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Elise Zipkin Appointed as Red Cedar Distinguished Professor

By Caleb Hess

Elise Zipkin, director of the Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior, or EEB, program and an associate professor in the Department of Integrative Biology, was bestowed the title Red Cedar Distinguished Professor in February. Zipkin joins the second cohort of appointees following the award’s creation in 2022.

Elise Zipkin
Elise Zipkin was bestowed the title of Red Cedar Distinguished Professor in the department of Integrative Biology.

Zipkin, a quantitative biologist and principal investigator of the Zipkin Quantitative Ecology Lab, develops statistical models capable of assessing and predicting changes in biodiversity across ecosystems and species. She also leads MSU’s EEB program, an interdisciplinary initiative with the goals of promoting trans-boundary research, providing cutting-edge training to graduate students, and encouraging professional and scientific networking.  

“I love being the director of EEB,” Zipkin said.  “I want everyone to feel excited about being a member of EEB, and, I say — half-jokingly that I want us to be the number one program in the world.” 

To Zipkin, the Red Cedar Professorship signifies that the importance of her work is understood at MSU. “The ongoing loss of biodiversity is having rippling effects across all of our lives,” Zipkin explained. “Recognizing the significance of this research is an important incentive for others to pursue this challenging work.” 

“I'm very pleased to see Elise recognized with a Red Cedar Professorship,” said Catherine Lindell, interim chair of the Department of Integrative Biology. “Elise combines outstanding scholarly achievement in quantitative ecology with meaningful engagement with her colleagues and students. Her leadership of the Ecology, Evolution and Behavior program is another outstanding contribution to MSU.” 

Along with a new title, Zipkin will receive $15,000 in discretionary funds each year for three years, totaling $45,000. These funds are provided equally by the College of Natural Science, the Office of Research & Innovation and the Office of the Provost.  

“This new funding will allow me to pursue lines of research without knowing exactly where they need to go,” Zipkin said, emphasizing that this award will enable her to make new connections essential for driving her research. “My lab engages in open science by sharing the code and models that we develop to help others build on our research,” Zipkin said.   Producing open, accessible, and reproducible science is a core value in Zipkin’s lab, which she hopes will facilitate meaningful impacts through policy. Her research and the impacts of her openly sharing results and methods, have been recognized internationally 

This community-minded perspective carries over to the culture in her lab, as well. Zipkin explained the culture that she wants to cultivate for her team. “I want people to leave my lab feeling great about their experiences. Science is a team sport; we all bring different strengths to the table, and it’s critical that we support and help one another,” Zipkin said.  

“[This award] says as much about the people in my lab as it does about me. The students and postdocs that I work with are amazing,” Zipkin said. “They come in with fantastic ideas, they push and champion each other, and they make the whole process so much fun!”

Shinhan Shiu, Gina Leinninger and Elise Zipkin (left to right) are the first faculty members of the College of Natural Science to be awarded the title of Red Cedar Distinguished Professors.
Shinhan Shiu, Gina Leinninger and Elise Zipkin (left to right) are the first faculty members of the College of Natural Science to be awarded the title of Red Cedar Distinguished Professors. Credit: Paul Henderson/MSU

Red Cedar professorships are granted jointly by the Office of Research and Innovation and the Office of the Provost and are bestowed to individuals who “combine externally recognized, exemplary scholarly accomplishment and/or potential, with clear professional relevance to specific areas of MSU scholarly need, disciplinary development, or research or creative emphasis. Consideration will also include the candidate's teaching innovation and excellence.” 

 Read more about the work being done by Red Cedar Professors in the College of Natural Science here.