Lessons Learned: Anil Raj Kizha

April 15, 2020

This month The Forestry Source features Anil Raj Kizhakkepurakkal (Kizha), an assistant professor of forest operations at the University of Maine and an adjunct professor at Humboldt State University. He was a member of SAF from 2007 to 2012, and rejoined in February 2020. He is a member of the University of Maine and Northeast SAF chapters.

In his own words, Kizha writes about the benefits of talking with foresters from other countries and the value of applied research. 

Lessons Learned from a Career in Forestry 

Forestry Is about Interactions
By Anil Raj Kizha

In India, where I earned my undergraduate degree, the government places you in a college based upon a common entrance rank; this is an exam similar to the SAT. I was assigned to Kerala Agriculture University, which is located in Vellanikkara, Trichur, to study forestry. Most of us who joined did not have an idea what forestry was, but that first week was very exciting because we got the chance to walk in the woods. In 2004, I received my undergraduate degree in forestry, and for the next one and a half years, I worked with the Kerala Forest Department and did research.

In 2006, I got an opportunity to earn a master’s degree in forestry at Louisiana State University; my research there focused on quantifying the volume of wood biomass available from the forest production industry. I remained there for my PhD, which involved the supply chain logistics of biomass, and I also earned another master’s degree in environmental sciences.

After graduating in 2012, I went to Humboldt College in northern California and was a GIS (geographic information systems) lecturer. After one year, I moved into research in forest operations and worked there for the next two years as a post doc. In 2015, an assistant professor position opened up at the University of Maine. I applied for the position and have worked here since.

The value of applied research I have worked on several projects funded by the Cooperative Forest Research Unit (CFRU), which brings all the people to a single platform to answer forest operations research questions. Applied research is where we should be going, because at the end of the day, science is not just forest operations—it’s involving a whole lot of different disciplines. 

The first advantage of applied research is that it boils down to the research question itself. By working with the stakeholders, such as loggers, landowners, and foresters, I can get what they want at this point in time: What are the challenges they are facing? I have been getting more into using smaller-diameter trees, because that is a challenge we are facing in New England. I usually talk with the foresters to know what their problem is and design our research based on their problem. I also work with loggers to understand their challenges. This makes the research more applicable, and it’s not something we did just for the sake of science, but rather we’re trying to help or answer a question. And at the end of the day, we are using taxpayers’ dollars. 

Another advantage is working with other researchers. On a day-to-day basis, I work with silviculturists, forest economists, market specialist, wood scientists, and wildlife biologists. By working with these people, I get the opportunity to learn techniques they use in their field. It’s always good to advance science by learning from others and applying that to our research. 

For example, I was talking with an economist friend of mine a couple months back about a research question, and he said, “Here’s how we do it. Why don’t you do it this way?” That was a big “Ah ha!” moment. Now we are working on an article looking at productivity challenges from an economist angle. We presented our research at a meeting for forest engineers, and it was not well received, but that’s science.

Click here to read the full article.