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Student Spotlight: Paul McDonald

Student Spotlight: Paul McDonald

Masters in Coastal Sciences

What interested you about your field of study? Provide details about specific research interests.

My current research is examining eastern oysters from the northern Gulf of Mexico for tolerance to high thermal and low salinity conditions. These traits are important to oyster production because of global warming and freshwater events such as the opening of the Bonnet Carré spillway. The results of my experiments would be used to determine the heritability and genetic correlation between the two traits, which would ultimately be incorporated into a breeding program. I am drawn to this field because I am actively involved in the process from start to finish, and I get to see my hard work pay off as the oysters grow.

Additionally, I enjoy participating in outreach programs and working with other universities, local farmers, and the public because it allows me to connect with the people who benefit from my research the most. 

What is/was the road to your degree path?

Ever since my first-class trip to the aquarium, I knew I wanted to be a marine biologist. I watched as many documentaries and read as many books as I could get my hands on. After high school, I went to Middlesex County College in NJ, and this is where I gained my appreciation for genetics through my advisor. She guided me through the college process and believed in my hard work ethic and dedication to the field.

After graduating MCC, I attended Stockton University, where I narrowed my focus on marine science and explored potential job opportunities. The summer of my junior year, I was accepted into the Rutgers University RIOS fellowship, where I performed an experiment to see if the selective breeding of eastern oysters caused them to lose fitness. I greatly enjoyed this field of study and had thus searched for it in a master’s program. Through this search, I met Dr. Eric Saillant, who had a position open in the SALT consortium oyster selective breeding program.

Since being at USM, I have been able to work in all aspects of eastern oyster cultivation and selective breeding while working with other research institutions and stakeholders.

Why USM?

I was recommended to USM by my old advisor at Rutgers University, Dr. Ximing Guo because he had been working with Dr. Eric Saillant on SNP array development. He spoke highly of the university and oyster aquaculture program at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory.

What type of job do you hope to obtain in your field of study after you graduate?

After graduation, I will be pursuing my Ph.D. in Oyster genetics and aquaculture. My end goal is to become a professor so I can share my passion and enthusiasm for the field and inspire students the way my professors have inspired me.


Please share any other information that you feel would be helpful to other students or potential students about your degree. 

I am a first-generation college student and have worked very hard throughout my school years. I worked full-time throughout my associate's degree and worked as an RA during undergraduate to lessen my student loans.

Looking back at my journey through school and my time at USM, I am incredibly proud of the long hours and hard work I have performed here. Aquaculture is not an easy field to work in, as the conditions are constantly changing, and my oysters don’t take days off.

My one piece of advice to any potential student is to be prepared for hard work but know that in the end you can look back and be proud of the work that you have performed.

Learn more about Coastal Sciences