Ten Years

Ten years ago pretty much to the day, I got the key and unlocked C328 Life Sciences Building at the University of Georgia. Without going into all the gory detail of innumerable committees, proposals attempted, and the minutiae of academic life, I am very glad to look back on all the lab has been and what it has become. The Wares Lab has graduated 5 Ph.D. students to date: Tina Bell was first to join and did a very nice dissertation on the evolutionary ecology and phylogeography of the isopod Idotea balthica. Scott Small was second and also did some extraordinary work focused on freshwater mussel distribution, ecology, and population genetics. In the next two years we gained Meredith Meyers (evolution and ecology of Agariciid corals), John Robinson (who has done some excellent work in computational population genetics, not only his Daphnia work with me but also fantastic ABC work with Greg Moyers and Mike Hickerson), and Christina Zakas (studying the evolution of poecilogony in the polychaete Streblospio). So right there that is four phyla in the lab. Tina is now an assistant professor at Brevard College; Scott a postdoc at Case Western; Meredith is working in La Jolla, CA. Christina Zakas is a postdoc with Matt Rockman, where she has become a "real" genomicist (and will be applying for a faculty job at your school soon, you should hire her), and John Robinson is now with South Carolina DNR. 

Right now we are working hard to add 2 Ph.D.s to this list - Katie Bockrath and Christine Ewers-Saucedo joined the lab in 2010, working on freshwater mussels and barnacles respectively (so, no new phyla there), and should be finishing up this year. Mary Browning is our first M.S. student, examining the distributional ecology of cells in mouse thymus (+1 phylum, though a few fish papers from the lab as well). 

Postdocs? We've had them of course, Edgardo Diaz-Ferguson (with USFW in south Georgia now), Christina Zakas (after her Ph.D., helped me with some next-gen sequencing work in barnacles),
Ron Eytan (working on microbial diversity in Caribbean corals, now faculty at Texas A&M Galveston), Safra Altman (working on biogeography in the North Atlantic), and Paula Pappalardo (current postdoc, doing wonderful work, some of it just published in Ecography!). Dusty Kemp has been a postdoc working with me for years, but now he is on my payroll so I should count him as well - a lot of tremendous effort on the ecology and disease dynamics of corals to be coming from Dusty in the next year.

As much as anything though I appreciate the undergraduates and post-bac workers the lab has had. Sabrina Pankey, who went on to get her Ph.D. with Todd Oakley at UCSB, was absolutely invaluable as the lab got its feet under it, and she got some nice papers out of her work as well (
echinoderms so now 6 phyla). Nicole Umberger was a very hard worker, now a doctoral student at Emory. And Kelly Laughlin also served as technician for about a year, got a first-author paper working on barnacle diversity, and went on to work with Eric Sanford at Bodega Marine Lab.

Current undergrads include Neva Hope, Danielle Heubel, and Leah Besch - all valued members of the lab. But over the years the undergrads have set a high bar! John Binford  was an extraordinary, hilarious, talented Honors student - my first Honors thesis, and probably the only one I'll have published that has martini glasses marking the collection locations for Notochthamalus along the Chilean coast. He is now an MD from Yale. Clare Scott did the lab's first work on fish (
yellowfin shiners) and went on to graduate school, with a Ph.D. in entomology from Florida. Collin Closek worked in the lab for about a year and just got his Ph.D. from Penn State, working with Monica Medina. Madeline Cozad worked in the Peace Corps after being an REU student and LTER tech. Becky Miller, an REU student who worked on fungal phylogeny. Jesyka Melendez is a Ph.D. student at Berkeley, and was instrumental in my 2010 Evolution paper as it developed. Very fast learner. Laura Paynter and Mary Pierce Zirkle, Dhara Patel, Kerem Kiliç, Bekah Lee, Hayley Glassic, all finished recently or will soon. Melissa Merrill was our first art school undergrad employed in the lab, she did some nice barnacle illustration work for Christine and I. 

So that is a lot of scientists that have somehow passed through my lab in 10 years. I have been fortunate to collaborate with a large number of friends and colleagues at the University of Georgia (mostly in the Odum School of Ecology, which I have just recently joined as faculty in addition to being in the Department of Genetics) and elsewhere, and in particular I've been lucky to gain colleagues up and down the coast of Chile: Pilar Haye, Bernie Broitman, Sergio Navarrete, Cris Gallardo, Elie Poulin, Sylvain Faugeron, and more. Bud Freeman (Ecology,
GMNH) is a standing member of our lab group and helps flesh out the fish and arthropod (spiders!) work in the lab. Jeb Byers and Jamie Pringle and I have had 2 grants together, here's to more...

A few NSF grants, LTER funding, National Geographic funding, BSF, and internal funds have taken us a long way, from making the bold move to use 12S primers to amplify gut contents in isopods to having next-generation sequence and transcriptome data filling many hard drives and choking our 12-core 96GB RAM computer on a regular basis (of course, we also sometimes get in trouble overabusing the research cluster at UGA).

But progress isn't just measured in terabytes and publications. I'm happier now with my lab than ever; part of that may be comfort that comes with tenure and accomplishment, but much of it has to do with the fantastic attitude of mixing an intense appreciation for science, open communication, and good times with the people in the lab now. We have caught horseshoe crabs together, waded through rivers together, stared at computer screens endlessly, gone on writing retreat, traveled together, and yes had a few beers. And pisco sours. More than a few maybe. 

I write this in appreciation for having a ridiculously fortunate job: I am paid handsomely to think about esoteric topics, to discuss these things and make advances with my students, to teach the bright and enthusiastic undergraduates at the University of Georgia, to travel, and be a part of the wonderful city of Athens, Georgia. I work here with members of the Southern Off-Road Bicyclists Association to build trails and develop the support network for mountain biking, partly for selfish reasons but mostly because I love it when my kid – now 8 – or another is whooping with joy on a trail I've built.


Ten years. I better get back to writing this NSF preproposal to set the stage for the next 10 years. I hope I didn't leave too many people out, there are of course countless folks involved, colleagues, staff, students, IT support, bioinformaticians, editors. Thanks all and happy new year.