Dr. Joe Parkos recently became the director of the Kaskaskia, Sam Parr, and Ridge Lake Biological Stations. He previously worked at the Illinois Natural History from 1997 to 2008, then worked as a postdoctoral researcher and project coordinator at Florida International University before returning to INHS as assistant director for Kaskaskia, Sam Parr and Ridge Lake in 2017. Joe earned his master's and PhD at the University of Illinois.
As you take on this new role as director of the Kaskaskia, Sam Parr, and Ridge Lake stations, what are you most excited about?
I am very excited to develop a new research program at these stations that is built around my research interests and the local and regional needs of stakeholders.
What is the best part of your job at INHS?
I take my responsibilities as a mentor for staff, graduate students, and postdocs very seriously and the best part of my job is when I can help others attain career goals, such as getting into a good graduate program or getting the job of their dreams.
What do you wish more people understood about science or being a scientist?
The role that uncertainty plays in the interpretation of research results. Ecosystems are very complex; therefore, all of the patterns that we discover through our investigations are inherently probabilistic in nature. Despite the fact that probabilistic thinking pervades everyone’s life, non-scientists tend to be very uncomfortable with or dismissive of outcomes that are probabilistic or conditional.
How old were you when you first became interested in science? What sparked your interest?
Since a very young age, I have relished outdoor experiences and been intensely curious about animal behavior. I spent much of my childhood doing things like snorkeling bluegill colonies, watching birds at the feeder, flipping logs for salamanders, and feeding ants to antlions. There probably was not one “eureka moment” when I became interested in science. Biology was one of the few subjects that consistently held my interest in high school and going to university exposed me to the possibility of a life engaged in research. Once I realized that there are careers where you can spend your life in curiosity-driven pursuits, constantly challenging yourself intellectually, there was no looking back for me.
Who or what drew you to study aquatic ecology?
Having grown up in a lakeside house in a river town not far from the ocean, I developed a deep and abiding affection for being in, on, and near water. I am drawn to the challenges and excitement of fisheries research, and in particular, I value that my work brings me into contact with people that share my passion for fish and the rivers, streams, lakes, wetlands, and oceans where fish live.
What advice would you give to future scientists?
Acquire a skillset that allows you to take on the important questions in your field. Learn how to apply high standards of scientific rigor to your work. Most of all, be curious about everything and not too narrowly focused. Talk with scientists that work in different fields and investigate different types of organisms and questions. Many great ideas and studies came from people applying or combining new concepts or approaches from other fields of research.