Career advice for scientists from Prof. Tom Quinn

In a retrospective look back on his career, SAFS professor Tom Quinn reflects on the experiences that have shaped his outlook and his philosophy on science, teaching, and mentoring. His experiences have included driving past defunct vulture-topped nuclear reactors, and waking up with bear prints on the outside of the window above his bed in his cabin in Alaska, together with many years working in the field on the long-term studies (since the 1950s) at the University of Washington’s Bristol Bay field program focused on salmon. The field site and the salmon runs themselves, which are the largest sockeye salmon runs in the world, are now threatened by the planned development of a massive mine in the region. Prof Quinn advocates specializing in a topic (such as salmon and trout), and then using that topic to explore broader implications for ecology, behavior, and evolution. He highlights the virtues of long-term field programs, because “there is no such thing as an average year” (Don Rogers), while admitting the frustrations of looking for continued funding when funders are always seeking the new and exciting instead of supporting long-running programs. Ironically, he points out that the two worst things an ecologist can do are to start a long-term field program (because the costs and risks are high but the rewards take a long time to materialize), and to stop one (because of their immense value once underway). Prof Quinn has received numerous teaching and mentoring awards, and highlights that faculty “should be willing to give their best ideas away to their graduate students” (Ronald Merrill), and be aware that different students appreciate different mentoring styles. The full paper is available at the ICES Journal of Marine Science.

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