Meet the Editor: Dr. Mark Brigham, Canadian Journal of Zoology

February 11, 2016

On January 1, 2016, Dr. R. Mark Brigham joined Dr. Helga Guderley as Co-Editor of the Canadian Journal of Zoology.  Mark, a Professor at the University of Regina, is replacing Dr. Brock Fenton, Professor Emeritus, Western University. We thank Dr. Fenton for his hard work and dedication to the journal. We’re pleased to welcome Mark to his new position!

Q: Your research focuses on bats and nocturnal birds (nighthawks and nightjars). Tell us how you became interested in those species specifically.

A. I did an undergraduate degree in Biology at Queen’s University without any real knowledge of what I wanted to do with it. After my third year, I was fortunate to be hired as a summer field assistant working for a M.Sc. student studying brown headed cowbirds, which really got me hooked on field research with animals. My first experience with bats came as part of an undergraduate field course, which led to embarking on a M.Sc. studying the social behaviour of big brown bats near Ottawa with Brock Fenton. As for the nightjars, I distinctly remember the day in February 1985 when I sat down in Brock’s cramped Carleton University office to discuss a possible field study for a Ph.D. Little did I know that the discussion we had over the next 30 minutes would ultimately result in a trip to the Okanagan Valley that summer and set a course for a wonderful career. However, what turned out to be most fortuitous was the offhand comment about “those damn birds” that kept getting caught in mist nets set for bats at Okanagan Falls Provincial Park. I was keen to continue my research on bats, given my familiarity with them, but the possibility of a comparison with ecologically similar birds was ultimately the theme of my Ph.D. Those “damn birds” turned out to be Common Nighthawks, members of a very poorly studied family called the Caprimulgidae, a group of birds I have continued to study ever since. The experience and methodologies involved with bats, transferred to the birds and the convergence between the two groups in ecology and physiology continues to fascinate me.  

Common nighthawk (Chordeiles minor) about to take off from the hand at Okanagan Falls Provincial Park, British Columbia. Photo Credit: Anne C. Brigham

Q: What motivated you to become a Co-Editor of the Canadian Journal of Zoology? 

A. Brock asked me, which was more than enough. However, I have been an Associate Editor for three other journals and on a couple of editorial boards and I have always enjoyed editorial work. One (of the many) things I struggle with is remaining current with the literature and editorial duties force you to be better at this. CJZ has always been a respected journal and I have been fortunate to publish a number of papers in it. Then there is the dreaded irony. When I applied for my current position, 25+ years ago, the Biology Department Head of the time replied to my application package with a letter of admonition that he could not seriously consider my application until I was a member of Canadian Society of Zoologists. Today such a letter would lead to a HR meltdown, but then it stimulated me to acquire my first societal membership. I told him so and I got the job. How could I not at some point in my career work for the flagship journal of the society. 

Checking the leg band on a common nighthawk at Okanagan Falls Provincial Park, British Columbia. Photo Credit: Anne C. Brigham

Q: You’ve been widely published with over 150 scientific papers and a book. Any advice for early-career researchers out there on staying motivated and finding time to write on top of other demands? 

A. I highly doubt that any early-career faculty have any issue with motivation, time is the real issue. Time is the most precious thing that all of us have. My advice would be rather broad and vague but it can be summarized in a series of bullet points:
  1.  Remember that when all is said and done, it’s a job, so don’t forget about your family and your health. 
  2. For me, some of my best ideas have come to me while playing sport. Not only is physical activity important for your health but it does facilitate deep level thinking about your work as well as making you more efficient in doing it. 
  3. Find a more senior (do not call them old!) colleague who you respect and ask directly for advice. I’d recommend a colleague who appears to be good at teaching, research and service.  Ask them how they combine and succeed at all three. The good ones will be flattered and happy to talk to you. They will see it as a sign of strength not weakness. 
  4. Be highly supportive and encouraging of your grad students. Really get to know them.  Make it clear that you will work for them and that while their efforts are important for themselves, they are important for you too!
  5. For me, I felt I had to decide where to find work time outside of the traditional 9-5.  I think that to do well, more time is needed. I chose very early mornings, as it best fit my physiology. I have been incredibly fortunate to have a spouse that helped me do this.  
  6. Practice working on time management but most importantly, do the harder (e.g., writing) things first when you are fresh and clear-headed rather than the usual practice of doing the easy (e.g., dealing with the raft of emails) stuff first.
  7. TALK to colleagues. Don’t just hide in your office. You never know when you will find out about an area of research or teaching upon which you can collaborate.  
  8. Volunteer for a committee or two. You will learn about your institution and you never know when you will meet someone interesting and find out about an area of research or teaching upon which you can collaborate.  
  9. Plan on and take a full year sabbatical as soon as you can, at a location a long distance from your home. Yes it requires a mountain of organization and there may be financial cost, but for me the benefits both professionally and personally have been huge. 

Australian owlet-nightjar (Aegotheles cristatus) chicks ready to be weighed, near Amidale, NSW, Australia. Photo Credit: Mark Brigham

Q: You’ve stated that you are a strong proponent of bringing science, and your research, to the public. Why is this important to you? 

A. Well the standard answer would be that our work is supported by taxpayers but like most things I do, I am happy to admit that there are selfish benefits to apparently altruistic behaviours. When it comes to giving public talks about science, I am often admonished by colleagues for apparently wasting my time going to service clubs or grade three classes. I would maintain that learning about how to connect with an audience really benefits one’s teaching—so selfishly, I really improve at aspects of my job from the continual practice. If you don’t stimulate a grade three class—they very quickly turn off and tell you with their rolling eyes, that you are dull. The experience makes you speak simply with enthusiasm and thus teaching a first year university class becomes much easier. This helps when it comes to giving invited talks at conferences and invited seminars and it helps you organize your thoughts to confidently make the case in grant applications. And in the end, when you have a student tell you after an intro Biology class that they remember when you came to their grade three room in an elementary school and you’ve had a little impact on someone’s life—that feels really good.  

The rictal bristles and nares of a common pauraque. Photo Credit: Anne C. Brigham

Q: You’ve said that bats are a good vehicle for public talks. What is it about bats that make them so useful in this context? 

A. Bats provide perfect vehicles for popular talks as they are often misunderstood by people and thus can be used to make a case for why apparently "esoteric" research can be important. Like spiders, snakes, sharks etc., people are both repelled but at the same time compelled to learn about these animals. It is so much fun to take “someone on” who contends that bats are yucky. This also sharpens one’s skill at making arguments in simple language—I find it a wonderful challenge. 

A large carnivorous bat (Phylostomus hastatus) and a small fruit eating species (Carollia perspicillata) roosting in a culvert near Gamboa, Panama. Photo Credit: Anne C. Brigham

Q: When you aren’t researching or teaching what do you like to do? 

A. I am an avid “player” of games. I play hockey, badminton, golf and I curl. I enjoy the physical aspects as well as the social and I do love to compete in a healthy way. The activity helps offset the fact that I really enjoy food and am most fortunate to be married to a wonderful cook. My wife is an avid photographer and I most enjoy following or chauffeuring her to places where she can take advantage of sites and scenes. We really enjoy travelling and my work provides a wealth of wonderful opportunities to undertake this. At the end of a day, I love conversation, especially over a glass or maybe two of a full-bodied Barossa Shiraz, a Stellenbosch Pinotage, an Okanagan Riesling or an Uco Valley Malbec.  

Radio-tracking common nighthawks near Okanagan Falls, British Columbia. Photo Credit: Anne C. Brigham

Many thanks to Dr. Brigham for answering our questions. Please join us in welcoming him to CJZ and our Editorial team. 
Thumbnail image: Holding a common pauraque (Nyctidromus albicollis; nightjar) in Panama prior to affixing a heart rate monitor. Photo Credit: Anne C. Brigham.

Filed Under: NRC Research Press Meet the Editor Scholarly Publishing Science Careers

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