New Faculty Fellow profile: Clark Gray, geographer

Originally posted October 2011

Clark Gray, GeographerThe Carolina Population Center and UNC-Chapel Hill were entwined with Clark Gray’s history long before he was named a CPC Faculty Fellow earlier this year. Gray received both his B.S. in Biology and Ph.D. in Geography from UNC-CH and was a CPC Predoctoral Trainee and a Postdoctoral Scholar. During this time, he did research with CPC Faculty Fellow Richard Bilsborrow and former Faculty Fellow Flora Lu on the drivers of land use by indigenous peoples in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Gray began exploring his interest in the ties between environmental factors and human migration for his dissertation and CPC research. He describes his earlier time at CPC as “a key part of my graduate training” and says “in some ways that was my most important peer group.” Gray also spent time as a Postdoctoral Associate in the Economics Department at Duke University. Now, he is continuing his career as a CPC Faculty Fellow with a research focus on social causes and consequences of environmental change in the developing world.

Though Gray is now a faculty member in UNC-CH’s Geography department, he was once in a similar position to the students currently enrolled in his class. As an undergraduate studying biology at UNC-CH, one of the few geography classes Gray took was taught by CPC Fellow Emerita Melinda Meade. The class he now teaches, Population Geography, was last taught by Meade.

Gray was a health educator in Ecuador

The anecdotes Meade told about her time in the Peace Corps served as part of Gray’s inspiration to join that organization. After getting his bachelor’s degree, he and his wife joined the Peace Corps and served in Saraguro, Ecuador. Gray worked as a health education volunteer during his time with the organization. Along with the undergraduate geography courses he had taken, Gray’s Peace Corps service began the shift in his focus from biology to geography. When describing his initial concentration on biology, Gray said, “I was primarily interested in ecology and conservation, but always thought there was some social aspect that was missing.” This disconnect ultimately helped him discover his interest in population and human-environment geography and pointed his research in its current direction.

Gray describes his role as a researcher as someone “who has a set of skills as a demographer and I’m applying it to a novel set of questions in human-environment geography.” His technical background and use of quantitative data help separate his research from that of others. Through his work, Gray hopes to promote quantitative social science approaches to research methods in a field where researchers tend to focus mostly on qualitative data. 

Gray in Indonesia studying post-tsunami return migration

As the next step in his research career, Gray plans to do a ten-year follow-up on the project done with Bilsborrow and Lu on indigenous people in the Ecuadorian Amazon. The follow-up study is set to begin in early 2012 and will examine how the lives of these people have been changing in various areas, such as land use and population well-being.

Gray’s recent papers showcase his interests and provide a glimpse into his current research focus. A World Development paper in press focuses on drought and population mobility in rural Ethiopia, and a 2011 paper in Global Environmental Change discusses soil quality and human migration in Kenya and Uganda. Gray’s research has broadened beyond his initial interest in Ecuador, and he plans to continue examining different facets of population and human-environment geography as a CPC Faculty Fellow.

Extra Info

http://www.cpc.unc.edu/people/fellows/bio?person=cgray (CPC bio)

http://www.cpc.unc.edu/people/cv/cgray.pdf (Awards, etc may be helpful)

http://geography.unc.edu/people/faculty-1/clark-gray (most up-to-date with papers, research interests)

http://www.unc.edu/~cgray/PopDraft_2011.pdf (Class he’s teaching - syllabus)

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