Course blogs of Principles of Marine Science: Seminar class (2011 Summer)
Dr. James W. McClelland
Posted by Steven Cao at Wednesday, June 29, 2011 11:58:17 AM CDT
Interviewed by Steve Cao and Bud Swindler
Dr. James W. McClelland is an assistant research professor at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute. His research includes the effects of human activity and climate change on water, nutrient and carbon fluxes from land to sea in areas ranging from the Arctic all the way to the Texas coast. Following a brief scientific seminar by Dr. McClelland, the reporters had a wonderful chance to learn more about his life beyond his curriculum vitae and took advantage of the rare opportunity to dive into the mind of a genius. The following interview took place on June 26, 2011, at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute at a time that was most convenient to this busy professor. The following dialogue depicts the question and answer portion of our interview with Dr. McClelland.
Q: What are your feelings about dinoflagellates? (Note: his wife Dr. Deana Erdner studies dinoflagellates at UTMSI)
A: He explainsed to us that he thinks they are “cool” in a somewhat quick and scripted manner. We are still uncertain if these are his true feelings, but he insisted that they were in fact true. He further explained that the morphological features of these dinoflagellates are what interests him.
Q: What sparked your interest in nutrient dynamics of coastal watersheds?
A: “It was by chance”, he explained to us as he talked about the sequence of events that lead to present day. He described how the lab he happened to acquire a position in at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute ultimately determined his career in nutrient dynamics.
Q: If you had an infinite supply of funding, what specific or broad projects would you be involved in?
A: In a well thought out response, Dr. McClelland explained that he would want to do the same research he does in the Arctic, but at a global scale. He would want to expand coastal watershed studies to all major rivers of the globe and make ample use of real time nitrate sensors that are currently in need of improvement.
Q: In realistic terms, what are your future research and/or projects?
A: He explained that he has been spending a lot of time on the land side of watersheds, but now he wants to focus more on the marine aspect of estuarine biogeochemical processes. He explains that since now he has ample knowledge of what is draining into the watershed, he wants to dive into the question: It has made it to the ocean, now what?
Q: What is the best advice you can give to students pursuing research positions?
A: “You must internalize the idea that it’s a marathon, not a sprint”, he explains in methodical manner. In addition, he emphasized the importance of communication with potential advisors and that your personality must match your type of work you want to pursue.
During his scientific seminar given at UTMSI, Dr. McClelland presented “ Nutrient and Organic Matter Export from Watersheds: Sources, Dynamics, and Relevance to Biological Production in Estuarine Systems” to a mixture of undergraduates, graduates, post docs, and professors. Through his research in the Pan-Arctic watershed and the Mission Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve on the Texas coast, he tried to answer various questions regarding quantities, productivity response, and land change affects on nutrient and organic matter export. In summary estuarine ecosystems are extremely dynamic systems that show differing trends and characteristics that are changing over time due to changes in climate.
Dr. James W. McClelland received his B.S. in zoology at the University of Washington in1991 and received his Ph.D. in biology at Boston University Marine Program in 1998. He was also a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of East Anglia, UK in 1998-1999 and at Georgia Institute of Technology in 1999-2001. He is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Marine Science, at the University of Texas and has recently been awarded the UT-Austin College of Natural Sciences Teaching Excellence Award in 2010.
We hope as readers of this interview, that you enjoyed a bit of personal and professional information about Dr. James W. McClelland, and that it ultimately helps shape your own personal and professional aspects of your lives. And remember “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
By student reporters Steven Cao and Bud Swindler
ACJ: How do you like Port Aransas?
Dr. R: When my family and I first moved here, it was hard. We didn’t like it at all and it was a completely different culture. Now, eight years later, we never want to move again.
ACJ: Where are you originally from?
Dr. R: Well, I’m from India. I got my pHD from the University of Ryukyus in Okinawa, and lived in Japan for seven years. I met Peter Thomas at a conference in Japan in 2001, who works here at UTMSI. We both have similar research interests in the reproductive physiology of fish, and he asked me to come to Port Aransas. I also got a job offer around the same time at Switzerland, but after much deliberation and conference with my family, we decided to come to Texas. There are big opportunities for work in the US.
ACJ: What is your research about?
Dr. R.: I work on the physiology of reproduction in fish – Peter Thomas is my supervisor here. We investigate the effects of low oxygen conditions and different kinds of pollutants such as PCDs and DDT on the reproductive health of Atlantic Croaker. We do our research near the Louisana Coast in the summer. Low oxygen means less energy and ATP, and almost everything gets shut down in the brain of the fish. This is then connected to the pituitary and gonad, which results in decreased reproduction.
ACJ: What is the value/importance of your research?
Dr. R.: Humans experience decreased oxygen everyday, indoors. They feel headaches, neurotransmission decreases… They physiological responses to these low oxygen conditions can reach across species boundaries. Think of people who live in the Andes – they live in low oxygen conditions their entire lives, which we have found hampers normal hormone levels, leading to an overabundance of males in these populations. What are the limits of human beings?
ACJ: What is the greatest advice that you could give someone regarding education in general?
Dr. R.: Don’t be lazy. America is the land of oppurtunity. Other people may not realize this. Even in Japan, education is not the same. Don’t take what you have for granted. I had a lab technician who was a bit older than you would normally see. I asked him – why are you a technician? Go back to school. He kept resisting, and I kept pushing for him to get an education. Two years later, he decides that he wants to be a pharmacist and was admitted to UT Austin. He now works as an attorney lawyer in Corpus Christi. If you have the opportunity and the drive, you can do anything. Get your pHD! I moved here for my daughters, to give them a better life.
All joking aside, Dr. Rahman is a great guy who loves his family very much. He mentioned his wife and daughters (who call him oto-san) many times with great affection, and has a great passion for his work. His entire family speaks three languages – Bengali, Japanese, and English. He’s BFFs with Peter Thomas, and they work on both human cell lines and fish cell lines investigating physiological responses to environmental change. He’s incredibly proud of Texas and the United States and was happy to be interviewed by us. He seems to be an incredibly interesting guy and we would have loved to talk to him for many hours more!