Delving into river research

By Ryan Hegedus

 

Professors regularly work in lecture halls, laboratories, and offices.

But for Dr. Scott Tiegs, a biology professor at Oakland University, the places where he conducts his research are a little more out of the ordinary.

 Although he’s traveled across the globe for his research, Tiegs makes good use of a closer research location too. 

The 110-acre biological preserve located on the southern end of OU’s campus has proven invaluable to his research efforts, giving him a diverse and complex ecosystem with which to study.

“It’s just wonderful to have that resource so close by that we can just walk or bike there, especially for our labs,” said Tiegs. “We were electrofishing in my ecology class and there was a young woman that was trembling —those fish were the first living creatures she had ever held in her hands. It was almost like a religious experience for her, and I love that the Preserve is so close that we can do stuff like that.”

After graduating from the University of Colorado at Boulder with his B.A. in environmental biology, Tiegs attended the University of Oregon where he got his B.S. in geography, with honors.

While those credentials alone are impressive, Tiegs wasn’t done with his schooling. He then did his thesis and dissertation work at universities in San Diego, Switzerland, and Indiana.

 “It definitely gave me a greater appreciation of the diversity of ecosystems in these places that I wouldn’t have had otherwise,” said Tiegs of his state- and world-wide educational background. “It helped that scientists at those schools had overlapping interests of mine. Where the locations were became sort of an afterthought — my advisor once joked that I specialize in the ‘ecology of pretty places’ and that’s true to some degree.”

 Tiegs has also been able to do his research with scientists from across the world, which has allowed him to gain perspectives that he normally wouldn’t have gotten.

“You can only do so much on your own and having colleagues to share your opinions with is really how you learn,” Tiegs said. “When you do field work in unpleasant conditions for weeks, you get to be pretty good friends with someone and you learn even more.”

All of his research may not have even begun had it not been for a professor he had as a student at Colorado.

The professor saw potential in Tiegs, and encouraged him to do an independent field research project in Mexico. 

After receiving the necessary funding, he was off to the intertidal zone in the Sea of Cortez. He said his career choice was easy after this experience.

 Being able to do work that he enjoyed in places that most people consider vacation locales was just one advantage of Tiegs’s research. His love for ecology, as well as the positive results of doing the research, made him strive even harder.

It is this hard-working and dedicated attitude that accelerated Tiegs’s career in the field of ecology. 

Over the past two years, he has been a keynote speaker at 10 different conferences across the state of Michigan, as well as Alaska, Washington and New York. 

The conferences have ranged from reviews of local rivers and their quality levels to discussions about geography.

 Tiegs has also showcased numerous research-intensive presentations that dealt with topics like how nutrient levels in southeast Alaskan rivers are affected by the spawning of salmon, organic matter decomposition in rivers and streams, and species of earthworms and their impact on the stream ecosystem.

His efforts have not gone unnoticed. Tiegs has received numerous awards, honors, and grants, with some of the grants ranging from $500 to $19,200. There is one in particular, however, that stood out for him.

 “I won an award as a graduate student for giving a good presentation at a conference, and that one was good for me because I really didn’t like to talk in front of people,” Tiegs said. “I had always gotten nervous in front of people, and that award reassured me that I could do this type of work. It meant a lot to me.”

 Tiegs has not been the only person involved in his research to receive praise. In 2009, three of the students he advised earned research awards from OU for their involvement. 

One of the award-winning graduate students, Holly Greiner, said she knows the reason why Tiegs has been able to have continued success in his field, as well as such an effect on his students.

“I think the reason he has been successful thus far is because he is extremely proactive,” Grenier said. “While others want good fortune to just ‘happen to them,’ Scott makes the appropriate steps to ensure success. I would say the most important thing I’ve learned from Scott is that you really have to work for what you want, and if you really enjoy it, it doesn’t seem like such hard work after all.”

With rivers and streams being a main source of fresh water and biodiversity for the surrounding ecosystem, Tiegs sees more than just an opportunity for scientific research in the water.

 “Rivers and streams do things for us 24/7, 365 (days a year) — they purify water, get rid of contaminants, fundamental things like that,” said Tiegs. “We also try to raise awareness of issues like conservation and sustainability to protect these resources.”