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Jim Nienow
Jim Nienow

Valdosta State University

Who I am and what I do
I am a professor of biology at Valdosta State. I spend about half of my time teaching biology to undergraduate students. The rest of my time I spend exploring various aspects of the ecology of photosynthetic microorganisms. This includes a mixture of fieldwork in deserts, regional wetlands, and waste-water treatment systems, laboratory experiments, and computer modeling.

Areas of expertise
My chief area of expertise is in microbial ecology, with some training in algal taxonomy and physiology and in mathematical modeling.

How I first became interested in this profession
I was lucky enough to grow up within few minutes walk of a rocky beach in southern California and got to spent many hours exploring the tidepools, examining the diversity of life there.

What helped me prepare for this job
I have a fairly broad training, with degrees in mathematics and biology, which allows me to explore a variety of fields, including some in which I am not a specialist at all.

My Education and Training
I have a BA and an MA in Mathematics from the University of California, San Diego, and a PhD in Biology from Florida State University, Tallahassee. Between the two I did some graduate work in biology at San Diego State University.

My Career Path
My career began to take shape when I applied for and was accepted into a PhD program working with Dr. Imre Friedmann at Florida State. I had read about his work previously and was excited by the prospects of working in Antarctica on a project related to the exploration of space. With help from Chris McKay, we developed some early models of the environment experienced by cryptoendolithic microorganisms in desert ecosystems. Fortunately, I have been able to continue to my collaborations with both Chris and Imre them while working first at Waycross College and now at Valdosta State University, both primarily teaching colleges.

What I like best about my job
Because I am at a teaching college, there is not as much pressure to maintain a constant record of grant support. This gives me the freedom to explore areas of interest to me. Plus, I get to spend a fair bit of time out of the office and in the field.

What I don't like about my job
Evaluating students and assigning grades at the end of each semester.

My advice to anyone interested in this occupation
Do not choose a career strictly for financial reward--you are going to spend many hours and many years working at it. Find something you really like to do and pursue it, but remain flexible and open to new opportunities.

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Editor: Brian Day
NASA Official: Liza Coe
Last Updated:June, 2006
Students Contact: Jennifer Heldmann
Teachers Contact: Liza Coe