Centennial Story 89: Lorenzo Cianelli (PhD, 2002)

I was born and raised on the island of Ischia, in the Bay of Naples (Italy). Living on a small island, there is no escape from the sea, the fish, and the people who depend on both of these to make a living. Inevitably, I grew up fishing, swimming, talking to fishermen and tourists, and eventually studying the sea. Fast-forward 25 years, to 1995. I applied and eventually got admitted to a course on fish biology, taught by Bruce Miller, at the Friday Harbor Labs. And so in June 1995, I landed in Seattle, took a bus to Anacortes and a ferry to the scenic San Juan Islands. That was my first encounter with the USA, UW, and SAFS. What a captivating introduction!

The plan was to go back to Ischia after the end of the fish biology course. Well, it did not quite work out that way. Another 25 years have gone by, and I am still in the Pacific Northwest. How did that happen? Excellent mentors, and long-lasting friendships, are two things that come to mind. Bruce Miller introduced me to Art Kendall, who was the Director of the FOCI (Fisheries Oceanography Coordinated Investigations) group at the NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center. And so I spent a few more months in the USA, working as a research intern in the FOCI group. Eventually I applied to graduate school at SAFS and started an MS in 1996.

Lorenzo out in the field
Lorenzo out in the field

I graduated from SAFS with a PhD in 2002. Bob Francis was my major professor. Bob had many students: Vera Agostini (PhD, 2005), Diego Holmgren (PhD, 2001), John Field (PhD, 2004), Kerim Aydin (PhD, 2000), Sarah Gaichas (PhD, 2006), and Laurie Weitkamp (MS, 1991; PhD, 2004), to name a few—all very engaging peers! I was co-advised by Gordon (Gordie) Swartzman, Ric Brodeur (another Bob Francis student, PhD, 1990) and Daniel Schindler. My committee spanned the perfect Stommel diagram of fisheries and oceanography, with Gordie responsible for the smallest spatio-temporal scales, Bob at the opposite extreme, and Ric and Daniel in the middle. Gordie taught me how to code in S-plus, and eventually R. Ric exposed me the nuts and bolts of fisheries ecology. Daniel challenged me to think eco-evo, and Bob made me think about the climate and the “bigger picture” behind correlative studies. Through those years, I conducted most of my research with the FOCI group—an experience that has had a huge impact on my career choices. I learned about the nexus of oceanography and fisheries, and the fact that there are multiple axes to stock-recruitment relationships. While at FOCI, I continued working with Ric Brodeur, and eventually with Kevin Bailey (MS, 1977; PhD, 1981). Ric and Kevin are now very close friends in addition to being great mentors, and inspiring peers.

So what has SAFS meant to me? Many things. I learned about population and community ecology, ecosystem theories, statistics, mathematical modeling, programming—the list goes on. I learned the beauty of teaching, by TAing FISH 456 several times with Bob Francis. I participated to 6–7 oceanographic cruises in the North Pacific. Most importantly, I forged friendships and collaborations that last to this day. This, I think, is what SAFS has meant to me—an incredibly stimulating and engaging place for a graduate student.

After graduating from SAFS, my wife and I left the USA and went to Norway, to the University of Oslo, where we both did post-docs. Norway was another idyllic place. We made more friends and established new collaborations. Our first son, Luca, was born in Oslo—so we have a permanent bond to this Scandinavian land. I am now a professor in fisheries oceanography at the College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences of the Oregon State University, in Corvallis. I am the “fish” guy in an otherwise oceanographically focused group. More than 15 years after graduating, I am constantly reminded of my time at SAFS. I often drive to Seattle for work, and I intentionally time my drive so that I can avoid traffic, which inevitably means driving through the night. Approaching Seattle at night from the south is fascinating. The city skyline evokes memories. The sight of the SAFS building from the I-5 Bridge gives me the odd sensation of being at home, but far from it. I like and cherish this feeling. I am reminded of homing fish, coming back to familiar grounds. Happy anniversary SAFS!

Lorenzo and his son (Luca) and I on the OSU R/V Elakha, in the Yaquina Bay.
My son (Luca) and I on the OSU R/V Elakha, in the Yaquina Bay.
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