Lara Ferry

Year graduated from MLML: 1994

Lab at MLML: Ichthyology

Undergraduate Education: Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

Ph.D.: UC Irvine 1998

Current occupation: Visiting Associate Professor at Arizona State University, formerly Research Faculty at MLML (2003-2010)

Some questions for Lara:

Q: Why did you decide to pursue marine science/come to Moss Landing?

A: It was recommended to me by a professor at my undergraduate institution, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. I was interested in Marine Science (which was my major), but did not feel prepared enough to tackle a “real” job and I felt I needed some more education/experience to figure out what I did best. I thought an Master’s would give the best opportunities in that regard (I also checked out several Ph.D. programs but knew I was not ready for that yet), and my prof recommended MLML for that purpose.

Q: What did you do your thesis on? (the short version)

A: Aspects of the life history of the two-lined eelpout, Bothrocara brunneum (Family Zoarcidae). I did age and growth, life history modeling, and diet analysis.

Q: What did you go on to after graduation?

A: After my thesis work figuring out what fish ate, I was really curious about HOW they ate. At a conference, I saw a talk by a grad student about her work on how flatfish capture prey – the actual mechanics of prey capture. I was already in the process of applying to Ph.D. programs at that point, as I knew I wanted to do research as a career. I was checking into programs that would allow me to look at morphological variation over biogeographic distributions. When I saw this talk, I knew this was more like what I wanted to do: functional morphology as opposed to just morphology. I applied to the program, and the rest was history. I received my Ph.D. from UC Irvine under George Lauder in 1998, and went on to a post doc at UC Davis with Peter Wainwright. I feel incredibly lucky to have worked with the giants in my field.

Q: What do you do now (if different from above?), and what are the highlights/challenges of your work?

A: Miraculously, I do exactly what I set out to do: I am a Functional Morphologist with leanings towards Ecophysiology, although I redefine myself continuously in terms of what those titles actually encompass. The grad student I saw giving a talk turned out to be a labmate of mine once I got to UC Irvine, and we still are very active collaborators even today. It is actually a little surprising that I do the job I do, as I was quite bad at physics in college. So, I have had to make up for that, and still do to some extent. The most rewarding part is figuring out exactly how something works. It is like a great mystery, and when you solve it, you feel triumphant. It is amazing to me that there are still so many mysteries left in this regard. New tools in science allow us to keep digging deeper; uncovering new information and providing for new hypotheses to be tested.

Q: What’s the most important thing that you took away from MLML? How did you time at MLML prepare you/influence you for what you do now?

The answers to both of these questions is TENACITY! And, thanks to Greg Cailliet and Jim Harvey (my former MLML professors and current colleagues), I knew loads about fish, and could hold my own in stats and experimental design. These helped me a lot in my PhD program.

Q: What would you do if you could do anything differently?

A: I feel like I should have paid attention more during my undergrad! I had to re-learn a lot in grad school.

Q: What advice do you have for someone who wants to go into marine science, graduate school, and/or your field of work?

A: Assuming you want to go into academic research, the single most important thing you can do, once you are in college, is get research experience. You probably wont get paid, and therefore you have to be willing to volunteer. But find someone, anyone, who does work remotely interesting to you so that you can gain experience working in his or her laboratory or in the field. That experience can make all the difference on your grad school applications.

Find out more!

Visit Lara’s lab homepage:

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