By Zainab Iqbal
Published: October 4th, 2017
Christopher Ryan moved to New York just two months ago from Florida. He is now teaching two sections of ‘The Dynamic Earth’ lab at Brooklyn College. The Excelsior got a chance to speak to him about his accomplishments, goals and the advice he has for college students.
*Some answers are condensed because of space*
Do you like teaching college students?
I do, yes. I taught a plant identification course at University of Florida (UF), so I had some experience before coming here. Now I’m teaching the Dynamic Earth Lab for two sections. The minerals and rocks are new to me, so I’m learning it to teach the material, which is a great motivating factor. And it all ties up. It’s all a part of larger earth systems.
What did you do before being a professor?
I did my undergraduate at UF in Anthropology and in Women’s Studies, and minored in African studies. I was a really social-science heavy undergrad. When I graduated, I got a temporary job in a greenhouse at UF, which I really, really liked. It ended up being a permanent job, and I worked there for two years. I then started a master’s degree in cultural science, and finished that up. Right before I started my program, I saw Dr. Peter Groffman (from Brooklyn College) speak at UF. And when I was looking for PhD programs, I sent him an email, and that’s how I ended up here.
Did you ever come to NY before that?
I visited on a few occasions. I came here for a conference during my undergrad for Student Global AIDS Campaign, which I was involved with during my undergrad. I always loved NYC and kind of thought maybe I would move here at some point, but I didn’t expect to come here for school.
Why do you wear the Pulse Night Club bracelet on your wrist?
I was in Orlando the night of Pulse at a gay bar. So that was definitely kind of intense, not so much direct because I wasn’t there, but it was very much in my world and close to home. I had friends of friends that were there. So it’s something that I carry with me. And you see some Pulse stuff in NYC too, and I think that’s cool. It was something that had an impact.
Where do you plan on taking your education?
I want to continue with research, so the next step would be getting a post doc. And finish working to become a professor would be the long term goal. But my research area is urban ecology and landscape ecology: looking at how natural lands and agricultural lands are being converted to cities, and what the ecological implications are, perhaps in terms of water management and soil conditions.
Why is all this important to you?
It’s important for humans in terms of public health, psychological health, well-being and quality of life. Nature also exists alongside us and with us. How can we co-exist with other species? How do we promote that?
How is Women’s Studies connected to this system?
Humans and quality of life. So, it’s a humanistic perspective: power dynamics within human populations and what that means for access to resources and the lived experience.
What do you do when you’re not teaching?
I like to geocache. You have a GPS, people put coordinates and you look for hidden containers. That gets me exploring, and I’ve gotten to see a lot of NYC. It takes me to areas I wouldn’t go otherwise. So that’s kind of fun. I’m also on a geocache streak right now. I’m on one cache a day, going for 365 days. Some days it’s easy because it fits into my schedule and I can just go. I had a lot of time after I finished my Master’s. But now that I stared my PhD, I’ll see if I can make the streak—as long as it’s still reasonable to do so. I play Pokémon Go as well. I like being outdoors and exploring new areas.
What kind of professor do you want to become?
Something related to nature in some capacity. So possibly something with an earth science, or environmental science component. But as I said, it all connects and intertwines. Being an environmental scientist, you have to know earth science and vice versa. These disciplinary boundaries we have are somewhat artificial. That’s where anthropology and women’s studies ties in because everything kind of bleeds together; it’s all the study of life. It’s all the study of reality.
What do you say to people who don’t believe climate change is a real thing?
I feel like there is certain dogma behind climate change denial that makes it hard to have a conversation with someone to really change their opinion. All you can really do is cite an academic census. But if somebody doesn’t place value on that and formed their own belief system, I don’t necessarily know what you can say to them to make them change their opinion.
What advice do you have for students?
Study abroad. It is one of the best things you can do. Find a lot of scholarships. There are a lot of scholarship opportunities especially in the natural science field. Take your classes seriously. Make connections with your professors. Every professor is conducting research in a specialty. Join student organizations. There are benefits for being involved in student organizations, you get opportunities that you won’t get by just coming to class and doing that kind of college thing. And that’s the main experience, you go to class and get the grade, but there’s a lot of stuff you can do as a student, and once you graduate it all goes away.