I was lucky enough not only to be assigned Dr. Justin Wright as my PI, the Primary Investigator of the lab I’m working in, but to also be given the opportunity to know more of his story through an interview. One of the primary take-aways I gathered was the importance of passion within your given area of science in order to achieve success. Since I was assigned to Dr. Wright because of his work in ecology and my particular interest in it, I found it really intriguing to see the ways in which our passions for human and environmental relations went beyond just interest in the science and into even more personal shared interests and hobbies.
However with Dr. Wright’s high achievement in the area of science I did plenty of asking about that too. When asked to describe the goal of his work in one simple way, Dr. Wright explained that he inquires about and investigates the effects of biodiversity and the consequences of changes in biodiversity. His path to this kind of work can be traced back to undergraduate school when young Justin Wright had a general idea of what interests he had for himself; he wanted to investigate the relations between humans in the environment. However, at first he was not sure which avenue in this broad topic he would choose to venture down upon. He considered different areas of biology and anthropology as possible options, but eventually he felt his leanings were towards Environmental Science itself. However that opened up another avenue of curiosity: would he be more interested in the science of the field or the policy? (In my opinion, this is a very familiar question among myself and other students leaning towards environmental studies.) Dr. Wright says what really decided this question for him was a year-long fellowship he became a part of. In this fellowship, he spent 6 months in New Zealand and 6 months in Madagascar working out in the field, collecting data and getting very close and personal with the science of the environment. So that is really where it all took off from for Dr. Wright. He explained that he furthered his studies and really went after asking questions and getting his work out there. I, myself, have pondered the idea of eventually being faculty at a university and Dr. Wright emphasized that earning your Ph. D and really doing good science and research is integral to becoming distinguished enough to stand out in applications to universities.
Apart from Dr. Wright’s basic path, I was also interested in his interests on a more personal level. The first question I asked him to answer these curiosity was what his favorite paper was that he had written and why. The paper he selected seemed to come to mind for him quite easily and was a paper called “Biogeographic Synthesis of Secondary Succession Rates in Eastern North Carolina.” This paper had particular resonation with him because the story of how it came to be was interesting and clean to him in that it followed the standard “scientific process” unusually well. Dr. Wright explained that much of scientific research is messier than it is originally expected to be. The basic background to how the paper came to be was that Dr. Wright was interested in beaver meadows and the processes within them, and so he did some research into them and found that beaver meadows were reported to have a standard amount of time of existence before a new cycle of time began. However when he went to do research in a different area of the east, a colleague of his explained in passing that the beaver meadows there cycled over a time period different than the one he had found in his research. So with this in mind, the paper Dr. Wright wrote actually shows that the time period that this cycling occurs over varies for different areas in Eastern North America and it delves into old historical records of agriculture and other resources to explain what types of things affect these rates of succession.
Finally, I asked about Dr. Justin Wright as a person of the world and not a scientist. What does he like to do and what are his interests? It was cool to see that we shared a lot of these interests as many within environmental fields tend to: for example Dr. Wright enjoys being outside, hiking, travelling (He’s been to Germany among other places), running, and archaeology. Particularly though he likes to spend time with his family which includes his wife and two daughters.
I enjoyed talking with Dr. Wright and getting to know his background because not only is it interesting, but also I feel it will be helpful to me in giving me guidance for my own future. In the same way I can draw similarities in our scientific interests and hobbies I see similarities in what he has done with his career and some goals I also might hope to accomplish in my own future.
PS I had to add this! Some of my seed plates have had successful examples of germination already, and the baby trees are very adorable. Check them out and marvel at their cuteness below.