great values in collaborations,” Ceci said.
Zamudio is an expert in evolutionary biology, herpetology and genetics. Her research focuses include biodiversity, reptiles and amphibians. She also studies processes of microevolution, which explains how populations become differentiated and how selection acts in species adaptation.
Zamudio’s research also touches a host of global problems, such as how wildlife diseases impact frogs across the world.
“It turns out there are a lot of wildlife diseases that cause extinctions and population declines. With climate change, we are in an era when humans have a huge impact on wildlife,” Zamudio said, adding that the total number of diseases was increasing.
For her future plans, Zamudio said she hopes to research on how certain adaptations that have to do with reproductions actually contributed to the diversification of frogs. On the disease side, she planned to collaborate with other scientists to explore what genes could be responsible for making some frogs resistant to disease.
Both Ceci and Zamudio said they were not expecting to be inducted into the Academy.
“A couple of colleagues asked me if they can nominate me [5 to 7] years ago. But I didn’t hear anything, so I assumed I was not going to be elected to the Academy,” Ceci said. “Then last week, totally out of the blue, I got a letter congratulating my election to the academy. I would say the least [that I was] very surprised.”
Zamudio learned of the honor after receiving a letter in the mail, she said. “I was a little bit surprised [when I opened the letter].”
Zamudio also said she looks forward to continuing teaching and offering advice to younger faculty members with what she learns from other members in the Academy.
“I always tried to lead by example. A lot of people in the Academy are the people I have been watching and learning from. That’s the thing I look forward to offering [to younger scientists],” Zamudio told The Sun.