SAFS Newsletter Masthead


Banner photos (left to right): Jackie Carter, Jeremy Monroe, Amanda Phillips, Jonathan Moore

MD on MD
Reflections on Three Decades Chillin’ with the Fish Heads

Marcus Duke in Grazelema

Taking pause to reflect on 32 years at SAFS (after an excellent repast replete with fine tempranillo in Grazalema, Spain), I note: "Life is good!" (Photo by C. Duke.)

Several days after I arrived in Seattle, I submitted a resumé to UW Employment because I had worked at UCLA and knew that, unlike many other employers, universities tended not to care if you had long hair and a beard. They also tended to be very tolerant of artists and their eccentricities. The UW said that when a job became available that matched my qualifications, they would contact me … Life was much simpler then!

I suspect my 120-wpm typing speed is what hooked me two interviews and then two job offers within a few days. On December 10, 1979, I started working in the Publications Office of the then College of Fisheries—in 1981, it joined the College of Ocean and Fishery Sciences, becoming the School of Fisheries—which was housed in the Fisheries Research Institute (FRI). At that time, Robert “Bud” Burgner was the FRI director and Douglas Chapman was the College director.

My job was to type as fast as possible all day long, entering hand- and type-written reports and other manuscripts onto 5-1/4” floppy discs using a dedicated word processor—several large black boxes that collectively approached the size of a Smart car.

That word processor had a personality: On a cold dry days, contact sparks just shut it down, and one time I lost four days of work because of that. More memorable was the time the printer caught fire. Even better yet was when a storm ripped the window in my office off its hinges, exposing the processor and me to horizontal rain. Who says office jobs are tame?

My job was stressful, but there were immediate and long-term rewards. The immediate was the people. Making friends with the many students, staff, and faculty I met in those early days—and up to the present—was the greatest reward; it’s why I stayed for more than 32 years. To this day, I keep in touch with a lot of my fish-head friends, near and far.

The longer-term reward was in the opportunities FRI and the School gave me over time. When everyone started getting desktop computers, my services became obsolete, but instead of laying me off, the School gave me the opportunity to take on a new job and new challenges, and even supported my studies to learn new skills.

And so I went from a word processing lead operator to office manager, then technical editor and writer—and a Macintosh lab manager and software consultant—and ultimately a website developer and general Mac IT geek. But my most enjoyable role was that of providing live music for so many School events!

Along with all the changes I went through, the School also has undergone major shifts over the last three decades. I comment on several I find most striking.

When I started at Fisheries, much of its research was focused heavily on resource extraction. Basic research was always important, but we were largely seen as an applied research department focused on how to catch fish. As many of you know, that focus changed in recognition of the interconnectedness of organisms and their environment, and for some time now, the School has developed its teaching and research programs in pursuit of sustainability, both of the aquatic resources we rely upon and the aquatic environment. The world has gotten much smaller since the baby boom, forcing us to appreciate, near and far, the consequences of overfishing, water pollution, and development, to name but a few. I confess a bias here, in that I believe this sea change was partly influenced by my generation because we were the first to understand, in such large numbers, that “everything is everything!”

Another change that I am particularly happy to report is the huge gender shift in our student body. When I started, we had only a few women graduate students out of more than 100. But over the next several decades, I watched more and more women pursue a SAFS degree, and for quite a few years now, they have outnumbered the men: current graduate enrollment is 65 female and 50 male. As the son of a woman who graduated as salutatorian from college but struggled with pay inequity and gender bias in the workplace, seeing gender equity come as far as it has at the UW has been most satisfying for me. There’s still room for improvement, but compared with 30–40 years ago, I call this good progress.

Finally, all institutions have their ups and downs, and the School, after so many years of being recognized as the preeminent fisheries school in the nation, received a relatively negative 10-year academic review in the early 1990s. This was devastating for us, and we wondered, “Can we recover?”

Faculty, students, and staff worked tirelessly for the next 10 years to not only correct the problems cited in the review, but to go well above and beyond that. Our 2003 academic review—the preparation for which Director David Armstrong described as akin to a “near death experience”—was in stark contrast to the previous review, with review committee members noting that “it is rare for a department to evolve so completely in such a short time, and emerge as a vibrant, catalyzed academic unit where so much has been achieved.” The School hasn’t sat on its laurels, either, as was borne out by the National Research Council’s 2007 survey of faculty scholarly productivity: SAFS was rated the top fisheries science and management school in the nation.

Well! I guess you can’t keep a good school down, eh? And to think, I got to be part of this. To all you fish* heads, I say “Thanks for the memories!”

*Yes, I mean all of you, not just the teleostophiles.