Merryl Alber, professor of marine sciences and director of the UGA Marine Institute on Sapelo Island, focuses her teaching, research and service on coastal ecosystems and how they might change in the future.
Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I earned my bachelor’s degree in botany and zoology from Duke University and my doctorate in biology from the Boston University Marine Program. I am currently a professor in the department of marine sciences and the director of the UGA Marine Institute on Sapelo Island. My job includes teaching, research and service.
When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
In 1994, I was hired as a research scientist in the department of marine sciences and worked as part of a team that was studying the estuaries of the Georgia coast. I started as an assistant professor a year later.
What are your favorite courses and why?
I teach an undergraduate course in marine biology (MARS 3450) and graduate courses in marine ecology (MARS 8160) and coastal policy (MARS 8210). I like them all. The undergrad course is an upper-level elective, and the students are always very interested in the topic; the graduate courses allow me to delve deeply into the material.
What interests you about your field?
I am interested in understanding how coastal ecosystems work and how they might change in the future.
What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
I lead the Georgia Coastal Ecosystems Long Term Ecological Research Project, which is funded by the National Science Foundation and is focused on the salt marshes and estuaries of the Georgia coast. The project, which brings in about $1 million per year, has been running since 2000 and will hopefully continue well into the future. I also founded the Georgia Coastal Research Council, which serves to bring together coastal managers and academic scientists from throughout the state. I have really enjoyed building that network.
How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?
Everything I learn with my “research” hat on is information I then bring into the classroom and share with my students. The students bring a fresh perspective that can prompt additional research.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
I hope students can get a sense that science is always moving—we don’t have all of the answers. I also try to convey my excitement about the material.
Describe your ideal student.
My ideal student is one who asks questions and is truly interested in making sure she or he understands the material. Marine science is a popular subject, and we get a lot of great students.
Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…
I am a longtime college basketball fan, so I can be found at Stegeman Coliseum on game days.
Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…
… be at the UGA Marine Institute on Sapelo Island. I have been leading field trips and doing research on the island since I got to UGA, but now that I am the director I get to spend even more time there. It is truly a magical place.
Community/civic involvement includes….
Most of my involvement is in professional activities and scientific societies. However, I recently served on the editorial board of UGA Press, which I truly enjoyed. I also have written a children’s book, “And the Tide Comes In … Exploring a Georgia Salt Marsh,” that was published last year as part of the Georgia Coastal Ecosystems project. I have enjoyed doing readings and visits and am working with a network of environmental educators to get it distributed to teachers.
I read all kinds of fiction, from Virginia Woolf to Julian Barnes to Jennifer Egan. I especially like the Booker Prize winners.
Proudest moment at UGA?
Getting the Georgia Coastal Ecosystems LTER grant renewed was particularly gratifying, as it represented a true team effort and lots of people put in a lot of hard work.
(Originally published Nov. 3, 2013)