Ben Alsip

Environmental Protection Specialist
Home state: Illinois
Research Institution: US EPA, Great Lakes National Program Office
What got you interested in science and how did you end up as a Great Lakes scientist?

I first worked on the Great Lakes in 2014 as a grad student cooperative researcher in the Great Lakes Sediment Surveillance Program when I was lucky to do field sampling aboard the US EPA R/V Lake Guardian. As I was finishing my MS at the University of Illinois at Chicago, I was brought into the EPA’s Great Lakes National Program Office (GLNPO) as an intern and was later hired.

Describe your research related to the Great Lakes.

Among the larger duties of my position, I’m also a Chief Scientist and Shift Supervisor on GLNPO long-term water quality surveys aboard the R/V Lake Guardian. Throughout this summer, I have an upcoming project gaining experience using Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs or gliders) to study the Great Lakes.

Before joining GLNPO, my research gave me truly life-changing opportunities. I had the incredibly good fortune to spend ten weeks in Antarctica studying how perennially ice-covered lakes in the Dry Valleys are responding to climate change. Closer to home, I field-tested a novel method for estimating ecosystem-scale gross primary productivity in a tallgrass prairie at Fermilab (Batavia, IL) for my master’s thesis.

Describe an experience you have had working with educators or the community. What was something that surprised you or that you especially enjoyed about the experience?

These aren’t educators or the community, but my time as a Teaching Assistant in Earth and Environmental Science was an incredible experience. I taught intro courses to first and second year college students with little or no scientific background. Winning over a couple each term to science in general or even to Earth and Environmental Science in particular was always a highlight of my time as a grad student.

Why do you think it is important for scientists to share their research with educators?

None of our research happens in a vacuum. Research needs to be communicated to have an impact, and educators are well-positioned to inform the public through their students. In the bigger picture, this information pipeline lays the foundations for future research and creates future researchers.

What do you think are the most critical skills for students interested in a career in science?

Oftentimes, the ability to know when to step back from a problem to gain broader perspective is the difference between moving forward and working a rut down even further.

More specifically, I recommend that students pursuing any science career get comfortable with coding and statistical analysis. Datasets are only getting larger, and courses teaching these skills will probably become required soon in degree programs where they aren’t already.

Contact Ben Alsip: [email protected]