I am not what one would consider a "typical" marine scientist (if there even is such a thing). Like most ecologists, I have been drawn to animals since I was a child, spending countless hours observing them at zoos and aquaria, hunting for them in the backyard or at parks, or learning about them on TV. But unlike most marine ecologists, the ocean and marine creatures were for a long time the furthest things from my mind. Perhaps this has to with living many, many hours from the ocean—I grew up in Colorado and northern Alabama. Or maybe it has to do with my life long disdain for swimming. Anyhow, 10-year-old Matt would be quite surprised to find out that he would one day study sea turtles.
I first became interested in ecological research as an undergraduate at Auburn University. After short stops in the majors of engineering and microbiology (veterinary track), I ultimately landed on a major in Zoology in large part due to my growing interest in ecological research. As a Freshman, I had become involved in various animal science and nutritional ecology projects that exposed me to both laboratory and field research in terrestrial mammals and birds. What resonated with me most was knowing that in my small way I was helping push the bounds of scientific knowledge about the natural world. I was fortunate to have an undergraduate advisor who allowed me to follow one of her graduate students into the Canadian Rocky Mountains and perform an independent study in ground squirrels. I was hooked!
Upon graduating from Auburn I pursued opportunities in conservation science as I wanted to get a feel for research with more clear conservation outcomes. 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 their juvenile life stages. In graduate school, my research has worked towards filling these knowledge gaps by integrating multiple complementary scientific techniques (e.g., skeletal, isotopic, elemental, growth, and population analyses) so that we can better conserve and manage sea turtle species for the future.
As should be obvious, my path to marine science was anything but linear. Yet, it was possible thanks to early involvement in research and the presence of supportive scientific mentors in my life. I thus advocate strongly for student involvement and training in scientific research. To this end, I co-developed a graduate-undergraduate mentorship program at Oregon State Univerity and have advised over a dozen students. I also lead 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).