Student Spotlight February 2014
Mr. Adams received a B.S. in biology and an M.S. in entomology at Louisiana State University where he conducted research on the response of ant communities to disturbances in forests, the rafting behavior of fire ants during floods, and the various effects of oil spills on coastal insects. Mr. Adams is currently working on his Ph.D. in biology studying the ecology and behavior of canopy dwelling ants in tropical rain forests.
“I am thrilled to have Max as a member of my lab group. Beyond his outstanding skills as a field biologist, he is adept at getting others excited about science, and he has a gregarious personality that fosters social cohesion in the Department...plus he is a great cook! Max's academic ability and well-roundedness will serve him well in grad school and beyond, and I look forward to seeing him achieve his goals.” – Dr. Yanoviak, Mentor and Graduate Advisor
What brought you to the University of Louisville?
I came to UofL to work with Dr. Steve Yanoviak who is doing amazing research in the rain forests of Central and South America. It was hard to beat getting to spend summers in a tropical paradise surrounded by exotic animals including howler monkeys, anteaters, iguanas, crocodiles, and tons of insects.
Specific areas of research (how you chose this research, why it interested you):
I’m focusing on how it’s possible to have 10-20 species of ants coexisting in the top of a single tree in the rain forest. The system is like an ant metropolis. I use it to ask questions like which ants directly interact with each other and how, who’s eating what and when, where in the canopy different ants spend more of their time, etc… From there, I address more broadly applicable ecological questions about species interaction and competition, resource allocation and mosaics, and population and community structures and dynamics.
How would you describe your area of study/specific research to your grandmother?
She’d probably be more interested in how to kill all the ants in her backyard then what I do. I’d tell her I climb trees and try to figure out what role ants are playing in the natural environment; anything more would only elicit a matronly smile advising me to change the subject.
What made you go into this field of study?
I’ve been watching ants since I was in diapers. My mother actually has a picture I drew when I was around four years old of a bunch of ants feeding each other. Studying insects is just something I’ve always done.
Awards, honors, publications:
I am an author on five publications from my undergraduate and master’s work and have three more in review. I was an NSF GRFP honorable mention, an invited speaker at the National Conference on Urban Entomology, and a recipient of the L.D. Newsom award for Outstanding Achievement and a Sigma Xi undergraduate research grant.
Long term goals/aspirations:
I’d love to stay in academia and become a professor or a field biologist for an institute like the Smithsonian.
What accomplishment, academic or otherwise, are you most proud of?
Academically, I have had the opportunity to be a part of some really interesting research involving the effects oil spills and their subsequent clean-ups have on insect communities that I think is fascinating and potentially really important to future conservation efforts. Outside of that, I had the chance to play music in front of a couple thousand people a few years ago. That was exciting.
What do you feel is the greatest challenge that graduate students face and how have you dealt with this challenge?
There is just a constant list of looming deadlines, paperwork, projects, and publications to complete and a huge body of information to digest. Mostly, I try to set realistic, accomplishable daily goals and read a few primary literature papers after work.
I’m the middle child of three kids. My dad is a chemist and my older brother is a mathematician so they make fun of me for not studying a “hard” science. My mother is in sales and is a fantastic chef so we grew up constantly cooking things with life centered around the kitchen. My younger sister is an EMT in Colorado.
A talent you have always wanted: I'd love to be able to play piano. Its a fantastic instrument that opens the doors to so many other things musically.
Favorite Book: I read around 100 books a year so I'm not sure I could choose just one.
Favorite quote: "Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads." - Thoreau
Role Model: Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes
Favorite Vacation Destination: Anywhere in the Smoky Mountains, preferably a cabin with a great kitchen.
If you weren't in graduate school, what would you be doing now? I'd hopefully be working in the outdoor industry leading rafting/backpacking/climbing trips or working as a camp director.