Mike Castellini ~ Polar Visionary

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Multi-Disciplinary Mentor

Graduate students have always been a big part of Dr. Michael Castellini's academic life; he was originally hired by the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) to teach core marine biology courses to grad students. For twenty years he taught a class that asked one question: How would you design an animal that can live in the ocean? It could be microscopic or enormous, the quest is the same - exploring adaptation to the marine environment from a physiological perspective. Other courses Mike has taught focus on large mammal biology and tracking technology.

Diving in slush
"Over the course of my career grad students have been a big part of my life and they continue to be."
His research labs have always included many grad students, coming from a wide variety of backgrounds, specialists in fields as diverse as ecosystem modeling and statistics, whose research interests then turned to marine mammals. He has mentored over half a dozen PhDs and now has academic grandchildren. Many of the state natural resources agencies are run by Mike's former grad students. He also works with post-docs, on a national level with the National Academy post doc fellows, and at UAF in the establishment of a cross-departmental post doc network.

Being mentored by Mike means including outreach. Many of his grad students conducted lab work at the SeaLife Center, where they would also perform "Sky Patrol" – talking to the public about the research happening behind the plate glass windows. "I emphasize translation appropriate to the audience and practice that with grad students," says Mike. "They have to be able to explain what they do in 30 seconds or less."

Mike also helped establish the Communicating Science course at UAF, which has several unique aspects. It is available to all science grad students, not limited to those in the ocean sciences, and appropriate for GK-12 fellows. The course is cross-listed through several UAF colleges, which is also unique. The course development has been in collaboration with Carol Diebel, the Director of the Museum of the North, and COSEE Alaska, which provided Native knowledge resources for the course curriculum.