Dr Jessica Ernakovich

Postdoctoral Fellow

Contact details:


Dr. Jessica Ernakovich is a microbial ecologist specializing in the role of microbial communities in ecosystem functions, such as the biogeochemical cycles of carbon and nitrogen. In her research, she takes a holistic, community level approach to understand the feedbacks between environmental conditions and microbiome assembly—probing how interactions between microbial communities and their chemical environment can inform large-scale ecosystem processes. She is particularly interested in how microbial diversity and processes affects carbon storage and turnover in native and managed systems, and has worked to study microbiomes and their functions from the frozen permafrost of the Arctic tundra to the burnt ochre soils of the Australian Outback.

Dr. Ernakovich’s research currently has three major themes:
* Effects of management on microbial biodiversity and the impacts on ecosystem function
* Microbial community effects on greenhouse gas production
* Microbial community effects on soil organic matter stabilization

Other Interests

I have a passion for the education of the next generation of scientists, citizens, and policy makers. I think that hands-on learning is a powerful mechanism in education, and I have mentored over 20 students working with me on research in the laboratory. In addition, while a graduate student, I developed a program to engage undergraduates in hands-on research. I use these experiences in current interactions with students and technicians at CSIRO. After my postdoc position, it is my goal to continue to mentor students as a professor, and I plan to further develop innovative platforms for undergraduate research and mentoring.

The SUPER program: Skills for Undergraduate Participation in Ecological Research
While a graduate student at Colorado State University, I developed the SUPER program, Skills for Participation in Ecological Research. The aim of this program was to help students discover "the why” in research, and not just "the how," and to transition undergraduate students working in the lab from technicians to scientists.

After developing the program, I taught it for 2 years, guiding 40 students through hands-on, active-learning workshops—with session topics such as “Making observations and developing a testable hypothesis,” “Data management and analysis,” “Data visualization,” and “Communicating your science”—and research projects mentored by CSU scientists.

My philosophy is that research experience is critical to the development of young scientists, as well as education citizens and future policy makers. Undergraduate education needs to be more than textbook learning and laboratory classes with pre-defined outcomes. Involving students in actual research helps to cultivate critical thinking skills and scientific literacy.

During my time as a graduate student at Colorado State University, I mentored over 20 undergraduate students to do undergraduate research. These students have gone on to graduate school, medical school, to be state land managers, and one is even working in government relations. At CSIRO, mentoring opportunities are more limited, as we are not affiliated with a university. Despite this, I have been able to mentor a postgraduate student and am working towards hiring a trainee in the Indigenous Trainee Program.

Academic Qualifications

  • 2014

    Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO

  • 2002

    B.S. (Chemistry)
    California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, CA


  • 2012-2014

    NSF Dissertation Improvement Grant (DDIG)

  • 2009-2014

    Fellowship, NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP)

  • 2013-2013

    Travel Grant, US Permafrost Association

  • 2012-2012

    Travel Grant, US Permafrost Association, Permafrost Young Researchers Network, & Colorado State University Graduate Degree Program in Ecology

  • 2012-2012

    Travel Grant, Colorado State University Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory & US Permafrost Association

  • 2012-2012

    Grant, “Development of an undergraduate mentoring plan at NREL,” Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory Program Development

  • 2009-2012

    Fellowship, DOE Global Change Education Program (GCEP)

  • 2011-2011

    Grant, “Development of an undergraduate mentoring plan at NREL,” Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory Program Development

  • 2008-2008

    Scholarship, Francis Clark Soil Biology Scholarship, Colorado State University

  • 2007-2008

    Fellowship, President’s Award for Research and Scholarly Excellence, Colorado State University


We have publications by Dr Jessica Ernakovich