Meet the Newest CFL Faculty Member – Olaf Jensen

by Adam Hinterthuer

We are thrilled to announce that CFL alum, Olaf Jensen, will join our faculty at Hasler Lab in the summer of 2020. Jensen is currently an associate professor in the Department of Marine and Coastal Sciences at Rutgers University. While we wait for Olaf and his family to move to Madison next summer, he took some time to introduce himself and what motivated him to head back to the CFL.

What are you currently doing/studying?
I study fish (including their ecology, diets, and habitat use) and the people that harvest them. It’s a truism that “managing fisheries is managing people,” but the simplicity of that statement masks the fascinating connections and feedbacks between the natural system and the human system. For example, it would seem obvious that as fish populations in a lake decline, anglers would leave to find better fishing opportunities elsewhere, allowing fish population to recover. However, this reasoning is based on hidden assumptions – for example, that fishermen are motivated by catching fish rather than other aspects of the experience like the scenery, solitude, or accessibility of a lake.
One of the hidden assumptions I’m currently researching in the lakes of Vilas County is that fishermen know when fish populations have declined. My lab is using interviews with anglers to understand information sources and flow within Northern Wisconsin’s recreational fisheries. This research is a collaboration with two other CFL alumni, Chris Solomon and Stuart Jones. In some ways, this project is an extension of conversations that started when we were in grad school together at the CFL over a decade ago.

What made you apply to work at the Center for Limnology?
That’s easy: the unique culture and sense of community. As a grad student at the CFL, I found it to be an exceptionally close and supportive but also intellectually challenging environment. I’ve never been anywhere else where hallway conversations so frequently turned into new and unexpected collaborations. It sounds cliche, but coming back to the CFL feels like coming home.

What was it like working in Jim Kitchell’s lab? Any memories from your time here stand out?
I remember Jim suddenly appearing in my office doorway with waders in hand, usually on a sunny April afternoon, asking if I had time for a “lab meeting.” This was code for “let’s go fishing!” Jim taught me how to fly fish and much else during these “lab meetings.” Car rides to and from the river were full of Jim’s fascinating science stories. More than anyone else, Jim showed me the power of storytelling as a critical science communication tool. Regardless of how elegant your experiment or how extensive your data, if you can’t boil it down to a clear, compelling, and accurate story, your work won’t have the impact that it should. I remember getting my first thesis draft back from Jim. He had circled a paragraph full of long meandering sentences and in the margin he just wrote “Yuck!”