Centennial Story 9: Jeffrey Olsen (BS, 1981; PhD, 1999)

I received a BS degree from the College of Fisheries in 1981. At that time, rather than attempt graduate school, I pursued employment. I wanted to experience hands-on fish biology, so I spent a couple years on the seasonal circuit doing all kinds of field work from Washington State to Alaska. It was great! I got to work for fish biologists in field camps, sample and count juvenile and adult salmon, survey fishermen, and do remote eggtakes. I eventually landed a permanent job as a fish culturist with the Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corporation (PWSAC) where I spent 12 years.

The years in Prince William Sound showed me the importance of applied science in fishery management. Some of the most influential individuals in my early career included UW alumni Brian Allele, Ted Cooney, and Jim Seeb. Brian was executive director of PWSAC, Ted was an oceanographer at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and Jim was the lead geneticist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G). I started thinking about graduate school after conversations with Brian and Ted. However, it was conversations with Jim about population genetics and hatchery and wild salmon interactions that really piqued my interest. Jim would continue to give me good advice as a member of my graduate committee and supervisor at ADF&G.

Jeff Olsen on Wolverine Peak in the Chugach Moutains, Alaska

I started graduate school at the UW School of Fisheries (SOF, now SAFS) in 1994. I was very fortunate that Paul Bentzen agreed to be my advisor. Paul had recently joined the SOF and was building a molecular genetics lab with Ginger Armbrust from the School of Oceanography. It was an exciting time to be part of a new lab, using state-of-the-art (at the time) technology and molecular genetic methods to do research addressing real conservation and management questions. I shared the bench with some outstanding grad students who have since had impressive careers, including Rolf Ream (PhD, 2002), Adrian Spidle, Pam Jensen (MS, 1994), Carol Ann Woody (PhD, 1998), John Wenburg (PhD, 1998), Andres Lopez (MS, 1998), Kristina Ramstad (MS, 1998), Andy Shedlock (MS, 1992; PhD, 1997), and Mike Canino (PhD, 2003). I wasn’t the only one that benefitted from Paul’s tutelage.

I had the privilege of having Fred Utter on my graduate committee. I benefitted, as many have, from Fred’s insights and knowledge of fisheries genetics. However, it was Fred’s passion for research and positive attitude that gave me the proper perspective I needed early in grad school. Fred also gave me some very practical advice—publish as much of my dissertation as possible before graduating. Later, Fred authored a short perspectives paper on publishing in the journal Fisheries. He shared a personal mandate that I also try to adhere to that “All research projects must end with publication in an appropriate peer-reviewed outlet.” This is particularly relevant for agency scientists where the emphasis is not always on publishing, but unpublished work may ultimately be repeated at great cost to the public.

I moved back to Alaska after receiving my PhD in 1999. I wanted to work at an agency so I could be close to conservation implementation and management. I joined Jim and Lisa Seeb (now SAFS professors) at ADF&G in Anchorage. They had created a high functioning lab that, in my opinion, was (and still is) the model for fisheries genetics labs. Today, I work for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, also in Anchorage, with fellow SAFS grad John Wenburg. I stay in touch with SAFS mainly through Jim and Lisa, Lorenz Hauser, and their impressive students.

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