What is your connection to the Shark Lab?
I started as a volunteer at the shark lab for a month in April 2003. I was a volunteer at the same time as now Dr. Steve Kessel, and Dr. Brian Franks, who was the PI doing his Ph.D. project by tracking juvenile lemon sharks with an acoustic array. Grant and Katie were the lab managers at the time. We all bonded very quickly, and my first experience handling and tagging sharks was a special one. I remember thanking Doc on the way out of Bimini at the airport, telling him how much I enjoyed the cooking and group meals at BBFS, and given my background in the lab, particularly genetics, how I wanted to set up a potential Ph.D. project with him. I was dead set on such a project, so I aggressively pursued graduate funding from NSERC. It took me two years to get it, but Doc supported my efforts the entire way, which allowed us to set up the collaboration between Doc at BBFS, Dr. Kevin Feldheim at the Field Museum in Chicago, and Dr. Andrew Hendry at my home university, McGill in Montreal, Canada. To fund the research component of my Ph.D. research, we co-wrote a successful National Science Foundation grant (Biological Oceanography Panel, 2007-2011, Total: $412,910 USD). This meant that each summer during this period I served as co-principal investigator of BBFS (2006, 2007, 2008, 2009), and therefore ran the shark tagging program and helped train all the incoming volunteers. Each summer I also served as head of field operations for our ad-hoc lemon shark sampling excursions to the Florida Keys, where I learned how to work on a budget, enlist volunteers, charter research vessels, and organize all equipment and support materials to make these trips a success. Winters were spent in Chicago analyzing genetic samples at the Field Museum as part of a permanent interactive exhibit (“DNA discovery center”); visitors were allowed to watch us do molecular work and ask us about our research.
Tell us a story about Doc?
I wrote a small piece for my university newspaper (McGill University) during my Ph.D. chronicling our experiences in the Florida Keys. This is by far the best example I have for a story about Doc and field work in general…
How did meeting Doc and working at the Shark Lab change your life?
Doc took a chance mentoring me and allowing me to develop my skills at BBFS. My Ph.D. was a crazy ride, but I cannot thank him enough for the experience. Oddly enough the greatest advice he ever gave me was during a BBQ I hosted at my parent’s house in Montreal for BBFS members during the 2008 AES meeting. Doc told me I should diversify and develop my interests in many other marine organisms using my genetic skills, not just focus on the lemon shark going forward. I followed his advice to the letter.