Name: Daniel J Paluh
Website / Twitter Handle / Instagram:
Twitter Handle: @danpaluh
Where do you work? Florida Museum of Natural History & University of Florida
Position: PhD candidate
How did you get there? I was always interested in wildlife and biology growing up but didn’t know any career opportunities existed to work with animals outside of zoos and veterinary medicine, so I planned to attend college to study pre-health sciences in the Biology Department at John Carroll University (JCU). During my freshman orientation in 2010, I was assigned to register for fall classes with Dr. Christopher Sheil. Chris introduced himself as a biology professor on campus who studied the anatomy and evolution of turtles, and I was instantly hooked! I started working in Chris’ lab that fall and also began participating in the new “Herp Group” on campus to discuss papers with Chris, Drs. Carl Anthony, Cari Hickerson, Ralph Saporito, and their students. I quickly realized I loved research and gained experience studying turtle anatomy, salamander behavior, and poison frog ecology while at JCU. I decided to pursue an M.Sc. with Dr. Aaron Bauer at Villanova University from 2014–2016 to study the evolutionary morphology of geckos for my thesis and learn more about phylogenetics, fieldwork, and the importance of museum collections along the way. My dissertation research is currently focused on the phylogenomics, life history evolution, and morphological diversity of marsupial frogs in Dr. David Blackburn’s lab at UF.
Was there any particular hardship that you had to overcome to work in your position? I’ve been fortunate to have a smooth academic career so far with supportive mentors, family, and friends, which I recognize is often not the case. That being said, I still experience imposter syndrome towards my quantitative skills, writing ability, and future job prospects. My partner and I also had a long-distance relationship for 5 years while we were in graduate programs in different states, which made a healthy work-life balance challenging.
What advice do you give to someone interested in your profession? What advice might you have for someone from an underrepresented group who is interested in entering your field? If you are considering graduate school, I think finding a supportive mentor and a healthy working environment are the two most important things you can do. Being a graduate student can (and should) be an incredibly fun and rewarding experience. Conducting research and writing papers is hard work, but if you are passionate about your field of study, it’s time and effort well spent. If you are an undergraduate student looking for research opportunities, apply for paid internships through the NSF Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program. Consider getting a M.Sc. (through a paid M.Sc. program) before pursuing a Ph.D. to fine-tune your interests, gain research, writing, and teaching skills, and learn how graduate school works. Don’t pass up on opportunities to learn effective science communication and public engagement skills. JMIH is a great conference to network, form collaborations, and make friends.
What’s your favorite herp? I love all herps, but I mostly work on squamates and frogs. I’m currently studying the marsupial frogs (Gastrotheca) of Central and South America for my dissertation, and they have quickly become a favorite of mine due to their wacky life history and anatomy.
Why are you an HL member? I’m a member of HL so that I can attend JMIH each summer, apply for the student grants and awards, and have access to and publish in the society journals. I’m a big supporter of the organismal societies and JMIH, as I believe the most exciting questions in ecology and evolution can only be recognized by first understanding the natural history and basic biology of organisms.
Is there anything else you would like to add? We have so much to learn about reptiles and amphibians, and all contributions are important! A walk through the park can lead to natural history observations that spark major research questions. The field can only improve with more researchers and diverse perspectives.
Is there a good caption for your attached photograph? Meeting my first marsupial frog (Gastrotheca riobambae) at Centro Jambatu de Investigación y Conservación de Anfibios in Quito, Ecuador.