Steven Baer says he took “the scenic route” to the graduate program at VIMS, spending several years as a software engineer before deciding to pursue his life-long passion for marine science.
After returning to college to earn a second degree in biology (his first was in Social Theory), he applied to and was accepted by leading marine-science graduate programs all along the East Coast—including the University of Rhode Island, Woods Hole, and VIMS.
Choosing among these opportunities was a challenge, but Baer says what ultimately drew him to Gloucester Point was the people. “VIMS has a great reputation for excellent research and academics,” he says, “and I was really impressed by the way that faculty, staff, and students work together.”
During his search for a graduate program, Baer was told that the relationship with his advisor was particularly important—“It’s been described as a 5-year marriage,” he laughs—and was thus especially pleased when he first met his advisor-to-be, Professor Deborah Bronk. “She’s incredibly enthusiastic about her work,” he says, “and is really open to new ideas.” He jokes that their relationship “was a match made in science heaven.”
Other factors that drew Baer to VIMS include the research facilities, notably Bronk’s state-of-the-art lab and the newly constructed Seawater Research Lab, and the availability of low-cost housing in the area. He was also pleased with the number of job opportunities available in Hampton Roads for his spouse, an epidemiologist now working at the Portsmouth Naval Hospital.
For his Ph.D., Baer is studying how competition between bacteria and phytoplankton for nitrogen and other “limiting nutrients” ripples upward to affect marine food chains and the cycling of elements such as carbon. “I never want to stop learning, no matter where my career path takes me,” says Baer. “For me, VIMS was the best place to continue that journey.”