ACS Collaborative Researcher
Dr. Kathryn Patterson Sutherland
Associate Professor, Rollins College
“Undergraduate researchers in my lab at Rollins have the opportunity to participate in a multi-investigator research team and to work in the field alongside UGA graduate students, post docs, and professors. The students gain an understanding for the collaborative nature of science and a first-hand look into what it will be like to pursue graduate study and a career in the sciences,” says Dr. Kathryn Sutherland, Associate Professor of Biology at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. Dr. Sutherland completed her Ph.D. in Marine Sciences at UGA in 2003 and has since continued to conduct collaborative research with UGA professors and students.
Ph.D. Marine Sciences, UGA, 2003
M.S. Conservation Ecology and Sustainable Development, UGA, 1997
B.A. Biological Sciences, Wellesley College, 1994
What made you choose to do your graduate education at UGA?
“After attending college in the northeast, I decided to return to my home state of Georgia for graduate school. My grandfather spent his career as a professor in the School of Forestry at UGA and, due to my interest in ecology and marine science, he encouraged me to pursue graduate studies at the Institute of Ecology (now the Odum School of Ecology) at UGA.”
What were some of the highlights of your experience at UGA (including any honors or awards)?
“A highlight of my experience at UGA was the opportunity to interact with Dr. Gene Odum, ‘father of ecosystem ecology.’ He was a mentor to all students in the UGA Institute of Ecology and he enjoyed taking graduate students to lunch to talk ecology. As a member of the National Academy of Sciences, he also kindly agreed to communicate my first lead-author publication, completed while I was a graduate student at UGA, and the paper identifying the bacterium S. marcescens as a cause of white pox, to the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”
While a student at UGA, Kathryn was awarded the Sigma Xi Outstanding Ph.D. Dissertation Award in 2004. This award is presented to one UGA graduate each year in recognition of their exceptional scientific research. She also received the Graduate Student Excellence in Research Award, which is awarded to one graduate student in the Life Sciences each year.
What was the topic of your dissertation?
“While at UGA, I was able to develop an M.S. thesis that combined my interest in marine biology and conservation ecology. Ultimately my master’s thesis work transitioned into a PhD dissertation. While monitoring coral reefs near Key West for my master’s research, a new coral disease appeared in one of my coral reef monitoring stations. This disease affected the elkhorn coral Acropora palmata and my graduate advisor, Dr. Jim Porter, and I named the disease white pox based on the way the disease manifested on the host coral as bright white patches of exposed coral skeleton where the coral tissue had died. Based on our discovery, I decided to pursue a PhD in the Department of Marine Sciences at UGA and to focus my research on learning the causes and effects of this new coral disease.”
Could you tell us a little bit about your current position at Rollins College and how you ended up there?
“I am an Associate Professor in the Department of Biology at Rollins. I teach general biology as well as classes in marine biology and ecology for students majoring in biology, marine biology, and environmental studies. I chose Rollins because of my experiences as an undergraduate at Wellesley College, which instilled in me an appreciation for the more personalized learning environment created at a liberal arts institution. I enjoy teaching at a college where classes are small, affording faculty and students the opportunity to know each other well. I enjoy conducting research with undergraduates, and I believe that a vigorous hands-on research program is vital for promoting student understanding and an appreciation of science and the environment. My role as scholar enhances my role as teacher. I draw from my personal experiences as a scientist to excite students in the classroom, the laboratory, and the field about the discovery nature of science.”
How did you come to be involved in collaborative research with UGA faculty?
“As a graduate student and later as a postdoctoral researcher at UGA, I developed collaborative relationships with faculty at the University, especially my doctoral advisor, Dr. Jim Porter, and my post-doctoral advisor, Dr. Erin Lipp. There are many unknowns about coral disease in general and white pox disease specifically and our team’s collaborative efforts are increasing our understanding of these topics. In order to understand the ecology of white pox disease we have assembled a collaborative team of researchers in a number of fields including ecology, microbiology, genetics, and mathematical modeling.”
Could you tell me a little bit about your research project and its funding?
“In 2011, with funding from Florida’s Mote Marine Laboratory “Protect Our Reefs” grant program, our Rollins College and UGA collaborative team identified human sewage as the source of the coral-killing pathogen that causes white pox disease of Caribbean elkhorn coral Acropora palmata. Once the most common coral in the Caribbean, elkhorn coral was listed for protection under the United States Endangered Species Act in 2006, largely due to white pox disease. We are currently funded by a five-year $2.3 million grant from the joint National Science Foundation – National Institutes of Health Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases (EEID) Program to investigate the ecology of white pox disease. Our NSF EEID study focuses on mechanisms of transmission of the white pox coral pathogen and the factors that drive the emergence and maintenance of white pox outbreaks, including water quality, climate variability, and patterns of human population density.”
What do you see as the primary benefits of collaborative research?
“Developing and maintaining relationships with colleagues within your field and outside your field of expertise is a huge benefit of collaborative research. In addition, broad research goals can be achieved through the collaborative efforts of researchers that each specialize in a different field. Complex problems are often easier to solve by bringing together people with different, unique perspectives from divergent backgrounds.
Undergraduate researchers in my lab at Rollins have the opportunity to participate in a multi-investigator research team and to work in the field alongside UGA graduate students, post docs, and professors. The students gain an understanding for the collaborative nature of science and a first-hand look into what it will be like to pursue graduate study and a career in the sciences.”
Do you have any words of wisdom for others who may be interested in collaborative research?
“Science is collaboration. Collaborative research not only brings together multiple individuals to answer research questions efficiently and more completely, but working with groups of people and sharing ideas and perspectives can be more enjoyable and rewarding than working alone.”
The Rollins/UGA collaborative team includes five principal investigators in the fields of coral disease ecology and microbiology (Kathryn Sutherland, Department of Biology, Rollins College), coral reef ecology (Jim Porter, Odum School of Ecology, UGA), environmental microbiology (Erin Lipp, Department of Environmental Health Science, UGA), genetics (John Wares, Department of Genetics, UGA), and ecological modeling (Andrew Park, Odum School of Ecology, UGA).
Our team also includes undergraduate students from Rollins College (Hunter Noren, Emily Nys, and Molly Broome), and undergraduates (Kelsey Montgomery), graduate students (Jessica Joyner, Meredith Meyers, Keri Goodman, Beck Frydenborg, Ashton Griffin, Brett Berry) and post-doctoral researchers (Dustin Kemp, Carrie Futch, Ron Eytan) from UGA.