Sam Schaick joined the Illinois Natural History Survey in May 2019 as a large river fisheries ecologist. He received a B.S. in Fisheries from Wisconsin-Stevens Point, worked for a year as a fisheries technician with the Michigan DNR, and then went to Eastern Illinois University for his master’s. For his thesis, Sam investigated population genetics and spatial dynamics of bigheaded carp reproduction in tributaries of the Illinois and Wabash Rivers. In his spare time, Sam enjoys fishing, kayaking, and watching the Milwaukee Brewers.
What are you looking forward to the most in your new role at INHS?
I am most looking forward to gaining more experience sampling fish on the Illinois River. My last two years as a master’s student were spent working mainly with larval fish, so it will be exciting to be back netting and electrofishing the adults.
Who or what drew you to study Asian carp?
Although despised by many, Asian carp are fascinating to me. They are an extremely adaptable group of species. Although fascinating, the need is great to learn more about them and mediate their spread to protect our native and ecologically and economically important fishes.
What are common misconceptions about your career?
Many members of the public believe Asian carp to be a single species, when they include bighead, black, grass, and silver carp. Additionally, many of my family and friends still think I’m a warden/conservation officer when I have no legal authority and mainly study fish populations.
What do you wish more people understood about science or being a scientist?
Even though most of us have years of education and experience, there are still an infinite number of things that we don’t fully understand and are curious about.
How old were you when you first became interested in science? What sparked your interest?
I’d estimate I was roughly 10 when I first became interested in science. A combination of things sparked my interest including but not limited to my mom gathering and raising monarch butterflies, my dad planting trees, and learning from my dad, uncle, and grandfather about how agencies like the Department of Natural Resources manage fish populations.
What advice would you give to future scientists?
Be willing to move around, reach out to professionals, (maybe) miss a few classes, and work hard. In my experience, I felt that experience gained in the field was much harder to replicate than an hour missed in the classroom. Obviously, you want to do well in classes, but spending time in the field with professionals as a young/aspiring scientist is a valuable opportunity that should be taken advantage of when possible.