Course blogs – 2011 Summer

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

Interview with Deana Erdner 

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Interviewed by, Charlie Mullins, Melinda Martinez, and Hesper Lana Fang/>

At the University of Texas Marine Science Institute, why are dinoflagellates jokingly referenced as Deanaflagellates?
    The answer is due to the dedicated research done by our own Dr. Deana Erdner. Special emphasis is placed on this large group of small creatures during Dr. Erdner’s classes. She has been doing research on dinoflagellates for over a decade.

Q:  When asked why she is interested in dinoflagellates she answers:
A:  “I love the challenge that studying dinoflagellates entails. People say you can’t work with that organism, its genome is too big etc. That just makes me want to try. They also have a large amount of diversity and many interesting characteristics.

Q: Is there any advice you would give to undergraduates pursuing a career in research or academia?
A: “Think about your interests. You don’t need a PhD to work in the field if that is what you want to do. Grad school is not the answer to everything.”

Q: Do you have any advice for woman in Marine Biology?
A: “I mean, not really. Make sure you are flexible and can move around I suppose.”

Q: What do you do in your spare time?
A: “I have a seven year old son. I also coach soccer and read. I am currently learning how to surf. I recently competed in a paddle board women’s race. I placed 7th!” (*out of 10)

Q: Where is the coolest place you have been to for Marine Biology?
A: “I went to the Equatorial Pacific on a six week cruise from Tahiti to Mexico. It was really cool being surrounded by that much water for so long. It was an Iron X 2 expedition with John Martin.”< /span>

Q: Do you like living in Port Aransas?
A: “I love living in Port Aransas, I was always the person to choose a small town over a city. It’s nice being only a mile away from my work”

Q: What are your future plans?
A: “My future plans extend only as far as getting tenure. I am really excited about my new ciguaterra research. It is the first time that there has been funding for this topic for a good while.”

Q: What are your future career plans?
A: “I want to retire as a textile artist.”

Q: Do you like teaching Marine Ecology? and do you like the variety of majors that take the class?
A: “I love teaching the class in person. The variety of majors makes teaching a challenge but I’m glad that people are interested.”< /span>

Q: What is your favorite part of your job?
A: There are always new problems, never a lack of thinking opportunities..

Q: What did you want to be when you were a child?
A: “I wanted to be a clothing designer.”

Q: Where would you like to travel?
A: “I want to go to Alaska.”

Q: How many papers do you read as a scientist in a week?
A: “Less than 5. Sometimes more when I am working on a specific research topic, but the load is usually managable.”

Q: What is something you want to do later in life?
A: “I know it sounds boring, but i just want to take a slow vacation across the Pacific.”

Deana’l s main research focuses on Alexandrium which produce paralytic shellfish toxins which cause PSP (paralytic shellfish poisoning). PSP is widespread all over the world and is the number one shellfish related poising. Symptoms are either paralysis or death. As a result blooms of Alexandrium are closely monitored and there are lots of data. Within the same strain there have been observed both non-toxic and toxic, suggesting that toxicity may be a physiological response to different environmental conditions. There has been yearly cruises to over 100 stations in the Bay of Maine during the blooms for water sampling. In 2005, the shellfish industry was closed due to the paralytic fish poisoning. During the 2005 research cruise two different subpopulations of Alexandrium were identified. Deana’s research is now focusing on ciguaterra.

Born and raised in Pittburg, Dr. Erdner attended school at Carnagie Melon. She did her PhD at a joint program between MIT and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. Dr. McClelland was picked up while at Woods Hole and they went together to do their Post Docs in England. It was not love at first sight unfortunately, although they did end up marrying each other. Dr. Erdner did a second Post Doc at Georgia Tech. She eventually joined the faculty at MSI and often rides her bike to the institute.There are currently 25 publicaitons on Dr. Erdner’s CV.  Marine Biology has taken her everywhere from the Pacific, Maine, and Spain.

Dr. Erdner was very informative and during the course of our interview she answered our questions about ciguaterra and other random topics. We would like to thank her for helping us with the interview as well as for being a great professor!

Charlie Mullins, Hesper Lana Fang, Melinda Martinez

Dr. Christopher Shank, By Kathryn Mendenhall, Chris Wood & Drew Huebner 

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Interviewers: Kathryn Mendenhall, Chris Wood and Drew Huebner (6/13/11) 

“I was a little too rambunctious for sedentary activities.” Dr. Christopher Shank explains with a smile why he was kicked out of 
cub scouts and 7th grade art class. Turns out that he wasn’t passionate about being forced to sit inside doing arts and crafts with the den mother or the lovable art teacher Mrs. Santiago. Indeed not, for his real love was the ocean. Shank hails from a galaxy not so far away in the lush lands of Joppatowne, Maryland, close to Baltimore. If you gave him a surfboard on a cloudless day, he’d be the happiest kid in the world. When asked to describe himself in three words, Shank explains his effort to be a caring and understanding man, all while trying his best to be the epitome of ‘active’. Going back to his high-spirited childhood, Shank explains that he “ just couldn’t sit still.”

He first earned a 
Bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at Virginia Tech. Lots of money in a cubicle and two years later, Shanked opened up the Carolina’s graduate handbook and was surprised to know that one can actually have a career in marine science. Cue career change! Although it was a big decision and he’d make a lot less, it was an easy choice that he doesn’t regret. Shank soon took hold of his passion and earned his Master’s in marine science at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. He admits that electrical engineering is a long gone, but credits his math and problem-solving skills to Virginia Tech’s rigorous degree plan. “Electrical engineering is science and high level math, so you have to understand both. It gave me the confidence to apply and analyze problems. Despite this, scientists and engineers approach problems in very different ways. An engineer tries to find the answer, while a scientist doesn’t work that way. It was hard for me to get to the point where I wasn’t just looking for once answer, so I had to readjust my thinking. Nonetheless it still made me a problem solver.” He worked in Wilmington as a research technician for four years, but soon realized it wouldn’t pay the bills. “It wasn’t my end point.” The yellow-brick road to professorship had then begun, and Shank earned his PhD in marine science at Chapel Hill. His amusing stories of marine science research tell of his love for the subject. Getting startled by huge rays jumping out of water while enjoying a drink and being cited a boat-parking ticket from the Marshall while going surfing are just a few. Despite three higher-education degrees, he has yet to master the skill of talking himself out of a ticket.

Today, Shank’s preferred research involves anything coastal, with his favorite research having been in the 
Florida Keys studying coral bleaching and water-optics control as well as anything off of his home North Carolinian coastline. His research covering CDOM photochemistry in Friday’s lecture was started from his dissertation. After working with a famous photochemist and observing processes like metal copper cycling, the light bulb was turned on and ideas began to spark. Dr. Shank’s presentation was separated into four parts. First, he explained background scientific information requisites for understanding the presentation. He then talked about photobleaching of chromophoric dissolved organic matter in the northern gulf shelf. Seminar attendees also learned about photodissolution of dissolved organic carbon and the total dissolved nitrogen from suspended sediments. The presentation soon concluded with a summary of his findings and unresolved questions.

Shank’s dreams for the future are a further explanation of how compassionate a character his is. He hopes to combine education and research by working with local high schools, providing opportunities for first-generation children and young adults who wouldn’t normally have the chance to get involved. Determination in his expression reaffirms the interviewers’ thoughts that these dreams will become a reality.

Shank appreciates early mornings and would drive away with some sondes, a Solar Simulator and a surfboard on any given Sunday. His lifetime hero is his dad, who worked hard while always put the family first. Shank was most recently presented the UT Regent’s Outstanding Teaching Award, further proof of his exceptional teaching style and ability to keep a college class of 300+ oceanography students awake and engaged in a two-hour lecture. And although an understanding and compassionate spirit at heart, don’t forget to mention the word ‘dynamic’ on every single class quiz. Or else.

By student reports: Kathryn Mendenhall, Chris Wood, and Drew Huebner

Interview with Dr. Saydur Rahman 

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Today, Aubrey, Justin and I (Collins) met up at a secret location within UTMSI. We were donned in our blackest clothing and snuck through the building, across the loading dock, to a locked door. Aubrey used her lockpicking skills to gain us access to a hidden part of UTMSI that no undergrad has ever seen before. There, we met with the mysterious and handsome (Justin’s comment)  Dr. Rahman. In the thirty minute interrogation that followed, he revealed to us his darkest secrets regarding his past and present. At the end interview he gave us the ‘package’ that we came for. What follows is a slightly edited version of our covert interview with the great doctor Rahman. 

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.: Work. Hard. 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!

Dr. Denise Bruesewitz 

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Information about Dr. Denise Bruesewitz (7/6/2011)
Interviewed by Matt Fischer and Deby Argueta 
Dr. Denise Bruesewitz is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute studying nitrogen cycling in the Gulf of Mexico. An interview was conducted in order to learn more about her research and interests, which can be found below.
Q: What sparked your interest in studying nitrogen dynamics?
A: “I started working on nitrogen dynamics for my undergrad thesis on the Mississippi River. My general ecology teacher’s husband worked for the USGS and got a big grant to study N cycling in the upper Midwest, where there is a lot of nitrogen that is applied to the river basin, and to understand how it works. I started volunteering with him and loved the field and lab work. I also loved how there was a lot of direct application to real world problems.”
Q: Where did you get your degrees from? Where did you serve your post doc?
A: “I got my BS degree at a little school in Minnesota, my Phd at the University of Notre Dame. I served my first post doc in New Zealand, and then I came here to MSI.”  
Q: Where have you worked in the past?
A: “As I mentioned, I worked with my teacher’s husband on a USGS survey. I also worked in another program on the Mississippi River, which was a joint study between the Departments of Natural Resources of the states surrounding Mississippi. With that program, I explored the river for macroinvertebrates and fish.”
Q: What do you enjoy most about your job? What do you consider is the most rewarding part?
A: “I like the variety of working out in the field, writing and analyzing data. I’m never doing the same thing two days in a row. The most interesting part is sitting down making sense of the data. Editing papers isn’t so much fun, but the initial writing is.”
Q: What do you wish to accomplish, or what is your goal, in studying nitrogen cycling?
A: “I hope my work helps us to understand how we have changed the nitrogen cycling through the use of fertilizers. I also hope we can use that information to still do what we need to do, such as grow food, but do it in a way that is responsible so we aren’t ruining our ecosystems.”
Q: What are some near-future projects that you see yourself working on?
A: “I want to look more at the denitrification efficiency in rivers, streams and wetlands. We have studied the rates of nitrogen loss, but the rates alone don’t tell us a lot about the nitrogen cycling within the system. I want to measure the denitrification rates and nitrate uptake rates, and see how all the things that affect nitrogen affect denitrification. This is a hole of information missing from a lot of different ecosystems.”  
Q: Does your job entail a lot of traveling? If so, where was your favorite place that you’ve been?
A: “It does. Two of the favorite places I’ve visited are Vancouver and Anchorage, even though I just went for conferences. In a couple of weeks, I will be doing work on the Hudson River in New York, looking at restored oyster reefs.”
Q: Do you have any advice for students wishing to become involved in studying nutrient cycling?
A: “Be certain of the methods that are used in the area of study you are interested in. There are a lot of people doing work on nutrient cycling, and there are a lot of different methods that are used to study nutrient cycling. Learn the most up to date techniques so you won’t have to catch up some time in the future.”
Q: What do you enjoy to do in your spare time?
A: “I don’t have much spare time with a 2-year-old at home. I do like to read, knit and garden though. In New Zealand, I had a big garden with chickens.”
Nitrogen cycling within a water system is dynamic, depending on seasonality and human input of nutrients, such as through fertilizers. Dr. Bruesewitz focused on studying nitrogen cycling in Copano Bay, which is a bay system that leads out into the Gulf of Mexico. To do this, she released 15N (a relatively stable nitrogen isotope) tracers and took water samples downstream to examine the ratio of 14N to 15N. She also conducted an experiment to study the nitrogen cycling at the sediment surface. Dr. Bruesewitz took cores from Copano Bay, and pumped water laced with 15N. She then examined the outflow water leaving the core to examine the amount of 15N being pumped out in relation to other forms of nitrogen that were cycling. Her findings indicated that Copano Bay is a relatively healthy system, although it’s currently being affected by the drought that the area is going through. 
Denise is from Rockford, Illinois.  She graduated in 2001 with a B.S. in Biology from Winona State University, Minnesota.  She examined competition between zebra mussels and hydropsychid caddisflies in the Upper Mississippi River for her undergraduate thesis.  Denise then worked at the USGS Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center in LaCrosse, WI as a research technician to examine seasonal nitrogen cycling. In 2002, Denise came to the University of Notre Dame. Her postdoctoral research in New Zealand examined how recent increases in agriculture and subsequent nutrient pollution alters nitrogen and carbon cycling in the Rotorua Lakes. Currently, Denise is examining N cycling and ecosystem metabolism in rivers and coastal bays of South Texas. The goal of this project is to develop a pilot water quality management program for Gulf of Mexico bays at  the University of Texas Marine Science Institute. Denise lives in Port Aransas, Texas with her husband and 2-year old son.”
I would like to take this time to personally thank Dr. Bruesewitz for allowing me to dive deep into her research interests, experimental findings, and future aspirations.
By student reporters Matt Fischer and Deby Argueta