Centennial Story 6: Fred Allendorf (MS, 1973; PhD, Fisheries & Genetics, 1975)

I began graduate school at the College of Fisheries in 1971 after graduating from Penn State. I had worked in the genetics lab of Jim Wright at Penn State, and he recommended that I attend grad school at UW because a former student of his (Bill Hershberger) had recently joined the Fisheries faculty.

Fred on a collecting trip in the San Juan Islands

The College of Fisheries was not a good place to study genetics in the early 1970s. Don Hagen, then Curator of Fishes, was an outstanding ecological geneticist working on sticklebacks. I remember talking with Don when I was a new graduate student. He felt that his basic science was not appreciated by the College. At the time, Don and George Brown were co-supervising the research of another Fisheries graduate student, Mike Johnson (MS, 1970), who studied the genetics of crested blenny in Puget Sound. Mike later received his PhD at Yale, and he went on to an extremely successful career in evolutionary genetics. Mike has been at the University of Western Australia since 1976.

My early studies were frustrating. I remember phoning Jim Wright at Penn State and telling him that things were not going well. He suggested that I pay a visit to Fred Utter at the nearby Montlake Lab of the National Marine Fisheries Service. After talking with Fred for less than an hour, he offered me a space in his lab and a desk. I literally began working with Fred the next day, and, as they say, I never looked back.

I spent a fantastic and fun four years working with Fred. His support and enthusiasm were tremendous. Allozyme electrophoresis had just been developed, and it made it possible to study the genetics of natural populations for the first time. Those were exciting times! In 1971, Allyn Johnson (PhD, 1972) and I were the only grad students in Fred’s lab. We would later be joined by Bernie May (MS, 1975) and Jim Seeb (MS, 1982; PhD, 1987) before I graduated in 1975.

My difficulties with the College of Fisheries persisted because Fred could not be my primary supervisor because he was an affiliate faculty member. Doug Chapman, the Dean of Fisheries, was extremely helpful to me during those difficult times. Eventually, Fred and I obtained funding for my studies of steelhead from the Washington Department of Game. This funding came through the Washington Cooperative Fisheries Unit under the supervision of Dick Whitney. Dick became a member of my committee, and he was extremely helpful to me during my graduate school career.

I received my MS in Fisheries, but I did not want to receive my PhD in Fisheries because I was primarily interested in genetics. Joe Felsenstein in the Department of Genetics suggested that I apply for an Interdisciplinary Individual PhD under his co-supervision. I was successful and received my PhD in Fisheries and Genetics in 1975.

My down-and-up graduate school career at UW worked out very well for me. I did a post-doc at Aarhus University in Denmark in 1975–76, and I have been at the University of Montana since 1976. Today, there are a number of world-class geneticists on the faculty of SAFS. Back in the 1970s, we were excited at being able to detect a few polymorphic gene loci. Today the geneticists at SAFS are studying whole genomes of many species!


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