Dr. Christopher Filstrup

Applied Limnologist
Home state: Minnesota
Research Institution: Natural Resources Research Institute, University of Minnesota Duluth
Primary Research Topic(s): Limnology / Aquatic Ecology
What got you interested in science and how did you end up as a Great Lakes scientist?

From a young age, I was always curious about nature and the diversity of organisms that lived in different environments.  As a kid growing up in southwestern Michigan, I spent most of my free time boating and fishing on the St. Joseph River and Lake Michigan.  It wasn’t until I took an undergraduate limnology course at University of Texas Austin that I learned that you could make a living by studying lakes and rivers.  I was hooked!  Since I took that course, it was a long journey (almost two decades) back to the Great Lakes region before I could officially consider myself a Great Lakes scientist.

Describe your research related to the Great Lakes.

My research focuses on how human activities in watersheds and climate jointly affect aquatic ecosystem health, and how we can manage these vital natural resources to ensure that they are there for future generations to enjoy.  I am especially interested in how phytoplankton (algae) communities respond to these multiple stressors, which can cause extreme events like toxic cyanobacteria blooms.  While cyanobacteria blooms are common in some of the Great Lakes, like Lake Erie, they are starting to appear in other lakes, like Lake Superior, where they didn’t occur previously.  We are trying to figure out why.

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?

The most critical experiences I had that helped me better work with community members and diverse stakeholders were when I worked in a predominantly agriculture state, where conversations about farming and water quality could be challenging.  I worked on numerous projects where the goal was to help identify water quality problems within individual watersheds and work with community members to develop a plan for improving water quality in those lakes.  There were several times where communities already had decided what should be done to their lakes, but our data showed that these management approaches would not improve water quality.  I think that my surprise was that a community that was skeptical of alternate approaches to management could suddenly embrace them when they were shown the data and it was explained in a simple, straightforward manner.  I remember being grumpy at times driving to these meetings, but I always left feeling inspired and happy that I am a scientist who studies lakes.

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

I think that it is important to work with educators because knowledge needs to be shared with future generations of scientists to help solve future challenges that will be facing society, and educators are that critical link that makes this happen.  Science builds on science.  The science being done today is building on the foundation of science that was done by previous generations and will hopefully help inform the science done by future generations.  Because of this, the scientists being trained now will know far more than I will ever know (and they will likely prove that my work is wrong!).  Today’s educators, at all levels, will inspire these future generations of scientists and ensure that they have a solid foundation of knowledge for solving those future challenges.

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

Most importantly, I think that students need to be curious and question why things occur the way that they do.  This goes beyond reading something in a book or simply being told the reasons, but really challenging the why and how.  Closely behind this personal characteristic, I think that students should develop their statistical and scientific communication skill sets.  Statistical knowledge is required to develop testable hypotheses, which are the foundation of the scientific method.  Being able to talk about your research to a wide variety of people, from other scientists to politicians to community members (and your family), helps to ensure that your research gets used to help society and doesn’t sit in a dusty journal issue sitting on the shelf.  Both of these skill sets also make you a great collaborator, which is key to success in the sciences.

Contact Dr. Christopher Filstrup: [email protected]