With three new faculty members joining SEFS this fall—Professors David Butman, Peter Kahn and Patrick Tobin—we’re excited to introduce our new colleagues and welcome them to the community!
First up for introductions is Tobin, who joins us as an assistant professor after spending more than 11 years with the U.S. Forest Service Northern Research Station in Morgantown, W.Va. He spent most of the summer back in West Virginia selling his home and preparing for a cross-country drive to Seattle, where his family—Ahnya Redman and two “very energetic boys”—have been living since May. Ahnya, in fact, is also working at the University of Washington, just up Rainier Vista in Mary Gates Hall. It’s been about 20 years, says Tobin, since he and Ahnya worked close enough to have lunch together. That was back in graduate school at Penn State, and they feel lucky to be campus neighbors once again.
As for his background, Tobin earned a bachelor’s in environmental health sciences from the University of Georgia in 1991 (occasionally bumping into Michael Stipe around Athens), a master’s in entomology from Penn State in 1997, and then a Ph.D. in entomology from Penn State in 2002 (with minors in statistics and operations research). His interest areas broadly approach different aspects of forest health, including entomology, invasion ecology and population ecology. A big part of what inspired his transition to university life, as well, was the chance to partner with other faculty on a wider range of research projects. “I think there’s a greater opportunity for different kinds of collaborations,” he says.
Tobin is also excited to have closer engagement with students. With the Forest Service, he was able to serve on some graduate committees and give guest lectures, but he never had the opportunity to lead his own courses. “I’m really looking forward to teaching, and also student mentorship,” he says. “I think I’ve sort of missed out on that the last 12 years.”
Though he won’t be teaching his first quarter, Tobin says he’ll be taking on a quantitative science course this winter, an entomology/pathology course for spring, and then likely a graduate-level course on entomology next fall. “I’ve always been interested in insects,” he says. “It’s a personal bias of mine, but I think insects rule the world, and studying them just opens up so many opportunities.”
Whether you’re researching insects as vectors of disease, or how they interact with plants and animals, or how they affect humans, Tobin says there’s no limit to the kinds of questions you can ask and investigate. “I’m surprised more people don’t work with insects. There are so many different directions you can go.”
In terms of favorite study species, Tobin says he’s always been partial to moths and butterflies, and he’s had a long fascination with mosquitoes—not an affection, to be sure, so much as a tip of the hat to their evolutionary success and historical impact. He even contracted malaria years ago while serving in the Peace Corps in West Africa, yet he still can’t help but respect and admire them.
“We can hate them because they annoy us and give us diseases and keep us up at night,” he says, “but you have to appreciate the sophistication of the mosquito. They are magnificent creatures.”
By moving to Seattle, Tobin will have to forgo the pleasure of swatting away swarms of mosquitoes all summer, but he and his family otherwise feel enormous excitement about life in the Pacific Northwest. Ahnya is originally from Chelan, Wash., where most of her family still lives, and Tobin is originally from southern California, so they feel very much at home on the West Coast. They’re also looking forward to the local coffee culture—including finding unroasted coffee beans for their roaster—and taking advantage of the countless outdoor opportunities throughout the year.
Tobin is now on campus full-time, and you can stop by his office in Anderson 123B or catch him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. He’s also giving the first talk in the SEFS Seminar Series this fall, so come out and welcome Professor Tobin on Wednesday, Sept. 24, at 3:30 p.m. in Anderson 223!
Photo © Patrick Tobin.