Open Labs Spotlight: Matt Grobis

When asking a scientist what motivated them to pursue their career in science, it’s common to hear that the scientist always just enjoyed science and decided to focus their career goals in that direction. Matt Grobis, on the other hand, never considered pursuing science as a career until he had an eye-opening experience in his biology class during his junior year of high school in Vernon Hills, Illinois. Until this class, he wanted to be an author and particularly enjoyed his English classes, but he soon discovered he equally enjoyed learning about the natural world that surrounds us. After beginning college at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as an English major, Matt soon transferred to integrative biology to continue studying how the natural world works while still pursuing his writing interests.

Matt is a firm believer in not getting discouraged when things don’t go according to plan. While Illinois was not his top choice for college, he had an incredible experience and took advantage of the many opportunities there. Despite graduating college with uncertainty about the next steps, a sudden stroke of luck appeared two weeks later with a scholarship he’d been waiting on.  Matt also applies this mentality to his current research. He explains that “data collection and experiments rarely work out the way you imagine. It all looks smooth from a distance, with one step logically leading to the next. But it’s often not!” As a graduate student at Princeton in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology department, Matt studies the behavior of animal groups and, specifically, how schools of fish relay information through their group to avoid predators. Matt uses quantitative approaches such as computer programming to address his research questions in the Couzin lab

Although he didn’t consider himself good at math or computers prior to entering graduate school, Matt’s research required him to dive into programming head on and he now truly appreciates the vast potential programming provides him: better data visualizations, more intricate data analysis, faster processing; the list goes on. “Don’t be afraid to try learning something intimidating!” Matt says. “You never know where it will take you.”

Matt loves research but he’s keeping future doors open. “If the past taught me anything, it’s that life doesn’t always go according to plan. I’d love to do research as a professor at a fancy university. But I’d also be really excited to work as a data scientist at a company, or to focus on delivering informative and interesting lectures as a professor at a small liberal arts college. We’ll see what happens.” In the meantime, one of Matt’s biggest priorities is communicating science in a way that is accessible to everyone. To that end, Matt maintains a blog called The Headbanging Behaviorist and is a co-founder and director of the Open Labs branch at Princeton. He is also a co-founder and the managing editor for Highwire Earth, a blog on sustainable development.

Thanks to Matt for all his hard work with the Princeton branch of Open Labs and for sharing his story and advice with us! If you have any questions for Matt or about Open Labs in general, please send us an email at openlabsfellowship@gmail.com. Also be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter for more up to date information on events and news!