Meet EPA Biologist Walter Berry, Ph.D.
Walter Berry has worked at EPA’s lab in Narragansett, Rhode Island, since 1979. His research roles are always evolving—most recently Dr. Berry has been focused on working directly with the people that use EPA science through educational outreach and stakeholder engagement.
Tell us about your background.
I have a bachelor’s degree in biology from Vassar College, and a PhD in biological oceanography from the Graduate School of Oceanography, University of Rhode Island. I went right into the PhD program from college because I was so sure that was what I wanted. I chose an Oceanography program because I was interested in a whole ocean perspective, as opposed to a broader biological perspective. I started at EPA in 1979 as a graduate student. My first job in the laboratory was doing toxicology in support of the development of water quality criteria. Since then my research has evolved as the Agency’s role has evolved: I have worked in support of sediment quality guidelines, and counting birds out on the salt marsh, and now I do mostly stakeholder engagement, educational outreach, and science communication.
When did you first know you wanted to be a scientist?
When I was about 9 years old, I read a book by Jaques Cousteau called “The Living Sea”. That was when I decided I wanted to be a marine biologist. I started wearing a face mask in the bathtub and never looked back.
What do you like most about your research?
I have a job that is challenging, fun, and varied. I have worked in the lab and in the field and have gotten to travel to some amazing places like China and Slovakia. I do work that helps protect the environment, and nowadays I often get to work directly with the people who can use the products of my research.
How does your science matter?
I get to work on real world problems and help environmental decision makers make better decisions.
If you weren’t a scientist, what would you be doing?
Teaching probably. I love doing outreach with people of all ages. I am the kind of person who cannot resist pointing out the bird in a nearby tree or showing people how to knit on a loom or how to bake bread in a dutch oven.
What advice would you give a student interested in a career in science?
Go for it! Find something that you are fascinated by, and then go help figure it out. Science is a career that allows you to continually learn and to make a real difference to people. And who knows, you might even end up being the world’s expert in something.
If you can have any superpower, what would you choose?
Time travel. I would like to have a few words with the Founding Fathers and visit with the dinosaurs for starters.
What do you think the coolest scientific discovery was and why?
Natural selection. It is at the basis of the way I understand so much of the world around me, in a way that just makes intuitive sense to me.
If you could have dinner with any scientist, past or present, who would you choose?
Marie Curie and her daughter Irene. How could you not want to meet the only Mother/Daughter combo to win Nobel Prizes? I think I would offer to cook dinner, however, because they must have worked awfully hard to accomplish all they did (particularly at the time in history when they did it).
Editor's Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the researcher alone. EPA does not endorse the opinions or positions expressed.