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Biology Alumni Spotlight: Michael Potter II '19

SSU biology major now oceanography graduate student

Where did you grow up and what was your major(s), minor(s), concentration or option, and year of graduation?

I grew up in Wilmington North Carolina, and western New York State before traveling to Massachusetts for college. I graduated in the spring of 2019 with a bachelor’s degree in biology with a marine concentration and a minor in chemistry.

What is your current title and role? What are you responsible for day-to-day?

I am currently a graduate research assistant at the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography. My research involves studying the impact of human activity on marine ecosystems, in particular pollution, climate change, and food web dynamics. I am currently in charge of maintaining a Mesocosm climate change study which is investigating the impact of water temperature on the growth and reproduction of hard-shell clams.

What encouraged you to pursue this educational or career path?

I always liked biology and science so I always knew this would be my eventual career path. What lead me to marine science was how the more I learned about the ocean the more I realized how it influences the entire planet and how much we still have to learn.

What skills did you learn as a biology major and how did your time at Salem State prepare you for life after graduation?

There are so many! The strongest and most important skill I developed at Salem State was how to think critically and independently in both science and life.

Was there a particular faculty member or class that had a lasting impact on you?

Professor Joe Buttner and his fish biology class was my favorite and most influential course at Salem State University.

If you completed an independent research project, an internship, a study abroad, or a similar immersive experience, please describe that experience and how it has helped you.

In the summer of 2018, I completed an independent study in Liberia with Professor Joe Buttner. This opportunity allowed me to experience multidisciplinary and international scientific collaboration, new cultures and exposed me to research science that went beyond course work. This experience was tremendously helpful in bridging the gap between undergraduate and graduate studies.

What is the most exciting professional opportunity you have had since graduating?

Acceptance into the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography as a graduate research assistant.

What advice would you provide to an incoming biology major at Salem State?

I found out firsthand that grades are important especially if you plan to pursue graduate studies. While my grades were not amazing, the independent study in Liberia (which was unplanned and almost didn't happen) and the papers I wrote about my experience in Liberia helped to offset my grades when applying to graduate school.   

My advice would be to look for opportunities to use what you have been learning while you are still in undergrad, that could be anything from working in a lab, volunteering, completing an independent study, internship, or becoming an SI Leader.

Above all remember to make time for fun and enjoy your time in college.


Learn more about the biology department at Salem State University.

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