After graduating in Marine Biology from the University of Buenos Aires, I went to Patagonia to conduct research. My main interests were the management of the natural resources of the area, and I became involved in several projects. I realized that my training was not the right one to produce solid scientific answers to the questions of how much could be harvested sustainably and other issues relevant to most developing countries. I decided to improve my training, and after reviewing many options, I applied for and got a Fulbright Fellowship. They offered me a choice of schools, and after going over many catalogues and chatting with my friend Lobo Orensanz (another UW School of Fisheries [SOF] alum), I picked SOF. The program had a very broad curriculum, with emphasis on the quantitative subjects that I felt I needed to reinforce.
It was an incredible opportunity—with a specialized, comprehensive library and an open system where you could take classes in different departments and really put together your individual program with the help of your advisor and supervisory committee. This gave me a sense of freedom, coming as I did from the very regimented systems of Latin American universities. You could follow your curiosity, connect disciplines, and explore scientific tools.
But the most important change for me was the interactions with faculty and students. I had good professors in my country, many trained within the European system. However, education was quite “vertical.” You had to learn what the professors taught and follow their lead. The professors seldom said, “I don’t know.” At the UW, I met many people who helped forge my future, but I will just give two examples. My advisor was Doug Chapman. He was a very famous researcher who never showed off, was very solid, and emphasized the quality of the science, and not “running outside your data.” When I came with a question he had no answer for, he would say “let’s explore that,” and go to the books and search for the answer. Never arrogant, always patient. I had total access to him anytime I needed it, even though he was active in many projects and had many responsibilities (he was the Dean of SOF at the time). Both he and his wife made a point of getting foreign students to feel at home, organizing picnics, where I saw him taking his first steps on a soccer field because the Latin contingent was into soccer. No fear of ridicule, just being friendly. We also learned what Thanksgiving was, and shared many with them.
I took a class of Ecology at the Department of Zoology with Gordon Orians. There was a revolution in the making with the introduction of evolutionary ecology, understanding the adaptive reasons for ecological and behavioral observations, and he was a leader in the field. He emphasized the application of critical thinking and avoiding repeating concepts that were in the books, but had never been fully tested. Professor Orians was another wonderful human being, with strong ties to Latin America and supportive of many foreign students. Loved and admired by everyone, but again very approachable. He was generous with his time and challenged you to grow.
I am very proud of my degree, and in the field of Fisheries Science I don’t think there is anything comparable. I have traveled all over the world, and I know many excellent universities, but still haven’t found a match to SOF at the UW.