Peter Vitousek

Peter Vitousek
Stanford University
High School Attended
Hawaiʻi Preparatory Academy, Kamuela, Hawaiʻi
College Attended
Amherst College
Graduate Training
Ph.D at Dartmouth College

Job Description

I teach ecology, biogeochemistry, and global classes at Stanford University – and I spend 2 ½ to 3 months a year in Hawaiʻi doing field research, education, and conservation.

Interest in Field

I grew up on Round Top Drive in Honolulu, near the start of the Mānoa Cliff Trail – so I had lots of time outdoors in Hawaiian forests there, and also on ranches in Kona. At HPA I spent as much time as I could in the rainforest above the school, not studying it just wandering. In college I read Charles Elton’s book on the Ecology of Biological Invasions – and it clicked with much of what I had experienced growing up, made me realize that this was something I could do, and wanted to do.

How did you get there?

Graduate school; some time working in continental ecosystems on the US mainland, and in tropical forests and cleared lands in Costa Rica, Brazil, and Mexico. That perspective from outside Hawaiʻi helps; it makes clear what the world wants to know.

Necessary Qualifications

A PhD. Beyond that, a desire to make sense of the natural world, to find the stories it wants to tell. A commitment to write those stories down…

Rewards of Work

It’s my job to go to new places in Hawaiian forests, and to muck around in the dirt. What could be better than that? Also, some of the stories that Hawaiian ecosystems tell are universal stories, and it’s satisfying to work them out in words.

Typical Day

On the mainland – answering email, preparing courses, writing if I’m lucky. In Hawaii, getting out early into the forest or cultural sites on the Big Island, Mauʻi, Molokaʻi, or Kauaʻi, working to collect soils or plant samples for elemental and isotopic analyses that will tell us something of how those sites work.

Words of Wisdom

You wish you were told...

Many decisions that seem all-important at the time turn out to be minor but interesting branches in the path.

Final Comments / Advice

Find what you want to do and follow it.