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Biology Overview 

Dennis DeVries

Auburn University
Auburn, AL


B.S., Biological Sciences (minor in Mathematical Sciences), Purdue University
M.S., Zoology, The Ohio State University
Ph.D., Zoology, The Ohio State University
Dennis DeVries conducts research in which he asks both applied and basic questions, at the interface between management and basic ecology.  He uses this process in the mentoring of graduate and undergraduate students, as well as in providing service to the university and broader community.
"Enjoy the work that you do. As you work through your undergraduate years, sample areas of interest to you to decide what you like to do. Get as much research experience as you can (if that is the direction you choose) in a variety of areas. Read, study hard, but balance it with fun from time to time."

What fields of biology do you work in?
DeVries: Aquatic Ecology/Fish Ecology.

Q: When did you know you wanted to become a Biologist?
DeVries: My sophomore year as an undergraduate when I took "Introductory Ecology".

Q: What was your college experience like?
DeVries: The first few years were ok, with some tough classes that I had to make it through. After "Introductory Ecology" in my sophomore year, I started working in a Professor's lab on a study of the ecology of pond snails. After that, I decided on the direction that I wanted my education to take, and because I was entering my third year, my courses were more focused in my area of interest, so the remainder of my undergraduate years were great.

Q: Did you incorporate work experiences while you were an undergrad?
DeVries: Yes, I was extremely fortunate to be able to work in a Professor's lab for four years (my B.S. degree took me 5 years, as I had to work to pay for my tuition along the way). This work experience provided me with an excellent introduction to what research actually is, and allowed me to be directly involved in all aspects of the research effort, from data collection in the field, to sample processing in the lab, to data entry and analysis, and paper preparation. This experience led to two publications from my undergraduate years, and gave me the experience and background to be competitive as I started to look for graduate programs.

Q: How did you get your first job?
DeVries: I was very lucky -- I applied for numerous positions as I was finishing my Ph.D. degree at Ohio State, was able to get two interviews, and was offered my current position at Auburn University based on one of those interviews.

Q: What's the most rewarding thing about being a Biologist?
DeVries: I love conducting research to answer questions, some of which help people in a variety of ways, some of which are the pursuit of knowledge for knowledge sake. The work I conduct deals with diverse areas such as fisheries management to conservation of our natural resources, so I get to be involved in a wide variety of activities. Seeing a research effort through from the idea phase, to obtaining the necessary funding, to conducting the research, analyzing data, writing the paper, and eventually publishing it is incredibly satisfying.  

Q: Is there an example you can provide that shows how something you've worked on has positively impacted the world?
DeVries: In some of our work with a prey fish species (gizzard shad), we have shown how their use as supplemental prey for some sport fishes may actually lead to competition and negative effects when young gizzard shad and young sport fishes feed on the same small-sized prey. This has helped lead to better decision making when it comes to managing fisheries resources in these sorts of systems.

Q: Do you spend a fair amount of time traveling?
DeVries: Not really. I don't get into the field as much as I would like, but I do usually travel to 3 or 4 scientific meetings each year.

Q: Do you have a mentor? Or did you in your college years?
DeVries: As an undergraduate, I had a great advisor who included me in his research lab, providing me with my first introduction into scientific research, and providing me with excellent background to allow me to get into a great graduate program. As a graduate student, I had an outstanding advisor who I am proud to say I still interact with as a friend, a mentor, and a colleague.

Q: Do you find yourself working more in a team situation, or more alone?
DeVries: Definitely in a team situation. I work closely with another faculty member and we collaborate on most of our research projects. I also collaborate from time to time with other faculty, and include all of our graduate students and undergraduate students in our discussions as team members.

Q: Do you find you are able to balance work with social/family life while working in your current job?
DeVries: Yes. It is not always easy, but I am proud of the fact that I have been able to simultaneously be successful in my career and be closely involved with my family. I had two children while I was still in graduate school and a third as I started my position at Auburn, and have always found a way to attend all of their school activities, programs, sporting events, etc. To me it has always been a matter of balance, and I feel that I have been able to find that balance between work and home.

Q: If you had to do it all over again, would you still become a Biologist?
DeVries: Yes. I enjoy what I do and like the opportunities, rewards, and flexibility that an academic research/teaching position has offered me.

Q: Did you think that school prepared you for the way the work gets done in the real world?
DeVries: Yes. My undergraduate education provided me with the general classroom "stuff" that one needs, as well as great hands-on research experiences. My graduate education had a combination of a great advisor and a solid graduate program that set me up to know what was expected of me in a real world job.

Q: Where do you see jobs for Biologists in the future? What should students be doing to prepare themselves to take on those roles?
DeVries: I think that the typical places will remain in academia, state agencies, and federal agencies, although in the aquatic ecology arena there will likely be more emphasis on non-game species, endangered species (versus sport fish species), and on human uses of natural resources.

Q: What other advice do you have for precollege students?
DeVries: Enjoy the work that you do. As you work through your undergraduate years, sample areas of interest to you to decide what you like to do. Get as much research experience as you can (if that is the direction you choose) in a variety of areas. Read, study hard, but balance it with fun from time to time.


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