Can you tell me about your research?
- So a lot of the work that I’ve done has been on lampreys but what I’ve used frequently is stable isotopes and mark-recapture. So a lot of my questions either deal with populations of an organism and maybe how they move within an environment and what they eat while they are there.So, the primary thing that I use is stable isotope ecology, which is a branch of ecology that uses a sort of chemical view of the world but it takes the isotope ratios of organisms and their food sources or organisms and the sources in the environment. This tries to understand how that material is built inside the organism. Sometimes that is because the organism is actually eating those things, other times, those isotopes get incorporated into organisms body in some fashion that is more passive. I use that in two ways; one way is to track movement, so if an organism has a particular signal that is related to where it is in the environment. The other way is used to track food sources, food sources are distinct, you can follow them through the organism, you can track each food source’s contribution to the organism.I’m interested in what organisms eat, one of the things I want to understand is not only what they eat but how much of the things they eat there are. Something have nearly unlimited amounts like detritus but when you think about a stream for instance and you think about predator and prey, there are a limited number of prey items for many organisms. So I do want to understand things like population ecology so I can understand how predators impact the populations. Or how organisms move within their environment. Do they move a lot? Do they move a little? Why do they move a lot? Why do the move a little? Do they move at certain times of the year? Do they move because of certain events?
How did you get to where you are now, in terms of your education and science?
- So probably not dissimilar to any of the students here at SMCM. I went to a small liberal arts school for undergrad, I already knew at that time that I wanted to do biology and probably biology of fishes in some way but I wouldn’t have been able to articulate that at the time. So, the difference now is that I can tell you I wanted to do fisheries or fish ecology but I couldn’t have told you that back then. I did that for a few years and also did research while I was there; which was an important element of my undergraduate career. While I was doing research, I realized that I was probably capable of going to graduate school but I didn’t think I was ready to do it clearly because I didn’t get everything together in my junior year to apply in my senior year. So I took a gap year but it wasn’t really a gap year, your life wasn’t on pause, you were just doing something different. So I took a year to work as a fisheries observer and make some money after undergraduate, which was a good idea and going back now, I would’ve done the same thing, I just would’ve told myself “you should definitely do it!”. While I was an observer, I also applied to schools for graduate programs and I didn’t do it well enough but I should’ve sought out who I wanted to work with, but I didn’t do that very well. But I did get paired up with a stable isotope ecologist and that’s why I am a stable isotope ecologist now because I did a lot of work in that lab and I thought that the tools that he was using were really phenomenal. I went to Ohio State for my master’s program and while I was there I did much of the same stuff that I do now in fact, I did research, I did teaching and writing, I just got paid less but I got free education since they paid a stipend and my tuition got covered. After I was done at Ohio State, I went to Suny ESF which was because while I was at Ohio State we had a speaker come in and recommend that I talk to my advisor at ESF, who I did talk to and ask if I could come work with her and she said, “yea, I’ve got some funding for you” and I found it very easy to work with her; she was really phenomenal. So I worked at ESF for my PhD, I did the same kind of stuff again, research, teaching and writing; it was also the first time I got published, which was exciting and a good experience in that it was hard but it was good. Just before I finished my PhD, I got a job with the USGS. So I worked there full time while I was finishing my PhD. I was just about done with it, so having that job and the PhD at the same time wasn’t like 100 hours of work per week. While I was working with the USGS, one of my colleagues sent me a job application for a postdoc at Cornell and I applied to that one. After my position with USGS ended, I took the position at Cornell. So I was all over upstate New York. Then I did that for a year; I was applying to academic positions all over and got an interview at SMCM, took the job and here I am.
What does your research team currently look like? What projects are they involved in?
- My research team looks like me desperately trying to get set up. I have one student who is working in the lab with me who is preparing samples from the last place I was at, we have Sean who is working on his SMP and will also be working on a lamprey tagging project next semester. We are going to get another student next semester. There is also a student at Cornell who I work with that is working on her senior thesis and stable isotopes.
What classes are you currently teaching? Are there any courses that you are excited to teach?
- Right now, I’m teaching mainly POB courses, labs and lectures in addition to my Contemporary Bioscience. In the fall of 2020 I hope to teach Ichthyology, I am potentially teaching stream ecology this upcoming summer. I would like to teach dinosaur ecology, it’s not my specialty or anything but if there is a need for a 300 level course I could teach that.
At St. Mary’s, the students have an unofficial slogan “Keep St. Mary’s Weird”. Do you have any endearing quirks that might fit in with this model?
- I mean I’m a lamprey guy, so isn’t all my research weird? Does that not make me weird enough? I feel like a big, grown child at this point, I work on weird snake fish and dinosaurs is the thing that I’m really excited for in the way of classes. All of my research makes me weird. I feel like an overgrown child at this point I work with wormy fish and I’m excited to teach a dinosaur course.
Do you have any fun hobbies that you like to do in your spare time?
- I cook and bake. I like to bake pies and other delicious baked items. A borderline hobby of mine are my fish tanks, they function as both part of my work and my hobby but they are going to have to pay rent at some point.
Is there anything I didn’t mention that you’d like to add?
- I don’t think so; My door is always open.