New Faculty Spotlight

Dr. Kenneth Hoadley SCUBA divingDr. Kenneth D. Hoadley, Ph.D.

What motivated you to pursue a career in science?

As a child, I always had an aquarium. Keeping my aquatic pets alive and happy was always a challenge and forced me to learn more about how the various marine invertebrates in my aquariums made a living out in the wild. This interest soon spilled over into my studies. As a teenager, my high school science teacher and a local university professor were kind enough to provide me with some needed guidance as I took on my first marine research project. I loved the experience, and my fascination with the marine world has remained largely unchanged.

 

Describe the path that led you to your current research/career area.

As a doctoral student in the lab of Dr. Mark Warner at the University of Delaware, my research focused on climate change impacts on coral reefs. Specifically, I focused on understanding the functional diversity within the symbiotic dinoflagellate algal family Symbiodiniaceae living within the host coral tissue layer. After completing my PhD, I wanted to broaden my focus to include open ocean/free living algal species. This led me to a postdoctoral position at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute where I utilized a combination of cellular systems-based approaches and high-resolution physiological measurements to study the green algal lineage Micromonas, a group of globally distributed and highly productive picoeukaryotes (planktonic eukaryotes 3.0 µm or less in size). Whether living inhospite within a coral tissue layer or within the open ocean, understanding algal ecophysiology within the context of climate change has been a focal point of my work and what led me to my current position at UA.

 

What about your area of research (or career) excites you the most?

Light is both a source of energy and a major source of stress for photosynthetic organisms. The complex pathways and stress management strategies that exists within marine algae are fascinating. You can interrogate these various pathways by measuring the algae’s natural fluorescence in response to rapid flashes of light. This technique is exceptionally valuable for understanding how photosynthesis differs across algal species and in response to various environmental factors.

 

What are the most challenging aspects of your research/career?

Working in the marine environment can present challenges for obtaining samples and conducting experiments. This often requires considerable effort in constructing experimental systems and instrument platforms. While challenging, I have always found the design and construction of these systems to be very enjoyable and rewarding experiences.

 

What advice would you offer students?

Science is about perseverance. Do not be afraid to fail; there is always a valuable lesson to be learned and then applied to your next project.

 

What do you like most about your job at UA?

The ability to dictate my own research initiatives and questions within a friendly and collaborative environment. Sharing my interest in biology with graduate and undergraduate students.

 

What are the biggest challenges?

Having only started in the position, I would imagine finding the balance between research and teaching.

 

Dr. Nathan Jones, Ph.D.

What motivated you to pursue a career in science?

When I was seven, my dad and uncle took me on my first float trip. It was actually a pretty epic failure. We flipped the canoe in the first set of “rapids,” and I got so cold we had to hike out! After that – I was hooked.  I spent most of my teenage years watching stream gages, praying for rain, and paddling every chance I could get.  Being on the water was (and still is!) a huge part of my life, and very early on, I knew I wanted to help protect these special places for my kids and grandkids.

Describe the path that led you to your current research/career area

During my senior year of undergrad, I worked for a nonprofit engineering firm, and I was overwhelmed by the complexity/uncertainty associated with restoring streams and rivers. So, I went to grad school and thought I would come back home two years later with a master’s degree and all the answers. Now, almost a decade later, I’ve got more questions than answers, and I’m still trying to learn more about streams and rivers so we can help protect and restore them for future generations.

 

What about your area of research (or career) excites you the most?

I’m really excited about interdisciplinary research. In the last 50 years, there has been a lot of really great discipline-specific work! We know so much more about river systems than we did even 10 years ago. However, much of that knowledge is confined to specific groups of people (e.g., engineers, ecologists, social scientists). I’m really excited about exploring work at the boundaries of those disciplines and developing a more holistic understanding of how river systems work.

 

What are the most challenging aspects of your research/career?

Communication. I’m an interdisciplinary water scientist, which means I work with people from across ecology, engineering, and the social sciences. Each of those groups has a slightly different conceptualization of the water cycle, and they often use jargon in very different ways. For example, even something as simple as the term “groundwater” can cause confusion and headache. It’s really common for folks to use this term in meetings, and then not realize the person sitting across from them has a very different definition.

 

What advice would you offer to undergraduate and graduate students?

Work on things you are passionate about, make sure to enjoy life, and don’t be a jerk!

 

What do you like most about your job at UA?

Students!  Our students are the future. It’s a privilege to work with them, and (hopefully) give them the tools they need to go out and affect positive change.

 

What are the biggest challenges?

Born and raised as a Razorback, I’ve had a hard time saying “Roll Tide.”

 

Dr. Monica Kersch-Becker working in the labDr. Mônica Kersch-Becker, Ph.D.

Dr. Kersch-Becker earned her PhD in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology from Cornell University, where she investigated the interactive effects of pathogens, plant defenses and predators on herbivore performance and population dynamics. She completed her postdoctoral research at the University of Campinas, Brazil, working on multitrophic species interactions in native and agricultural systems. She has been awarded a Fulbright PhD fellowship, a Brazilian Research Council Early Career Research Grant, and other prestigious awards from the Latin America Studies Program (Tinker grant), Toward Sustainability Foundation, and the Andrew Mellon Foundation. Mônica investigates the underlying mechanisms by which chemical signals shape multitrophic species interactions, population dynamics, and community structure of plants and arthropods.

 

What motivated you to pursue a career in science?

In high school, biology was by far my favorite subject. Growing up, I always loved being around plants and animals, and I was truly interested in learning from every facet of life. The freedom of choosing topics to work on and the potential applied effects of my research motivated me to go to grad school. I wanted to deepen my knowledge about species interaction and the important effects the environment has on these interactions. Plants are at the base of food webs; therefore, a major challenge in ecology is to understand how phenotypic plasticity of plant traits affects the complexity and dynamics of plant-associated communities.

 

Describe the path that led you to your current research/career area

I decided to major in biology because I wanted to be a geneticist; however, as a freshman I fell in love with ecology and the secret life of plants. In my first semester in college, I sat in on a seminar by Dr. Carlos Fonseca. He gave a very exciting talk about how plants bear unique structures to attract ants. In exchange for food and shelter, ants protect plants against herbivores. It was the first time I heard that plants are not simple sessile organisms but can actively manipulate their environment. Shortly after, I joined Dr. Fonseca’s lab and was exposed to a fascinating world where plants attract, repel, deceive and fight other plants, insects and pathogens.

What about your area of research excites you the most?

An understanding of the complex chemical interactions between plants and insects has and will continue to lead to novel solutions to insect pest management problems. Therefore, I am interested in how plants manipulate their bodyguards to reduce herbivory, especially because this area of research may afford new opportunities for sustainable agriculture.

What are the most challenging aspects of your research?

When I am working with crop plants and their pests, my main challenge is making sure all my plants and insects are ready prior to an experiment. Because I work with plant defenses, I need to make sure all experimental plants are free of herbivory prior to an experiment, but insects often find a way to sneak into the greenhouse and attack my plants. In contrast, the main challenge I face working in natural environments is actually finding the organisms and rearing them in the lab.

 

What advice would you offer to undergraduate and graduate students?

My PhD advisor used to say that the P in PhD stands for Perseverance. Therefore, my main advice for student is to be perseverant. There is no direct route to achieve a goal; you will need to create your own path, so stop comparing yourself to others. I also encourage my students to keep their minds open, for them to take a step back and rethink their questions. We often create and test specific hypotheses, making concerted efforts to corroborate or reject them. The problem with this approach is that we may overlook completely unexpected and exciting new discoveries.

 

What do you like most about your job at UA?

I enjoy being part of a department that encompasses a diverse set of topics. Talking with different faculty and finding a way to bridge different lines of research is very exciting. This type of interaction has broadened my interests and helped me consider alternative hypotheses in my research. I also cannot wait to have undergraduate and graduate students in my lab. I am especially enthusiastic about mentoring students because my own undergraduate and graduate experiences were pivotal in establishing my fascination with science and research.