Live Event: November 17, 2016 at 1:00pm Eastern
Dr. Eric Benbow is an Aquatic Ecologist/Entomologist/Microbial Ecologist at Michigan State University where he studies microbiomes and how they change after a person dies. He spends his time between teaching, research and field work. We asked him a few questions about himself and his STEM career to get to know him and his work a bit better before his live event.
Learn More About Eric
What are your favorite hobbies or activities you do for fun?
Camping, exploring the outdoors, and travel.
Do you play any sports or do any athletic activities?
I work out 5 days a week in the gym. I enjoy swimming.
What is your favorite non-science book, magazine, or blog?
Lee Child’s Reacher novels.
What music do you listen to?
One Call Away by Charlie Puth – this is my daughters’ favorite song right now, and I play it for them. The other is probably Wild Child by Kenny Chesney.
Who do you look up to and admire?
Highest degree attained
Future degree(s) planning on pursuing
I have thought about another PhD in Archeology – probably won’t happen.
University of Dayton for BS and PhD
Favorite classes/coursework in elementary school, middle school, high school, college
Nothing in elementary school; social studies in middle school; biology and psychology in high school and college.
What educational accomplishments are you most proud of?
Earning a PhD.
What kinds of challenges did you overcome during your education?
I was the first in my family to go to a four-year college. I had no guidance and we did not have a lot of money and so I had to work two jobs while in high school and college to pay for my own car/apartment/living expenses.
Michigan State University
Aquatic Ecologist/Entomologist/Microbial Ecologist
Years in this organization/position
What is your role in the organization?
Teaching and research.
Describe your work environment
I work on a college campus. Most of my work is done in my office, lab, or outside in the field.
What tools and/or techniques do you use in your job?
Computers, microscopes, nets, biosafety hood, PCR machines, cameras.
Describe a typical day in your job
I usually do a lot of reading and writing, whether it is email, papers, books. I also travel a lot and give presentations and meet with a lot of different people.
Describe an atypical day in your job
I travel to somewhere cool to do field work – like Alaska, Hawaii, Thailand, or Africa.
How is the work you do important to society?
Insects and microbes are vital to human well-being, whether it is pollinating food crops, breaking down organic matter or causing disease, among other impacts.
What accomplishments are you most proud of in your current role?
I just edited two books that took a lot of time and a lot of energy. I actively mentor several graduate students, and I am incredibly proud of those students that have graduated and gone on to bigger and better things!
What projects or goals are you currently pursuing?
We are understanding the postmortem microbiome – the microbes and how they change after a person dies. We are also exploring new aspects of microbiomes and infectious diseases.
What are the biggest challenges you face in your work?
Committee meetings and closed-minded scientists.
What is the most exciting, most amazing, or scariest thing that has happened to you during your work?
While visiting potential collaborators in Malawi I was taken on a short safari – a bull elephant charged our vehicle. It was one of the most surreal times of my life.
Previous employers and positions that have lead to your current role
I was a postdoctoral researcher and fixed-term assistant professor at MSU from 2001-2008; I was then an assistant professor at the University of Dayton from 2008-2013. I then came back to MSU in 2014.
Other positions not necessarily related to your current career
I have worked fast food, been a janitor, was a waiter for a nursing home, several restaurants and also bartended. I was a high school teacher for one semester as well.
Best job you’ve ever had and why
My current job, because I get to do research that I want to do (it’s a passion) as pretty much my own boss. I also get to mentor and teach students at various levels. I also get to travel and meet new people and see new places. It is always challenging and always very rewarding.
Worst job you’ve ever had and why
I worked in a factory for a summer, putting together books and other items for shipping. It was boring and hot, and that is it.
What were you like as a kid?
I was very introverted but loved to be outside in creeks and swimming.
What were your favorite books/shows/movies when you were a kid?
I didn’t read much, but I really liked Grease, Star Wars and Footloose the movies.
What did you think you were going to be when you grew up at age 12? At age 15? At age 18?
At 12: I don’t remember or a football player
At 15: A psychologist or a doctor
At 18: A physiological-psychologist
When did you know you wanted to pursue your current career, and what drove you towards it?
I knew it when I found out that I had to take an eight-hour exam to get into medical school. It was my junior year. That same year, I took two courses and then a third where the course had labs where we traveled to forests, wetlands, lakes, islands, and mountains. I saw that the professor got paid to take students to these places and do something that was a passion. I was sold on graduate school and to become a professor.
Who inspired you on this path?
Dr. Ron Delanglade – the professor that took me to those places.
What did you believe about this career before entering into it that proved to be different once you were in?
As a professor, I do a lot more administration and less research than I would like. You train in science only to become a manager of people, sit on committees of administration and do a lot of paperwork.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, what career(s) might you have pursued?
An archeologist. I still might do that one day. I would also like to be a professional nature photographer some day too.
What advice would you give a student interested in pursuing your career?
Start reading science early. Be prepared to learn a lot on your own, and don’t give up when it is tough and challenging. Take a lot of math, programming, chemistry and statistics. The future of biology will be in high computation approaches to everything, so the more computer programing and quantitative skills that you have the better prepared and competitive you will be in the limited number of spaces that are available.
What advice would you give students in general?
The same as above. Life is a challenge, don’t back down when things get rough or if you can’t figure it out. Learn to be strong and independent, and that you can make do with what you have, and make it better. Have strong will and perseverance and always have gratitude to those who help you and guide you.
What are some interesting places you’ve traveled?
Oh boy, I’ve been to a lot of places. All continents except South America (but have been to Central America). I worked in West Africa for over 12 years; did research in Palau for about 12 years; did my PhD research and some postdoc work in Hawaiian streams; continue to do work in Hawaii, Alaska, and Africa. I have visited Asia (China, Thailand and Vietnam) for work reasons where we are beginning new research. I spent a couple of months in Australia doing research and attending conferences. I have given presentations and visited labs in Malaysia and visited the Federated States of Micronesia a few times – for fun.