May 25, 2019  

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Read Hendon serves as the associate director of The University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory and director of the Center for Fisheries Research and Development. Recently, Hendon took a few moments to talk about the most rewarding aspects of being a research scientist and why he chose Southern Miss in a question-and-answer format.

Q. What is your hometown and educational background?

A. I am from Jackson, MS and attended Jackson Preparatory School before going to Southern Miss for my Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctorate degrees.

Q. How long have you worked at Southern Miss and what other positions have you held?

A. This is my 20th year, including part-time employment as a graduate research assistant for my Master’s degree from 1996-98. I have also worked with the USM/GCRL Center for Fisheries Research and Development as a technician, research associate, assistant director and director. 

Q. Why did you choose to study at USM?

A. My career interest was in marine biology, which was an emphasis area in the Biological Sciences program at USM. I actually started out at Mississippi State in banking and finance, but after two summers working at Trustmark in downtown Jackson, I decided the coat-and-tie job wasn’t for me.

Q. What is the most rewarding aspect of being a research scientist?

A. Conducting research that directly affects how we manage our coastal resources and fishery stocks. Independent scientific research is key to being able to balance long-term ecological sustainability and productive recreational and commercial fisheries that our citizens can enjoy and use as a source of income.

Q. You’ve worked closely with studying the damage caused by the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. Will we ever understand just how much of an impact that disaster had on marine wildlife?

A. The Gulf of Mexico is such a dynamic and diverse ecosystem that we are continually trying to learn about the ecological interactions in those coastal and marine waters. We have really only just scratched the surface in our understanding of the Gulf in many respects. So, when an event like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill happens, it is difficult to pinpoint what changes we see are due to the oil spill and what changes are natural fluctuations in the system that we don’t fully understand. As scientists, we are striving to utilize the financial resources that have stemmed from the oil spill settlement to not only restore the resources which were damaged but also gain a better understanding of the ecology of the Gulf so we can more accurately assess impacts from future events.   

Q. When did you first think about marine science as a career path?

A. I didn’t really consider marine biology until mid-way through my undergraduate studies. After I realized banking was not my cup of tea, I was oddly split between marine biology and civil engineering as my final career path. Ultimately, the idea of working in the marine environment and with coastal fisheries won out. 

Q. How much do you recreationally fish during the year?

A. Ironically, the more I got into field research dealing with coastal fisheries the less I tended to recreationally fish on my time off. Now, with more administrative duties at GCRL and with one daughter at USM and another in middle school, recreational fishing opportunities are few and far between… unfortunately.

Q. What advice would you give young scientists hoping to build a career in marine science?

A. Whether the interest is in marine biology or the oceanographic side of marine science, it’s important to have a strong background not only in general sciences but also mathematics. Math is key to certain aspects like understanding physical processes and statistical analyses of data. It’s also important to explore the different options within the field of marine science so that students can identify and focus on those more discrete disciplines, particularly if they are interested in graduate studies. It really wasn’t until I attended the GCRL Summer Field Program before my senior undergraduate year that I decided on fisheries ecology as my area of study for graduate work.

Q. If you were given a week of vacation to do anything you wanted, how would you spend it?

A. Traveling with my family to see other parts of the world.