Diane Murphy collecting samples
WCSU degree program: Master of Arts in biological and environmental sciences, received May 2010
Current position: Fisheries & Aquaculture Specialist and Extension Program leader, Woods Hole Sea Grant and Cape Cod Cooperative Extension, Barnstable, Mass.
Diane Murphy’s advice to students considering a degree in biology comes from her life experience and her heart: Don’t let fear of risk or failure dissuade you from pursuing your dream.
“I often speak to groups of young people such as AmeriCorps volunteers, who ask me about my career choices and how I got to be where I am today,” observed Murphy, fisheries and aquaculture specialist for Woods Hole Sea Grant and Cape Cod Cooperative Extension in Barnstable, Mass.
“First, I tell them don’t be afraid of math or science,” she said. “Anyone can do it — it just takes more work for some of us. Fear of math originally kept me from a science degree as a young student. Later in life, I found I could tackle most anything I set my mind to.”
As the mother of four sons and a cancer survivor, Murphy took a long and challenging road from her completion of a bachelor’s degree in literature and communications at Pace University in 1977 to her recognition at Western Connecticut State University in May 2010 as recipient of a master’s degree in biological and environmental sciences.
“I always had a love of herpetology, and in my youth spent many long hours outdoors in search of turtles and snakes,”
“I always had a love of herpetology, and in my youth spent many long hours outdoors in search of turtles and snakes,” she recalled. “While living in New York, I came across an article in the local newspaper about a group of volunteers doing field surveys for reptiles and amphibians under the direction of Dr. Michael Klemens of the World Conservation Society (WCS). At the time, I was recovering from cancer and chemotherapy, and I decided not to wait any longer to pursue my passions. So I contacted the volunteer group and in 1995 started my wonderful journey in herpetology.”
Klemens, WCS senior conservationist and research associate in herpetology at the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), encouraged Murphy to pursue biology studies at Western, where he has served as an adjunct faculty member. She enrolled in the WCSU biology curriculum while residing in nearby Pawling, N.Y., and commuted to classes while raising her family. In addition to her continuing field research with Klemens for WCS, she also served part time as an archivist for the AMNH and as a science consultant and educator for the New York Aquarium.
An unexpected relocation to Massachusetts interrupted her studies. Hired in 1999 as a marine program specialist at Cape Cod Cooperative Extension, she soon realized that advancement in her new field would require completion of a master’s degree. Her readmission to resume studies at Western became possible thanks to the intervention of Professor of Biological and Environmental Sciences Dr. Richard Halliburton and the agreement of Associate Professor of Biological and Environmental Sciences Dr. Theodora Pinou to serve as her thesis adviser. Murphy then embarked on a demanding schedule that combined long-distance learning with frequent commutes to attend courses at Harvard University and WCSU. She also traveled regularly to Dutchess County, N.Y., where she conducted field work studying the habitat utilization and seasonal movements of a box turtle population on site.
“I don’t regret a minute of this work, and I owe a debt of gratitude to Drs. Halliburton, Pinou and Klemens for enabling this to happen,” she said. “I always felt that I was receiving a quality education at WCSU — one in which professors not only challenged their students, but instilled their enthusiasm for their particular science in class.”
In addition to her master’s thesis on the Dutchess County box turtle population completed in spring 2010, Murphy has been coauthor of six published scientific works as well as two articles currently in preparation. She also has presented research on shellfish habitat, bay scallop restoration, oyster overwintering and other marine biology topics at professional conferences across New England and in Pennsylvania and California.
Murphy credits her educational journey at Western for setting firm foundations for her successful career in the sciences.
“WCSU has been extremely influential in helping me to achieve the position I now hold,”
“WCSU has been extremely influential in helping me to achieve the position I now hold,” she remarked. “The university provided access to highly qualified professors who pushed me hard to reach my potential. The classes were small enough to allow very personal attention that prevented me from slipping through the cracks. Western is certainly one of the major factors that has shaped my life today.”