Centennial Story 40: Eric Ward (PhD, 2006)

I almost didn’t make it as a biology major. During my junior year in Ecology and Evolutionary biology at UC San Diego, I realized I wasn’t very good at field work when a couple of graduate students I was volunteering for fired me. Twice. Fortunately I was saved by some ecological modeling classes that I was taking at the time from Mike Gilpin. I loved the problem-solving aspects and complexity of the computer models we built – and also realized this could be a great career path. I continued to pursue mathematical ecology with an M.Sc. with Dan Goodman at Montana State University, where I was exposed to a lot of statistics – including Bayesian methods and state space models.

Eric standing on the bank of a river near Franz Josef Glacier
Eric near the Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand, after wrapping up orange roughy stock assessments in Wellington.

I came to SAFS in the fall of 2003 and received a NMFS Population Dynamics fellowship to work with Ray Hilborn. The fellowship was pretty new, and competition for it was not as fierce as it is today. As an incoming PhD student, I benefitted from having a great cohort of incoming SAFS students and a number of more senior graduate students in the Hilborn lab (Trevor Branch [PhD, 2004], Ian Stewart [MS, 2001; PhD, 2006], Caroline Minte-Vera [PhD, 2004]). Sharing an office with Peter Westley (MS, 2007) and Arni Magnusson (MS, 2002; PhD, 2016) also exposed me to the culinary diversity among SAFS students (Arni had on occasional sheepshead for lunch, and in summer field camps Peter had an affinity for Spam). One of the highlights during my time in the Hilborn lab was getting to go to New Zealand with Ray in 2004 to learn more about stock assessments. In addition to Ray, Tim Essington and André Punt were on my PhD committee and were a huge help to my maturation as a scientist. I’d also be remiss in not giving SAFS credit for radically changing my personal life, because I met my wife Kristin Marshall (MS, 2007) during CPR training in 2003.

Eric and Kristin scuba diving while on a vacation in 2007 near La Paz. 
Eric and Kristin on a vacation in 2007 near La Paz.

I did a post-doc at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC) in 2007–2008; part of a productive post-doc experience for me was having other post-docs around to collaborate with, and I was fortunate to overlap with some other recent UW graduates, including Jon Moore and Brice Semmens. I was lucky to be hired as a statistician at the NWFSC in fall 2008, basically as the US economy was imploding. My job is split between multiple programs in the Conservation Biology division, but also allows me to work on many other collaborative projects across divisions, particularly in tool development. I’ve gotten to work on many types of data sets and species, ranging from plankton to top predators. I also have several projects with external collaborators, including several SAFS faculty and students.

For most of my time at the NWFSC, I’ve been fortunate to be affiliate faculty at SAFS. I’ve taught a class on time series with Eli Holmes and Mark Scheuerell (also both SAFS affiliate faculty), and I serve on student committees. These interactions with students are extremely rewarding because they let me keep up with all the exciting research SAFS students are doing. Since I graduated in 2006, SAFS has changed a lot, with many new faces and ideas. I have no doubt SAFS will remain the best quantitative fisheries program in the world, and I’m excited to watch the evolution of the SAFS community into the future.

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