“Frogging in the Tea”
  1. Name: Maureen A. Donnelly
  2. Age: 63 for another week
  3. Website / Twitter Handle / Instagram: Twitter: @mo_donnelly; Instagram: @maureen.a.donnelly
  4. Where do you work? Florida International University, Miami, FL (a minority-majority university in the State of Florida system).
  5. Position: Associate Dean of Graduate Studies for the College of Arts, Sciences and Education (since August 2008) and Professor of Biology (hired in 1994, promoted to Professor in 2006).
  6. How did you get there? I had a job offer at the College of Charleston and CoC was going to hire someone like my husband. His institution wanted to retain him, so they created a position I could apply for.  I competed for the position, was selected by the faculty, and started on the Biscayne Bay Campus near the Broward County Line teaching General Biology II in the Fall of 1994. I was a spousal hire. I earned tenure and both promotions on my own.
  7. Was there any particular hardship that you had to overcome to work in your position? I faced a variety of challenges during my career. My first dissertation project was derailed and I considered quitting grad school altogether, but found a good study system in Oophaga pumilio at the La Selva Biological Station in northeastern Costa Rica.  The thunder of my postdoctoral research work was diminished when two senior researchers published work after attending my symposium presentation about my postdoctoral data. Once of them even included one of my figures! Kevin de Queiroz gave me the best possible advice to make sure you are never “scooped”—never talk about anything that hasn’t been accepted for publication. The university also threw down some crazy hurdles:  my first promotion raise was half that of my male colleague even though I had the stronger departmental vote, they wanted to evict me from my lab to make way for the med school so I leapt to the deanery to protect my lab and ensure my students at the time that they had a safe home to work in. The thought of moving was uglier than my preconceived notions of what life in the dean’s office entailed.
  8. 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? The biggest advice I give to everyone is to “hang in there” if you really want an academic position.  You have to believe in yourself which can be a challenge.  You have to publish. Papers matter the most because that is the currency used in our business.  You have to strive for excellence in everything you do. You have to be curious to keep the research machine going, and you have to be patient as you train the next generation of scientists.  You have to be a real scholar—that means reading all the literature, even the old stuff, even the work of those you disagree with--so you can shape your logical argumentation from a strong foundation of understanding.  You have to be involved. You have to come up with solutions to problems. Some folks shy away from academic life because they see no financial gain in it but my economic path in life as a professor was very comfortable, and I wanted for nothing. Many move to administration for the monetary perks, but I jumped to administration to solve a crisis. I do not recommend administration because it is the world of ugly—nobody goes to the dean’s office to celebrate unless it is a commencement party or some other celebration. Fortunately, as an associate dean, I was able to continue mentoring my graduate students, I taught some graduate seminars, but administration is real work so my own fieldwork came to a screeching halt at the end May of 2009.  I have been lucky enough to tag along as a field assistant with my last batch of students since I gave up my own fieldwork in 2009.  I have been to Costa Rica to India to Singapore to Peru and back to Costa Rica. My students are my proudest achievements and I am grateful to my former boss who is now the Provost and our uber-boss.          For under-represented folks fascinated by amphibians and reptiles (which is nearly everyone but white males—most of whom are great herpers and great people who embrace diversity), herpetology is way more fun than anything you will ever do in medical, dental, or pharmacy school!  Way better than any business!  The scientific method has served scientists well for a very long time and it continues to be robust in guiding us towards new knowledge. For me, being a field biologist meant that work was always outside until the data crunching. The outside parts made the inside “repeat until dead” parts bearable.  I always figured out how to make the RUD elements “fun” to avoid going crazy.  Herps are the coolest study organisms going from my world view and I acknowledge how lucky I was to have a chance to make a career out of my interests.
  9. What’s your favorite herp? For all the right reasons—The Strawberry Frog Oophaga pumilio.
  10. Why are you an HL member? I wanted to be a herpetologist and part of doing that meant all three journals had to be part of my personal library. Membership in the three societies meant I was in possession of those journals. I cut my teeth as a society secretary with the Herp League (1996-2000) when Joe Mitchell was elected to serve as President-Elect. That experience prepared me when the ASIH came knocking and asked me to try and replace Bob Johnson after his untimely death in 2000. From June until December of 2000 I was secretary of two societies!
  11. Is there anything else you would like to add? Things are better than they were when I attended my first meeting in 1978 in Tempe, AZ.  Being a college student in the early 1970s was a different experience than it is today. I had just finished my first year as a MS student at CSUF and was trying to find a project in 1978. My first idea crashed because someone else was working on it, my second idea was “too big for a MS,” and I was flailing. I went to the meeting to support my colleague who was giving our paper on sleep in the Western Toad. After that meeting, during a field trip to Mexico, Jay Savage invited me to apply to his lab. I agreed I would do so if Proposition 13 passed in California. It passed resoundingly and I applied. I had to retake the GRE, I did well enough, and started in his lab in 1979 at USC. The sex-ratio in science was highly male-skewed; graduate school at USC was no different, and herpetology was no different. After my first meeting in Tempe, I was on a hiatus from meetings because of fieldwork in Costa Rica.  I started going to meetings regularly in 1985, and I was one of a handful of women (that included Meg Stewart, Linda Ford, Fran Irish, Barbara Savitsky) who kept coming to the meetings because the meetings are fun. I have always been an organismal biologist and the JMIH meetings have always celebrated the organisms. The development of the JMIH for our annual meetings was a wonderful step in our evolution as a consortium because we no longer have to reinvent the wheel every year.  From my perspective, generally speaking, “more is better” in terms of being able to obtain intellectual value from attending academic meetings. I am not a fan of separate meetings. Who can afford to attend two herp meetings a year? In spite of this periodic disruption of the force, I am very encouraged by the young members of the HL and her sister societies. They are doing great science and moving the field forward. They are socially and environmentally conscious and those attributes will make our meetings and our societies welcoming to a diversity of people going forward. I have great hope for our field--if we can all keep the planet alive!
  12. Is there a good caption for your attached photograph? “Frogging in the Tea” This photo was taken in Munnar, India while I was visiting my student Dr. Lilly Margaret Eluvathingal. Lilly’s field assistant Elango took the photo.