Centennial Story 38: Jim Meador (PhD, 1988)

As a California native (mum’s the word!), I came to SAFS to study aquatic toxicology in 1983. I had knocked off an MS at San Diego State University and was lucky enough to complete a BS at Humboldt State. Prior to coming to SAFS, I was a marine biologist at the Naval Ocean Systems Center in San Diego and a deep-sea ecologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, where I met my wife (Susan Picquelle) a NOAA statistician (Southwest Fisheries Science Center and Alaska Fisheries Science Center). Susan retired after 31 years to pursue her passion, garden design.

Jim at the Wallace River Hatchery
Jim at the Wallace River Hatchery

I was happy in San Diego and had no plans to pursue another degree, but Gary Stauffer (SAFS alumnus [PhD, 1973] at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center) was persuasive and convinced me to apply to UW.  Over the years, there was considerable movement of fisheries folks up and down the west coast, so we had a welcoming circle of friends after arriving. Originally, I was planning to work with George Brown, but was fortunate to land in Frieda Taub’s lab and plug-in to her ongoing work on ecosystems in a jar (Standardized Aquatic Microcosms). This was cutting-edge research to study ecological processes in perturbed systems under a variety of conditions by evaluating the responses observed for a suite of algal and invertebrate species. Each experiment comprised multiple doses, with replication, generating a massive amount of data. Frieda’s research team consisted of several SAFS faculty members, including Tom Sibley, Loveday Conquest, and Gordie Swartzman, who were also instrumental in my education.  My time in Frieda’s lab was a fantastic learning experience, providing infusions of chemistry, statistics, modeling, toxicology, and of course, fisheries science that solidified the foundation for my career.

Jim in full scuba gear riding a bicycle underwater
“I never miss an opportunity to ride.” Taken in 2014.

After graduating, I didn’t stray far from campus (about 400 m as the fish swims). I started working at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC) in 1989 as an NRC postdoc with Usha Varanasi and was offered a full-time position in 1990. Working at the NWFSC has been a blast, most of the time, where I am an environmental toxicologist studying a variety of contaminants and their effects on critters ranging from worms to whales. Currently, I am trying to figure out the importance of pharmaceuticals and related chemicals in causing adverse effects to physiological function in juvenile Chinook salmon. Somewhat unexpectedly, this recent research has attracted the attention of myriad newspapers, magazines, and radio shows, including a skit by Stephen Colbert (just Google “Sammy the Salmon Colbert”). Needless to say, people get a bit agitated when they hear about fish on drugs. My other area of study concerns the effects of oil on Arctic fish with colleagues in Tromsø, Norway. When I am not slaving away at the computer or the lab, you can find me on a bicycle, taking pictures of cool fish in the Caribbean, or keeping our garden green.

SAFS provided a variety of skills, knowledge, and connections, allowing me to be successful in my chosen field. After seeing how things are done at a number of universities, I can appreciate the world-class education I received at the SAFS. As an affiliate professor in the UW Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences (School of Public Health), I am able to give back to the university and hopefully inspire younger minds to tackle the challenging environmental issues we face.

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