What is your current job and what does it entail?
I am an associate professor with a joint appointment in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the School for Marine Science and Technology at the Dartmouth campus of the University of Massachusetts. I teach undergraduate and graduate courses in electrical engineering and supervise graduate students. I guide the graduate students in doing their research projects and try to teach them the process of doing research in general, so they will be prepared to pursue their own projects when they graduate.
In my own research, I study how sound travels underwater and how best to analyze underwater sounds, whether they are made by humans or marine mammals. I have research funding from the Office of Naval Research to study how well sonars can work and another research grant to collaborate with Prof. Jim Simmons of Brown University studying how bats use their natural sonar. I spend a few days a month at Brown working on this project.
Recently, I spent a sabbatical year in Australia as a Fulbright Senior Scholar studying humpback whale song with Dr. Doug Cato of the Australian Defence Science and Technology Organisation. We were looking at techniques to find the structure or pattern in the songs and to try to measure how much information the songs could carry. One of the highlights of this work was spending about three weeks in Queensland recording migrating humpback whales with other scientists as part of the Humpback Acoustic Research Collaborative. We're also interested in comparing the recordings of Australian humpbacks with those we've already analyzed from Hawaii.
An important aspect of any research is explaining what you've learned to other scientists, students and the public. To do this, I've published several papers and textbooks. I also make visits to school classes to talk about my work. Occasionally, I serve on panels advising the Navy or other organizations about the effects of acoustic noise on marine mammals. I have also worked with the New England Aquarium designing exhibits that explain how sound travels underwater and how marine animals use sound to communicate and find food.
What was the key factor in your career decision?
What do like most about your career?
I've always wanted to teach and loved being around the ocean. Applying my engineering skills to marine science at a university lets me do both of these things. UMass Dartmouth is a good fit for me professionally in several ways. The campus has a history of strong undergraduate education, which matches well with my interest in teaching and working with students. In addition, both the electrical engineering and marine science programs have been building their research capability and graduate education over the past 10 years or so. This provides a great range of challenges and opportunities for me to continue pursuing the sort of interdisciplinary research that I find most rewarding.
I find oceanography an exciting field because it combines intellectual challenges with physical adventure. I also enjoy the practical aspect of the work. The ocean is always the ultimate proving ground -- a concrete test for our ideas. Good ideas work, bad ones send you back to the drawing board. This challenge can cause a lot of stress during a field experiment, but also provides a great sense of accomplishment when things work. I also enjoy the opportunity to apply my signal processing knowledge to problems in other disciplines such as underwater acoustics and marine mammal calls. These scientific fields ask questions that provide new challenges and directions for signal processing research.
One of my favorite things about the academic environment is that I get to choose the problems for my research. This means that I spend most of my time doing things that I find interesting and enjoy doing. I also enjoy the interdisciplinary nature of marine science. I am always learning new things from the people I work with on research projects. Working with students is great because their excitement in learning things for the first time is contagious. My own enthusiasm is always renewed by watching a student understand a difficult idea with which he or she has been struggling.
What do you like least about your career?
There is too much of it. I sometimes joke that I have the best two jobs I could want. Things can be very hectic at times, especially when deadlines from two different aspects of my job collide, such as having to finish a journal paper and a research grant proposal during the last week of the semester. Generally, I work at least 50 hours a week and rarely get to take a day completely off from work. I am trying to learn to work more efficiently.
What do you do to relax?
I enjoy playing sports to relax. I jog a lot, with some biking and swimming mixed in. I also play ice hockey once a week with friends. Finding time for some sort of physical exercise almost every day is important for my health and sanity. Just getting away from my desk or computer for an hour while I exercise makes a huge difference in my attitude and energy when I return.
Dartmouth is only about an hour from Boston, so I often drive there to see the Boston Symphony Orchestra, or other musical or theater shows. I also try to make time to read at least a couple good books a month.
Who are your heroes/heroines?
What advice would you give a high school student who expressed an interest in pursuing a career in your field?
Two of my heroes are St. Thomas Becket and St. Thomas More. Both were men with the moral courage to stand up for their beliefs in the face of public opinion. As I get older, I'm also more impressed by my parents, and the efforts and sacrifices they made to raise and education me and my siblings.
You can't learn enough math. No matter what field you are in, math will always be useful. Particularly in marine mammal research, I've seen more students have their careers and ambitions limited by their math skills than their talents in biology or their dedication. Almost any study of animal behavior requires the use of statistics for data analysis. In my experience, it is much easier for someone with a strong math and engineering background to catch up on the biology than vice versa. The successful marine mammal scientists I know all have good math skills.
Two other very important skills are the ability to write well and to work with computers well. Both writing English and writing computer programs force you to think clearly and precisely about the problems you are studying, and in my experience the most successful scientists I have worked with do both very well.
Are career opportunities in your field increasing or decreasing and why?
I think marine mammal science is demonstrating a slow increase in career opportunities. People are realizing all the time that we still have a lot to learn about these animals and how they live and communicate in the ocean. There has been a lot of attention in the last few years given to the effects of manmade noises on marine mammals, which has boosted research funding in parts of the field.
As a professor, I think the job market is roughly flat or decreasing. More and more of my friends have difficulty finding faculty positions. I think there are about the same number of jobs, but more people getting Ph.D.s in marine science. There has been talk for many years about an impending shortage of Ph.D.s and faculty in higher education, but I have not seen it materialize yet.
What will you be doing 10 years from today?
I think I will still be working in both signal processing and acoustics research, and teaching both undergraduates and graduates. One great feature of being a professor is the ability to reinvent your research from time to time without actually changing jobs. Recently, I've begun studying bat sonar to see what it can teach us about how to build manmade sonars. This is a completely new and fascinating field for me.
Salary:$60,000 - $80,000