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Christopher Freeman

Christopher FreemanGS:      Where are you from?
KF:       I am originally from Fort Worth, Texas, but I have been living all around the U.S. since high school.

GS:      What degree did you/will you receive and when?
KF:       I am working towards my PhD in Biology right now, which I hope to receive in December of 2012.

GS:      How long have you been at UAB?  
I have been at UAB since the fall of 2008.

GS:      What is your research? 
KF:       I study the symbiotic interactions between tropical marine sponges and microbial symbionts living within them. Coral reefs are some of the most diverse environments on earth, yet they thrive in extremely nutrient poor waters. Just as in corals, the ability of sponges to survive in these nutrient poor systems is due, in large part, to the formation of symbioses with microbes that, like plants, use the sun’s energy. I am studying exactly what host sponges are gaining from these symbioses and what factors shape the formation and maintenance of these interactions across host species. A better understanding of these fundamental processes is important if we are to better predict how continued human-induced environmental change will impact Caribbean reefs.

GS:      Why did you choose UAB for your graduate studies?
KF:       I came to UAB to work with Dr. Robert Thacker. I had taken a sponge taxonomy and ecology class with Dr. Thacker in Panama in 2006 so I knew that we had similar interests. Although Birmingham is far from the ocean, Dr. Thacker had research projects going on throughout the Caribbean and had recently received a grant that required sponge collections from locations throughout the Caribbean, so it was a perfect fit.

GS:      Have you received any awards or honors?
KF:       2012:  Best Student Presentation and Adrian M Wenner Strong Inference Award in the Division of Invertebrate Zoology at the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology.
2011: Outstanding Doctoral Student, Department of Biology, University of Alabama at Birmingham
2010:  Best Ecology Poster at the World Sponge Conference in Girona, Spain
2010: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) Short Term Fellowship
I was awarded the Best Student Presentation and Adrian M Wenner Strong Inference Award in the Division of Invertebrate Zoology at the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology for my talk titled "Determining the benefits of symbiosis: tracing the products of symbiont nitrogen and carbon metabolism to host sponges using incubations with enriched stable isotopes". The conference was held in Charleston, S.C. in early January. I was extremely happy to find out that I had been recognized with these awards at SICB. It shows me that my research was positively received and easily understood by fellow scientists.

GS:      What has been your most rewarding experience at UAB?
KF:       During my time at UAB, I have been privileged to conduct multiple field trips to the Bahamas, Panama, and Belize. In 2010 I was on a small Panamanian island for 3 months doing research. You learn a lot about yourself as a scientist when you are at a research station without your advisor, committee, or fellow graduate students.

GS:      Who was your greatest influence here at UAB and why?
KF:       Dr. Robert Thacker has given me the freedom to develop my own ideas and carry out my own research but has also always been there with helpful advice when I need it. His support and the Biology Department have provided me with all the necessary tools I have needed to succeed.

GS:      What is your motivation in your academics/research?
KF:       I have been following my interest in marine biology since I was very young. There is nothing else I would rather be doing.

GS:      What are your plans after graduating and for the future?
KF:       I am currently applying for postdoctoral positions in Florida and Washington, D.C. to continue my interest in coral reef ecology. I ultimately hope to have a faculty position at a university where I have a mix of teaching and research responsibilities.

GS:      Is there anything else you would like to say?
KF:       I would like to thank UAB and the Biology Department for providing me with everything I have needed to succeed.

Christopher’s Advice for Other Graduate Students
Challenge yourself. Design your own research projects, form collaborations with scientists at other institutions, present at conferences, and travel to field stations or labs far away. This is the best time to develop those skills.