Biodiversity Institute Fellows Profiles

Christopher Sheil

"Excellent training at the Museum and at KU prepared me for the rigors of academic life."

PhD, 2003
Advisors: Linda Trueb and Bill Duellman
Dissertation title: Skeletal development in turtles: patterns of ossification through ontogeny in Apalone spinifera, Chelydra serpentina, Macroclemmys temminckii, and Eretmochelys imbricata (Reptilia: Testudinata)
Home country: United States (currently, University Heights, Ohio)
Current position: Professor and Graduate Coordinator, John Carroll University

How did you get started in herpetology at KU?
I didn't have a plan when I came to KU as an undergraduate, and I left the university after my first year. But I had always been interested in herpetology. I worked at a local pet store where KU herpetology graduate students sometimes came in to purchase crickets and other items for the animals they kept. They offered to show me around the herpetology division, and I began volunteering in herpetology in 1992. Graduate students were putting papers in front of me to read all the time -- they were an amazing cohort. Then Bill Duellman offered to be my advisor, and from that point on, he emphasized that I needed to have a plan. I've followed that advice since. 

Christopher SheilHow would you describe the academic culture at KU?
I entered the graduate program in 1996 and focused on the skeletal development of turtles, working with turtle embryos. One thing that I remember about the experience was the immediate support network. I learned as much from my peers as my advisors. I was learning about the papers they were reading, the classes they were taking and their research. You have people at every step of the way in the division: undergrads, PhD candidates, post docs and professors. So I got to see academics at every level at any given time. It became a network of people, and the tangible thing about that network is that people help you make connections with others. I saw other labs when I went away, but there was nothing like the group at the KU Natural History Museum.

How did your experience in herpetology at KU affect your career?
I was extremely lucky to have landed in the wings of graduate students, and of Bill and Linda Trueb. They helped me with professional development, and helped me understand what I would need to be a professional. At KU, I had the opportunity to co-teach a course with Michael Engel (curator of Entomology), which made me more competitive later. All of that helps me in my job now, where I teach and am the graduate coordinator.

Bill and Linda did such a great job mentoring students, and some of that rubbed off on me -- I want to do that, too. I got so much out of my experience as a graduate student that I feel like I owe the system. Excellent training at the Natural History Museum and at KU prepared me for the rigors of academic life.