Gonzalo Giribet - Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University

Gonzalo Giribet

Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Alexander Agassiz Professor, Harvard College Professor and Curator-in-Charge of Invertebrate Zoology in the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Harvard University.

Gonzalo Giribet sitting on the side of a boat, ready to research.

I was born/grew up in: I was born in Burgos in Spain, but when I was four years old I moved to Barcelona, to a city on the coast named Vilanova i la Geltrú.

I now live in: I live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a city that I personally find very attractive. It is cosmopolitan and reminds me of Europe in many ways.

I completed my training/education at: I completed my Bachelors and PhD at the University of Barcelona, at the Faculty of Biology. During my PhD I had the opportunity to spend three months at the American Museum of Natural History where I got to know many colleagues in the area of Systematics. After finishing my PhD, I moved to the AMNH for my postdoctoral research. I was 26 years old at the time.

Describe what you do at work.

My works consists of three main parts:

  • Researching the evolutionary relationships of invertebrates (past and present) with my research team
  • Teaching courses on systematics, biogeography and invertebrates
  • Directing the staff who work in the invertebrate collections in the museum.

The curatorial work is necessary to keep the specimen in the collection in good condition. The collection has 2 million records at the moment! This process requires the participation of many people, including the curatorial staff I supervise.

I also run a research lab, where one of my objectives is to make sure the students gain the research skills needed to reach the next level in their academic or nonacademic careers.

When I was a student I enjoyed:

How does your job affect people’s lives?

In my lab, I train new professionals in the areas of systematics and evolution of invertebrates. The research we do adds to the growing knowledge of the scientific community. Some of this information reaches the general public. For example, we use the Harvard Museum of Natural History as a way to bring new information to the public. This is done through our displays and educational programs we offer at the museum.

What motivates you in your career?

Understanding the biology of invertebrates has always been my passion. When I was a young kid, I had my own collection of mollusks (which I donated later to the Museum). I was always interested in taxonomy (how organisms are related and classified). Even when I was very young I would use books on  mollusks to identify the shells I collected at the beach. I was fortunate to have an older neighbor who helped me with this. Later, fellow students and colleagues at the university taught me how to become more professional. Discipline and commitment have also been very valuable in helping me find my dream job.

I enjoy traveling for research, as this has allowed me to see some of the most remote places i the world. It has also helped me understand just how diverse these remote areas are.  

When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:

Describe your career path to this career.

I have no doubt that I got here through a lot of hard work, but also a bit of luck. I think that to get a job like mine you have to be either really intelligent or to work really hard. Of course, some people fit in both categories! However, I think I fit better into the second category than into the first. One of my virtues is the ability to work very efficiently by myself. Being organized and disciplined also helps, so I’m able to work in situations and places where other people usually can’t focus. That gives me some extra valuable time that I have learned to use well over the years.

What activities do you like to do outside of work?

I enjoy doing sports. I do competitive windsurfing but also enjoy running and cycling. I also like music and travel, especially if it is for field work because it allows me to see the world from a very different perspective than if I were traveling as a tourist.

What advice or encouragement would you give others seeking a similar career?

Give everything you’ve got!  Being successful in this kind of career requires effort and discipline. Academic careers are usually driven by passion and work. It often means pursuing the results rather than the salaries or filling the hours. Therefore, if working long hours (when needed) does not look like fun, you might want to consider a different career. 

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