I hardly followed the "typical" path to marine science. Like most ecologists, I have always been fascinated by animals, but the ocean was not something I was drawn to growing up. Perhaps this has to do with living in Colorado, or a lifelong disdain for swimming. I mean, I dramatically stormed out of swim lessons as a child, so a 10-year-old Matt would be quite surprised to find out that he would one day become a marine scientist, an expert in sea turtles no less.
I first became interested in ecological research as an undergraduate at Auburn University. After short stops in engineering, microbiology, and pre-vet, I ultimately landed on a major in Zoology in large part due to my growing interest in ecological research. I was fortunate to have an undergraduate advisor who allowed me to follow one of her graduate students to the field and perform an independent study in ground squirrels. Man, were those little buggers ornery, but I was hooked on ecological research!
Prior to graduation I applied to conservation science internships to gain more applied research experience. On a whim, I applied to work on a sea turtle nesting beach in North Carolina and was lucky enough to land an internship. As it would turn out, this would become my origin story as a marine scientist as it was when I first became captivated by sea turtles and the ocean—I mean, who doesn't love sea turtles?! That summer I learned that despite decades of intensive conservation and management there was still much we did not know about their ecology, particularly during the long periods of their life when they occupy the open ocean.
This led me to another sea turtle internship in Southwest Florida and then ultimately to graduate school at Oregon State University, where I began working towards filling some of the critical knowledge gaps in sea turtle ecology. In graduate school, my research focused on integrating multiple complementary scientific techniques (e.g., skeletal, isotopic, elemental, growth, and population analyses) to better understanding the movement, growth, and population dynamics of sea turtles and inform their management and conservation.
As should be obvious, my path to marine science was anything but linear. I have many people to thank for helping me get to where I am today, but particularly those who gave me chances early on in my education to conduct research. I thus advocate strongly for student involvement and training in scientific research as early as feasible. To this end, I co-developed a graduate-undergraduate mentorship program at Oregon State University and have advised over a dozen undergraduate students. I also have led numerous outreach activities to engage K-12 students in science and advance science and ocean literacy.
When not working in the lab or office, I am traveling, playing tennis, skiing, watching college football (War Eagle! Go Beavs!), or otherwise hanging out with my husband (Wyatt) and our two dogs (Ruby & Tusc).