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Graduate Student Profile - Samir Patel

Sea turtles. Greece. South Africa.

Sounds like the prelude to a dream vacation.

These are some of the wonderful aspects of the research being done by Ph.D. candidate Samir Patel in the Biology Department, with Dr. James Spotila as his advisor. Patel’s research involves tracking the various movements and habits of loggerhead sea turtles in the Mediterranean Sea through the use of satellite telemetry.

Small devices are attached to female sea turtles, and data is transmitted to a satellite to measure various aspects of their movement and mating habits. “All of the data is constantly transferred to the satellite company,” says Patel, “so we are able to get consistent updates about their movement.” The devices measure various aspects of the turtles’ post-nesting behavior, including locations, the dive patterns and temperatures at these locations, with the eventual goal of tracking how the effects of global warming on the Mediterranean Sea affects their habits.

Grad student Samir PatelPatel fell into this research early in his Drexel career. While finishing up the first year of his master’s program at the University, a position opened up with another Ph.D. candidate doing research in Greece.

“Dr. Spotila had an opening, and he's a world expert in sea turtles,” says Patel. “I could have worked on corals in Costa Rica, but that seemed very limited. There was an opportunity to work in Greece under a Ph.D. student who was already doing some research on sea turtles. I took that opportunity, I went as an assistant and I loved working with the turtles.”

Since Patel doesn’t live in Philadelphia, the level of freedom he’s had in his department has been crucial to making his research work and to making his personal life fruitful as well. “I do have an exceptional amount of freedom,” he says. “In the midst of getting my graduate degree, I got married and my wife works in Boston. As a result of working with Dr. Spotila and the structured yet flexible system that Drexel has, I’ve been fortunate enough to have a very good personal life with my wife in Boston, but also accomplish a lot in my field.”

True to the collaborative nature of his work and of Drexel at large, Patel has been working with professors outside of Drexel to enrich his research in Greece. In addition to working under the advisement of Dr. Spotila, he is also working with Dr. Steve Morreale of Cornell University and Dr. Frank Paladino at Indiana University-Purdue University to complete his research on the sea turtles in the pursuit of his Ph.D.

Aside from his last tour to Greece this summer, he is very open to what the future may hold for him as a researcher and an academic. Though working with the sea turtles has been an exciting experience for him, he’s open to looking at other animals. “I’ve enjoyed working with the turtles over the course of this project,” he says, “but I'm really dedicated to exploring the capabilities of the satellite telemetry.”

Patel has three years of teaching under his belt—three years of high school biology and one year of high school chemistry at private schools in Florida and Massachusetts—and he’s hoping that he can continue to pursue that passion in the years to come.

“I’m looking at some post-doc programs,” Patel explains. “But teaching at a university level is really appealing to me. After my experience teaching at those schools, I think it would be great to be able to both continue the research I’ve started while also being in the classroom.”