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Dr. Timothy Shank : Closing Remarks

As an undergrad at the University of North Carolina at Chaple Hill, I went to my marine science professor, just had my first course with him and he had just discovered the first hydrocarbon seeps. This was in the mid 80's. And I told him I wanted to be a Marine Biologist and he said, "Well don't study Marine Biology." It was great advice. He said, "Don't study Marine Biology. Go learn genetics. Go learn computer modeling. And then bring it and apply it to questions in Marine Biology." He was absolutely correct. It was the best advice I've ever gotten. And I went and said, "Well, what's going to be really up and coming?" At that point, the preliminary chain-reaction had just been discovered so you can make many copies of genes and gene sequences. I knew genetics was going to be a big thing so I said, "Ok, I'm going to go learn genetics," and I did. For three years I worked in a genetics toxicology lab far flung from any marine system. And I said, "Ok. I'm learning the stuff. This is really good stuff and now I want to apply it to questions in marine biology." And that's what I did. I went right to graduate school to get a PhD. And I had been looking at some of the most interesting things in the deep sea and in the marine field in general. And I was just so attracted to hydrothermal vents. I think because there was so much news about an eruption that had taken place in 1991. And I said, "Ok, that's what I want to go do. I want to go study these animals that are so weird and so unique. And use these genetic tools and that's basically how it started.

I think one of the most thrilling things I've ever seen on the bottom, I've had over 50 submersible dives to the deep sea floor, maybe over thirty ROV dives, and I think.., when I first think about it, I think about the most exciting moment when I first saw the bottom for the first time. I just spent a year studying these communities at hydrothermal vents. I mapped the seafloor and knew right where they were. I was ready to see what had changed over the past year and I went down and I dove and I saw it immediately and it was like my own backyard and it was thrilling. That's not the most thrilling story to tell somebody, because it's a personal story. But there have been other things. We actually, one time, saw an octopus die on the seafloor which is very unusual. We sat there and we watched it expire which is very strange in some ways. And then we saw crabs come in immediately and start to chew on him and tear at him.

On this last cruise we saw the birth of an octopus out of an egg which has never been seen before. That was fantastic. I think I saw something from every cruise where I though, "That is just fascinating." Trying to rank those is really doing a disservice to any of them. So, I think the most fantastic thing I've ever seen was seeing the seafloor for the first time and seeing those animals.

Giving advice to upcoming, wannabe marine biologists or scientist, I'd give some of the advice I've been given in the past which is, "If you really want to study marine biology, learn something else and apply it to marine biology." It's such a dynamic and complex system to understand life in our oceans that you've got to understand something about currents, nutrition, physiology, a variety of things, the chemistry of the ocean is always very important to these animals. So I would go learn, i guess like I did, learn genetics and then apply it to marine biology. I would also give you the advice to keep your creative juices, always. Keep them flowing. Always think the unimaginable and let yourself go for it. I would also advise you to learn the system that you like a lot. Know it the best you can because all your creative ideas are going to come spinning out of that. I think I could have a lot of little advice tidbits like that. It's also too.., honestly, learn about yourself and understand yourself. Often understanding what's out there is understanding how you think about things and keeping an open mind. So, that would be my advice.

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Dr. Timothy Shank Profile

 


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