Professional Bio

My name is Dr. Alex Bajcz (pronounced “badges”), and I was born and raised in Milford, Michigan, north of Ann Arbor. From an early age, I was excited by the natural world and, as I grew older, I sought out ways to to translate that passion into action. My first foray into this was volunteering for the Huron River Watershed Council‘s Adopt-A-Stream program, which I did for almost two decades. I graduated as co-Valedictorian of my class from Milford High School in 2006.

I attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor the following fall, and I declared a major in the Program in the Environment within my first semester on campus. In my first year, I participated in the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), completing a project that characterized the spatial distribution of benthic macroinvertebrates in Lake Erie. During my time as an undergrad, I also worked for five semesters in the lab of Dr. Knute Nadelhoffer as a laboratory technician, processing tissue samples collected from his field research plots. These two experiences taught me how pivotal genuine scientific research experience can be at the undergraduate level!

In my final two terms as a Wolverine undergrad, I completed an Honors thesis under the advisement of Dr. Ivette Perfecto that examined the consequences of a predator removal/exclusion experiment on the arthropod community in a shade-grown coffee agroecosystem. Perhaps the most enduring legacy of this project has been that it was the first time I recognized the value of a strong statistics background. The data collected during this project were…scary. So, knowing that data sets like this one could be my future was an eye-opener for me. I learned I couldn’t afford to fear statistics if I wanted to excel as an ecologist—as a result, I have made it a mission of my professional career to help combat stats anxiety in undergraduates at every stop I’ve made.

I graduated with my B.S. from U of M with Highest Honors and High Distinction in 2010. I also completed a minor in German, aber heute ist mein Deutsch offensichtlich furchtbar.

I returned to Umich the following Fall to pursue an MS in Terrestrial Ecosystems under the advisement of Dr. Bobbi Low. I had taken Bobbi’s course, Behavioral Ecology and Conservation Biology, as a sophomore and it was game-changer for me. Up until that point, I had a messy mental model for how biological concepts fit together. However, her course, with its strong focus on the evolutionary theories of Darwin and more recent scholars, gave me the needed lens through which to view the world. It’s true what they say, I guess: Nothing in Biology makes sense except in light of evolution! For the first time, the natural world “made sense” to me! It was at that point I knew I wanted to pursue ecology as a profession.

The year and a half preceding my Masters, I worked as an arboricultural intern for the U of M Botanical Gardens and Arboretum. During that time, I learned a great deal about plants, plant communities, plant care, and invasive species management. I decided I wanted to somehow combine my growing passion for plants with my interests in behavioral ecology. My Master’s thesis was the first product of this desire; I examined how the abiotic environment influenced the reproductive behaviors of Rubus occidentalis (black raspberry), a species for which I have always and will always have a soft spot! Two articles on this work were published as companions papers in the journal Rhodora in 2014, available here and here.

Something else critical happened during my time as a Masters student: I was very fortunate to be offered a GSI (Graduate Student Instructor) position for four terms, first for the non-majors course Animal Behavior and then for Introductory Biology: Ecology and Evolution the three terms thereafter. Up until then, I had not envisioned teaching professionally. However, I cannot express how profoundly the experience of teaching changed my perception of teaching. Teaching was (and still is) exhilarating for me. For one thing, it’s challenging—that’s why I have taken many steps to improve my practice and to immerse myself in the scholarship of teaching and learning since then. Even more importantly, teaching is impactful. I hear from past students a lot still, and that really means a lot to me; it’s what drives me to be an ever-improving teacher.

I was fortunate to then find an opportunity at the University of Maine to continue studying the ecology of plant reproduction using the picturesque Maine wild blueberry agroecosystem. It turns out that I emailed my future advisor, Dr. Frank Drummond, within hours of his finding out he had received a grant for a Ph.D. student. Handy tip to anyone who’s reading this: Cold-calling people definitely works!

My dissertation was a deep dive into the reproductive ecology of wild blueberry. In essence, my research asked the question: “As a blueberry plant produces more reproductive structures (i.e., flowers and fruits), what consequences does that have?” After all, reproduction is expensive for plants, so reproducing more has to come at a cost. I explored this question using three years of field research, subsequent lab work, some fancy statistical modeling techniques, a simulation model I wrote in R, and a review of the literature. Three papers from my dissertation work were published (links to these are available here).

Following UMaine, I was extremely fortunate to serve for a year and a half as a post-doctoral research scientist in the lab of Dr. Nick Balster at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. During that time, Nick and I, along with many wonderful colleagues (especially Dr. Ed Boswell, Dr. Melanie Spero, and Ms. Megan Schmid), tackled a diverse array of projects in the fields of higher education and soil ecology. These include studies of how (un)favorable residential prairie gardens are for invasive earthworms, what aspects of a student’s background may influence their success in Introductory Environmental Science courses, and how successful an early-career faculty training program has been in changing the practice of teaching at UW-Madison. Dr. Ed Boswell (a Ph.D. student at the time) and I also worked to publish two publications together on soil freeze-thaw cycling, links to which can be found on my Credentials page. I also served as a mentor to undergraduate students in the lab at the time, which yielded a publication on the success of a prairie restoration, among other scholarly works.

In the Fall of 2018, I joined the amazing faculty of Drew University as a dual appointee between the Department of Biology and the Program of Environmental Studies and Sustainability. Principally, I was brought on to bolster Drew’s new BS major in Environmental Science and to offer introductory and advanced courses in ecology and plant biology. I also started a research lab (the PRUNE lab) focused on understanding how and why plants reproduce in the ways that they do.

However, after three years in New Jersey away from family and friends (and during the global COVID pandemic for much of that time), I decided I wanted to return to the Midwest and to what I love most–data analysis. So, I was fortunate enough to join the labs of Drs. John Fieberg and Amy Kinsley at the University of Minnesota-St. Paul in June 2021. With John’s team, I contributed to several projects, but the project I led developed a species distribution model for predicting which locations in lakes were most likely to be infested with starry stonewort so that invasive species managers throughout the state could better monitor for the species, especially early on in an invasion. Outputs from this project should be available in late 2022!

With Amy’s team, I also contributed to several projects, but the project I led developed a simulation model of the spread of invasive species between pairs of lakes in the state that are connected by natural waterways and boater movements. This model also incorporates interventions meant to prevent invasive spread that can be placed at specific lakes, and the model propagates the impacts of these interventions on spread dynamics so that stakeholders can trial specific interventions plans and then assess their likely outcomes and cost-effectiveness. This model will eventually be added to AIS Explorer in 2023.

As of June 2022, I am the staff Quantitative Ecologist for the Minnesota Aquatic Invasive Species Research Center–a position and role I feel I have been building towards for 20+ years! In this role, I provide methodological assistance to MAISRC research teams, manage and aggregate data gathered by our research teams and others, and contribute to all things quantitative within the Center!