BUGGED by Nash Turley
Have you ever watched little kids fascinated by insects so small and seemingly insignificant you didn’t even notice they were there? Somewhere along the path of growing up -- usually before, or sometime right after, slicing up frogs in high school biology class -- a lot of people loose that curiosity for the natural world. But not Nash Turley! This NC State doctoral student turned his interest in biology into graduate research that has sent him to places around the globe!
Turley grew up in the Pacific Northwest, enjoying the mountains, rivers and ocean and has always been excited about animals and nature. He says that his mother encouraged him to be a scientist: “I guess it just was what made the most sense, I never had the moment like ‘AHA! I should do biology’, it just was always something I was in to.”
Eventually, Turley earned his B.S. in Biology at the University of Washington in Seattle. However, while still a student at UW, he was awarded a National Science Foundation (NSF) Research for Undergrads position to work on the Corridor Project at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. He spent two summers in conducting research in the field on the role of habitat connectivity on plant-herbivore interactions.
Turley’s globe trotting in the name of undergraduate research continued. Immediately after leaving the Corridor Project, he worked as a field assistant for eight months in the Mariana Islands, an isolated archipelago in the Pacific. Guam is the largest of these islands. The Mariana project included all things that most excited Turley -- conservation, ecology, identifying plants, watching birds, experimental design, and ‘wandering around in the jungle.’
Before coming back to the United States, Turley got a chance to go to Borneo. “I went to Mt. Kinabalu National Park so I could do some serious birding and climb Mt. Kinabalu, I definitely rocked both of those!”
In a serendipitous turn of events, one of the principal investigators on the Savannah River Corridor Project was Dr. Nick Haddad from NC State’s Department of Zoology (now the Department of Biology). Haddad knew that Turley was excited about the work that Dr. Marc Johnson was doing with plant biology. Haddad encouraged Turley to contact Johnson -- who was in the process of accepting a position at NC State at the time. Johnson is now Turley’s graduate advisor in the Department of Plant Biology!
Doing what you love feeds the soul, but funding boosts your career! In April of this year, Turley learned that NSF awarded him a three-year Pre-Doctoral Fellowship -- a prestigious award that includes an annual stipend, tuition support, and a one-time international travel allowance!
Professionally, Turley is a member of the Ecological Society of America and the Society for Conservative Biology. His local activities include the Triangle Chapter of Conservation Biology, as well as the Duke Natural History Club, “. . . where we wander around in the woods trying to identify everything that we can, it’s great fun.” He also volunteers with the Entomology Graduate Student Association -- showing kids insects and trying to get them as excited about nature as he is!
One of his more recent endeavors was taking an Organization for Tropical Studies course on plant-animal interactions in Costa Rica. The goals of the courses were to design and conduct research projects. According to Turley, the experience “. . . was a totally blast, 14 days of hanging out in the rainforest with top notch enthusiastic faculty and grad students from north, central and south America. The wildlife there is stunning, it is impossibly not to have amazing wildlife encounters just about every day.”
Turley feels that these experiences are “. . . key for inspiration, experience, and connections.” He has met some great ecologists on his journeys, and he also feels “. . . highly motivated to do at least part of my research in the tropics in my career. There are so many unanswered questions, and massive amounts of natural history to discover. It’s like a sensory overload for a biologist, which makes it intimidating, but also exhilarating at the same time.”
For Turley, the most exciting part of his graduate studies at NC State is studying evolutionary ecology and trying “. . . to figure out what we don’t know yet in evolutionary ecology!” He also admits that “. . . observing plants and animals is my favorite thing to do, and that is what I get to do! I think most ecologists are just kids who don’t want to grow up and get a ‘real job’.”
Is there any down side to his graduate experience? Turley names only two things. He says it’s a ‘downer’ when the undergraduate students taking his classes are not interested in nature or ecology. “It just bums me out to have a room full of kids that are totally bored by all the things that have inspired me to become an ecologist and motivate me to [pursue] a career in science.”
When Turley isn’t in the lab -- or the jungle! -- he says that he loves to go bird watching: “I really love birds!”. He’s also trying to identify all the trees he can find, as well as observing butterflies, caterpillars, beetles, and reptiles. “Anything alive really, if there are animals and plants around I am entertained.”
If there are no birds or animals around, Turley’s favorite activity is music. He enjoys listening to music, but he’s also a musician. He used to play in several bands when he lived in Seattle, and he hopes to start his band, Horse Grinder, in Raleigh -- if he can find a drummer for his ‘low-fi hardcore grunge band!”
After all his adventures and experiences, Turley encourages his fellow graduate students to love nature -- or whatever it is that you are studying. He also thinks that reading loads of papers both old and new in one’s field is important, as well as asking “. . . for lots of help from faculty and other graduate students.”
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