Unique Scientist: Arik Hartmann

Want to meet a cool herpetologist? Say hi to Arik Harmann (He/him)! Arik is a graduate student at the University of Florida in the USA interested in amphibian and reptile disease ecology!

What kind of scientist are you?
I am an early career herpetologist! I am interested in amphibian and reptile disease and I’m currently working to detect novel nidoviruses that may be present in populations of native snakes in Everglades National Park in Florida! Not much is known about nidoviruses (or nido-like viruses as they’re being called) in squamates, and they’ve only recently been identified (the late 90’s!). We know that Burmese pythons are susceptible to the virus, and present with respiratory disease and may succumb to disease but we don’t know if it can be transmitted into native species! That’s why I’m here!

I just started my graduate studies in Zoology at the University of Florida under Dr. Ana Longo’s guidance. I plan to investigate the susceptibility of North American salamander species to chytrid fungus. With the looming threat of salamander chytrid, and the devastation it can cause to our native salamanders, it’s important to assess species resistance for future management decisions. Ideally, I want the work I do to inform amphibian conservation efforts.

What made you want to become a scientist?
I was one of those kids obsessed with nature shows and documentaries, anything David Attenborough, Jeff Corwin, and Steve Irwin. You know how a lot of kids wanted to be astronauts or doctors? Not this kid. I fell in love with frogs, lizards, and snakes I could find around me in Arizona. I didn’t know what a scientist did really, but I knew I wanted to travel and see all the exciting slimy, slithery, and scaly creatures everywhere. I’ve always strongly disliked the hate and disgust that herps usually elicit, and I wanted to devote my life to these wonderful creatures that jump-started my love and fascination of the natural world.

“I couldn’t afford to travel, or take summer classes, or do a semester abroad and while it was disheartening I feel as though those experiences of set-backs and sitting out have made me resilient and understanding.”

Arik Hartmann

What makes you a #UniqueScientist?
I feel like being #QueerInSTEM is so very important, since being a gay informs my way of thinking and my experiences as a queer person Growing up as a #FirstGen and #LowIncome college student, I feel like my college experience was a lot different than my peers. I couldn’t afford to travel, or take summer classes, or do a semester abroad and while it was disheartening I feel as though those experiences of set-backs and sitting out have made me resilient and understanding.
I’m also HIV positive. #LivingwithHIV and being a scientist studying diseases really drives home how intertwined the host-pathogen relationship is. Because I’m open and candid about my HIV status it gives me the opportunity to open dialogues about chronic diseases and stigma.

What’s something cool you do outside of work?
I do some work in destigmatizing HIV, and I gave a TED Talk in 2016 about how our perceptions have stayed in the past even though medical advancements for HIV management have been incredibly refined. I peer counsel people newly diagnosed with HIV and work to dispel misconceptions people have about the virus and people living with it.

I also like to watercolor (mostly watercolor) and I’ve recently started up some vivariums for newts and frogs. There’s a theme here.

“I peer counsel people newly diagnosed with HIV and work to dispel misconceptions people have about the virus and people living with it.”

Arik Hartmann

If you had one wish and could change anything in science, what would it be?
I think we’re headed in the right direction, especially with what a see in a lot of younger scientists on Twitter. I want science to be a place where queer people, people of color, people of every gender identity, are all free to exist and do good work. Having a wealth of people from diverse backgrounds allows for so many different perspectives and angles to look at scientific questions. It doesn’t make sense to exclude any of that!

Who has inspired you the most in your journey to where you are now?
My biggest inspirations are my friends Dr. Taylor Sloey and her husband Dr. Erik Yando. Years ago I they gave me first foray into science as an undergraduate researcher while they were pursuing their graduate degrees. We became great friends, and they have been the best mentors, cheerleaders, and inspirations I could hope for. They organized our local TEDx event, pushed me to participate, and always used their privilege and power to uplift those around them. They now work in Singapore for the National University of Singapore and Yale-NUS. I’m so indebted to their kindness.

Let’s end on a high note! What’s something you’ve done this week that you’re proud of?
I’ve recently swabbed my 100th snake this field season! I’ve also got 14/24 of my target species sampled!


#QueerInSTEM, #FirstGen #LivingwithHIV

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