Michael Spear joined the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) as a postdoctoral researcher in February 2021. He completed his undergraduate work at the University of Notre Dame before earning his Ph.D. studying invasive species, environmental DNA, and lake food web ecology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Limnology. He's worked on environmental conservation and education with the John G. Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum of Natural History, and Loyola University in Chicago.
This past year Michael taught at Loyola University Chicago’s School for Environmental Sustainability before joining INHS at the Illinois River Biological Station, where he will be investigating the effects of shipping vessel-induced wave disturbance on fish communities of the Illinois River.
"I’m most looking forward to asking questions of Illinois’ rich freshwater ecosystems to support the scientifically-sound management of the state’s important natural resources," Michael said.
Michael recently answered a few questions about his career in science.
How old were you when you first became interested in science? What sparked your interest?
Like many Illinoisans, the Illinois state science fair sparked my scientific career at 13 years old. Working at INHS brings full-circle an academic journey that began with a 7th grade trip to Urbana-Champaign to present my research on the ozone layer.
Who or what drew you to study freshwater ecosystems?
The energized and generous aquatic ecology professors at the University of Notre Dame showed me how to make a career out of curiosity and exploring the natural world.
What are common misconceptions about your career?
It’s not all playing in streams and crunching numbers. Communicating your science to the public is an important (and difficult!) part of being a scientist.
What are some challenges you’ve faced in your career?
As for everyone, the last year has been a difficult one, but the resiliency of my students and the creativity of my coworkers have allowed me to find new ways of teaching and researching environmental science.
What do you wish more people understood about science or being a scientist?
Anyone can be a scientist. Even if it's not your full-time job. If you are interested in 'doing' science, look for citizen science opportunities where you can collect data to help answer questions about the natural world.
What advice would you give to future scientists?
Genuine curiosity is the most powerful tool you can have as a scientist. Never stop asking questions!