Unique Scientist: Brian O’Toole

Say hello to mammalogist Brian O’Toole (He/him)! Brian is a conservation biologist and a graduate student working at Fordham University in New York, USA!

What kind of scientist are you?
I am a biologist concentrating in evolutionary biology and conservation genomics. More specifically, I am a mammalogist who studies African fauna using museum collections to understand how populations have changed or evolved over a short time frame of evolutionary history and how they may be at risk from a conservation perspective. My current study species is the straw-colored fruit bat (Eidolon helvum) that lives all across Sub-Saharan Africa.

What made you want to become a scientist?
Growing up on a farm in rural western New York, I spent more time outside than inside. I have always had an inherent interest in the natural world around me and the organisms that inhabited it. It wasn’t until my high school years while taking biology that I came to realize that careers existed where one could study, interact, and engage in this wild world.

“It wasn’t until my high school years while taking biology that I came to realize that careers existed where one could study, interact, and engage in this wild world.”

Brian O’Toole

What makes you a #UniqueScientist?
I am a member of the LGBTQ+ community and while I currently reside in the (mostly) liberal haven that is New York City, I hail from a relatively conservative region of NY state that retains some antiquated viewpoints and opinions of the LGBTQ+ community. I am here to be a voice to all children and young adults who feel that they are different and to tell them that they should be proud of their uniqueness no matter what it is.

What’s something cool you do outside of work?
I used to be a bartender and I continue to work for a traveling mixology company in NYC that creates crafted cocktails for any and every different type of event. The most fun cocktails to create have dry ice in them. When I make these types of drinks, it feels like my science world and cocktail world are colliding.

If you had one wish and could change anything in science, what would it be?
The science community is changing and developing slowly. Many changes are necessary and essential but something near the top of this list for me is to decrease the requirement of publications early in a scientist’s career. Currently the top programs and funding agencies only choose candidates who have one or more publications in a moderate impact level journal. This immediately weeds out students from institutions that may not have had as many resources or students who developed a novel project but did not find the most groundbreaking results. Diversity in STEM provides different perspectives and this needs to be boosted in all areas.

I am here to be a voice to all children and young adults who feel that they are different and to tell them that they should be proud of their uniqueness no matter what it is.

Brian O’Toole

Who has inspired you the most in your journey to where you are now?
The most influential scientists in my life have been my numerous mentors who happen to all be #WomenInSTEM. My high school biology teacher, Ms. Hoffman, ignited my interest in biology, ecology, and evolution. Her passion for the many topics we covered was infections and taking her AP [Advanced Placement] Biology class led me to pursue Biology as my major. During my undergraduate career my lab mentor, Dr. Frida Johannesdottir taught me and prepared me for the tumultuous world that is academic research. Finally my current advisors, Dr. Evon Hekkala and Dr. Nancy Simmons continue to mould me into a well rounded, accomplished scientist.

Let’s end on a high note! What’s something you’ve done this week that you’re proud of?
I have recently scheduled my sampling visits to the National Museum of Natural History and the Field Museum of Natural History to sample the collections for my thesis research. I received the funding for this opportunity from the Sigma Xi grant in aid of research a while back and am still riding that high.


#QueerInSTEM #LGBTQInSTEM

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