Beth Whitmore

Great Lakes Zooplankton Taxonomist
Research Institution: Cornell University
Home state: New York
What got you interested in science and how did you end up as a Great Lakes scientist?

I was interested in Ecology early on. I grew up in the Finger Lakes region of New York State and spent a lot of time in exploring nature both on land and in the water. I went to school at SUNY Oswego on the shore of Lake Ontario and we did extensive zoological and limnological research on that lake. When Cornell offered the chance to do not only more work on Lake Ontario but the other Great Lakes I jumped at the opportunity.

Describe your research related to the Great Lakes.

I work on the EPA Great Lakes National Program Office’s twice yearly water quality sampling of all five Great Lakes. Along with other researchers from Cornell, Buffalo State, and University of Wisconsin Duluth I sample the Great Lakes for plankton and water quality. I concentrate on water fleas (cladocerans) and monitor our samples for new exotic species. Since 2014, our Lab has found four new non-native species in Western Lake Erie (including the water flea I reported last year, Diaphanosoma fluviatile). This effort to monitor non-natives gives regulatory agencies an evaluation of the effectiveness of ballast water controls.

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?

While working on lakes in Maine I had many opportunities to work with the public and talk about water quality and habitat improvement projects. I spent a lot of time talking to people in Acadia National Park while I collaborated with the National Parks Service there. Whenever I went out to sample I usually ended up talking to the locals about the research I was doing in the park. I loved that the people were so invested in the preservation and protection of their local lakes. Many people had questions about what they can do to help improve the water quality of their local lakes and ponds.

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

I think it is important for scientists to share their research with educators because the more our educators know about what scientists are doing to help monitor and improve Great Lakes water quality the better positioned they can be to share that information with their students and our communities. As their students become informed so do their families and the community as a whole.

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

One of the most critical skills for students interested in science is a willingness to learn, question, and explore. Being inquisitive is an important skill to have. So much in science is about observing things that happen and questioning why they happen. Also never be afraid to fail, you can learn just as much if not more from an experiment if you fail to get the results you expected than if you succeed.

Contact Beth Whitmore: [email protected]