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Biology Overview

Charles Berry
South Dakota Cooperative Research Unit,
United States Geological Survey
and Adjunct Professor, Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Science
Brookings, SD

BS., Biology, Randolph-Macon College, 1967
MS., Biology, Fordham University, 1970
Ph.D., Fisheries Science, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 1975
Charles Berry inventories riverine fish and habitats for recreational fish populations and conservation of fish biodiversity, and studies the basic ecology of Northern Great Plains streams.
"Ninety percent of life is showing up. Show up in class (prepared if possible) and pick a couple of clubs/interests and be a contributor."

What fields of biology do you work in?
Berry: Fisheries Science.

Q: When did you know you wanted to become a Biologist?
Berry: Youthful pastimes spent exploring the out-of-doors followed up by a good experience with first employment.

Q: What was your college experience like?
Berry: Although I appreciate my liberal arts educational experience, my college had little environmental emphasis in the early 1960s (I remember my biology professor saying that he was going to a summer school class to "see what this ecology thing is all about.") The professors and government scientists that participated in my MS degree were the top experts and I was fascinated by their research and willingness to educate me (this was during the time of the first moon walk when earthlings thought that moon dust might threaten our existence so NASA set up the Lunar Receiving Laboratory and exposed fish and other critters to moon dust, my professors were in the midst of that exciting time for the USA). My PhD school was good because it was a leading school that was visited by important fisheries workers all the time and my professors were writing the text books; there was great collegiality and we all published and got jobs.

Q: Did you incorporate work experiences while you were an undergrad?
Berry: Yes. One summer I worked for the Maryland Fish and Game Commission -- a great job assessing the aquatic plants in Maryland marshes (and we caught a lot of blue crabs as we boated up and down the small creeks), and I also worked for a florist -- almost switched to horticulture. An important experience was an undergraduate research project -- I worked on the trail following pheromone in ants -- how they can make a trail to my peanut butter jar in the dorm.

Q: How did you get your first job?
Berry: I was at the right place at the right time and was lucky, which might mean that I knocked on doors at state agencies in Richmond, VA; Annapolis, MD; and Dover, DE -- and finally found a door (supervisor) who appreciated my general biology skills. I had some biology backed up with lots of chemistry and some geology which was needed for a job in the emerging field of water pollution biology in the early 1960s.

Q: What's the most rewarding thing about being a Biologist?
Berry: There are some fun and interesting times out there sampling but I have to say there are more harsh times when you are cold, wet, hungry, and sometimes in danger from the elements. There are fewer rewards in the laboratory where you have to meticulously measure and measure again -- although some animal dissection and the beautiful stains in the histology lab can really be interesting. The overall reward is the feeling that you are participating in a small way in Creation Care -- excuse the religious term.  

Q: Is there an example you can provide that shows how something you've worked on has positively impacted the world?
Berry: I studied an experimental mixture of a herbicide and found it to be safe to use in a lake, and the mixture is still recommended today, 30 years later (and I can look users in the eye and honestly tell them that the safety margins are great); and I found the relationships between a rare fish and its habitat that helped many federal and state agencies advise the public on how to develop the land responsibly while conserving the species.

Q: Do you spend a fair amount of time traveling?
Berry: Early in my career I stayed at overnight sampling trips about once a month plus once or twice a year trips to professional meetings. Later in my career, most travel is for meetings about 4 times per year.

Q: Do you have a mentor? Or did you in your college years?
Berry: Neither of my three advisors took me aside and provided any special advice or direction, but they were all very accomplished and conducted themselves in ways that I wanted to copy, or held a high bar of accomplishment that they expected me to meet. I'm still trying to please them in a way because I rarely met their bar (I got a lot of "C" grades). Remember, success is 90% perspiration and 10% inspiration.

Q: Do you find yourself working more in a team situation, or more alone?
Berry: I have always been part of a team, first as one of the technicians or first-in-the-field investigators, then as a research team under a major professor, and now as the leader of a research team with full-time associates and graduate research assistants.

Q: Do you find you are able to balance work with social/family life while working in your current job?
Berry: Yes. Try to work smart and take time to smell the roses. I would also advise gossiping with colleagues -- it builds bridges and helps with recreation and work. Don't walk by a good gossip session feeling that you are too busy to waste time with people.

Q: If you had to do it all over again, would you still become a Biologist?
Berry: Yes, but I would build my writing skills earlier in my career so that I could be more effective at communication with the general public about conservation.

Q: Did you think that school prepared you for the way the work gets done in the real world?
Berry: Who knows? I can't put my finger on one course that provided facts that I use today. I guess all of those courses were tiny bricks building my career. Some bricks were just tests about tenacity (hoops to jump through), some were tests about smarts (can you master difficult courses), and some taught you how to think. Thomas Jefferson said "An educated person is one who knows how to think and where to find the information." Use the library (or google it). The on-the-job knowledge building blocks are larger and more important than those from school, but they both make a good wall.

Q: Where do you see jobs for Biologists in the future? What should students be doing to prepare themselves to take on those roles?
Berry: There will be a huge number of biology jobs in conservation because the baby boomers like me who started in the first environmental conservation wave in the 1960s are retiring, perhaps 20 -- 35% of the work force in many federal and state agencies. We are in the Era of Biology, a time when society needs the biological sciences because humanity's well-being depends on biological knowledge in the medical (health, biosecurity), agricultural (feed the hungry world) and environmental (sustainable earth) sciences.

Q: What other advice do you have for precollege students?
Berry: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. When you go to college -- show up! Ninety percent of life is showing up. Show up in class (prepared if possible) and pick a couple of clubs/interests and be a contributor. We all can't be superstars in class or on the team -- recognize your strengths and look at your glass has half full, not half empty. Read about current events so that you will be more informed about the world around you, especially the natural world on which you and your fellow human depend. Try to find both sides of a story because listening only to those you agree with will lessen your chances if finding the truth and probably make you less civil during your next discussion. Different ideas create a tension that is good for finding the best answers. Write down your personal mission statement for periods of 1 week, 1 year, and 5 years, and do things to accomplish your mission.


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