Society increasingly requires that science be "relevant" - applicable to real-world problems and actionable. Achieving this requires interdisciplinary approaches to coupled human andnatural systems. Ideally, science and decision-making are fully co-produced, with long-term relationships, two-way communication between scientists and stakeholders, resulting in production of usable science. Such translational science, including translational ecology, requires "boundary spanning" scientists who develop and/or translate decision-relevant science so it meets needs of "real" world (decision context) application. Some describe that role as bridge-building between domains, others as glue binding parts of a bigger problem. In any case, we face a manifold challenge. The academe that ensures its graduates have the scientific capacity and credentials to develop and represent science also produces a larger supply of newly-minted academics than academia demands. At the same time, the new field of translational science increasingly needs people with those skills, among others. With decreasing academic opportunities, and increasing desire to do actionable science, translational scientists are also more likely to be early career than their university or agency scientist counterparts. But academic and agency incentives and career expectations do not yet reflect the opportunities and tradeoffs of boundary-spanning work. We explore these opportunities and tradeoffs.
Translational ecology is a research approach that yields scientific and applied outcomes through iterative collaboration between scientists and practitioners. But translational science practitioners work within institutions that vary considerably in how they evaluate the relevance of science beyond the simple metrics of publication numbers and impact factors. As these incentive structures mold to fit the demands of society for actionable science, early career academic, agency, and NGO scientists could find themselves able to fulfill both their professional review requirements and their desires to improve the world with their work. But with the freedom of a new paradigm comes a need for creativity. Until the balance between research and service to decision-makers is recognized by existing academe or the community of practice defines those norms internally, translational scientists must cultivate credibility and capability on both fronts simultaneously.