Dr. Maureen (Mo) Donnelly is a Professor of Biology and Associate Dean for Graduate Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences at Florida International University (FIU). She is also a Research Associate in the Department of Herpetology at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Maureen received her PhD in Biology from the University of Miami and completed postdoctoral research at the American Museum of Natural History and at the University of Miami. She worked as an Adjunct Assistant Professor and Project Director at the University of Miami before joining the faculty at Florida International University. Maureen is with us today to tell us all about her journey through life and science.
People Behind the Science Podcast Show Notes
Life Outside of Science
Mardi Gras is Mo’s favorite holiday, and she likes to spend her free time preparing for riding in the each Mardi Gras parade. She was able to ride on a float in the parade in New Orleans, and it was an incredible experience.
The Scientific Side
Mo studies amphibians like frogs and toads. These organisms are all currently at risk for extinction, and her lab is dedicated to trying to understand how to prevent losses of species in the future.
A Dose of Motivation
If you look at life like it’s an adventure, then it’s never boring.
What Got You Hooked on Science?
When Mo left high school, she wanted to study Chinese philosophy and religion, with the goal of translating a Chinese philosophy book. With concerns about being able to support herself, she decided instead to be a dental hygienist. During an anatomy and physiology course at a junior college, Mo asked the professor a question and the response was that we didn’t know. This sparked a realization that there were still many unanswered questions in science. This and a fantastic field course set her on the path to a career in biology.
The Low Points: Failures and Challenges
In graduate school, Mo shared an exciting idea for a dissertation project with her advisor before traveling for field work. To Mo’s horror, one of her committee members heard about her idea from her advisor and wrote her idea into a grant while she was away. This person took all of her dissertation ideas and experiments, and she was very close to quitting and leaving academia.
A Shining Success!
Mo was delighted with her recent election as the President Elect of the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists. It was meaningful to be elected by her peers, and she has the honor of being the president of her favorite society in the year that the society turns 100!
The Emperor of All Maladies: A biography of cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee
Most Treasured Travel
One of Mo’s favorite travel experiences was going to Papua New Guinea with her husband and her mentor Jay Savage to visit her youngest academic brother. He was conducting field research in the remote mountains there, and this was the wildest area she has ever visited.
Quirky Traditions and Funny Memories
Mo has made it a tradition in her lab to include pre or post meeting excusions with the lab group. They took it to an extreme for a meeting in Manaus, Brazil in 2003. She and her students attended the meeting and a group of them took an exhilerating tour of northern Brazil!
Advice For Us All
No matter what your profession, it is important for all of us as human beings to have meaningful work. Bringing your best to your work is a way to make it meaningful. It helps to have passion for what you do because the passion will carry you through all the rough patches of your career.
Dr. Donnelly joined the FIU faculty in August, 1994, and her first laboratory was located on the Biscayne Bay Campus of FIU. She received Tenure and Promotion to Associate Professor in 1999, and moved to the University Park (MMC) campus in the Spring of 2002 to make way for the growing Marine Biology program at FIU. She was promoted to Professor in 2006. Her new laboratory has supported several students conducting research with amphibians and reptiles in south Florida and a variety of tropical locations. To date, she has mentored 7 PhD students and 16 Master’s students. She has published over 100 peer-reviewed papers and has co-edited two contributed books. She co-authored a field guide to the amphibians and reptiles of the La Selva Biological Research Station with her long-time collaborator Craig Guyer in 2005. Her research has focused on the ecology and evolution of the Strawberry Poison Frog, the amphibians and reptiles of Pantepui, and the ecology of defense in the poison frog Oophaga pumilio, and a variety of studies that deal with aspects of amphibian conservation. Mo became an Associate Dean of Graduate Studies for the largest College at FIU in the Fall of 2008. She can be reached at Maureen.firstname.lastname@example.org.