Dr. Walker O. Smith, Jr., Professor, Department of Biological
Sciences, Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences, The College
of William & Mary, Gloucester Point, VA.
not working, Dr. Smith greatly enjoys playing competitive
tennis (in regional tournaments) and working out. He
also likes to refinish hard-wood furniture, ride his motorcycle,
sail and travel (despite all the travel he does with his job!).
Finally, he relishes the opportunity to relax with a good
book and a good beer.
Why are you a scientist?
I became a scientist, and specifically an oceanographer,
because I was fascinated seeing the changes in Lake Erie as
I grew up. Moving from a large lake to the ocean was a logical
step. I was encouraged by my brother-in-law, who is a geologist,
to seek the answers to the questions I was posing.
What is science?
Science can be considered as a way of looking at nature and
how all the parts interact to produce the whole. The ocean
is a great example. I cant understand phytoplankton
without knowing the currents, weather, chemistry,
ecology, and more, and you cant understand how
the ocean works unless you appreciate the biological
aspects. All science is like that, from quarks to buckyballs
What skills and qualities are necessary in order to be
What is not necessary is being the smartest person
out there. Most scientists I know are smart, but the good
ones have a curiosity honed by experience and training to
investigate interesting and important problems. It is equally
important to be able to interact positively with your peers.
Finally, it is important to have the courage of your convictions
and to pursue what you believe is important.
What is most enjoyable about your job?
The fun thing about my job is teaching younger folks, the
graduate students, how to appreciate the intricacies
of research, show them an honest view of their chosen profession,
and how to succeed in the field. When they understand, it
is a tremendous joy for me. I love the actual research and
getting my hands wet, and the intellectual interactions with
my peers the mental challenges!
What frustrations do you face with your job?
Like most people, I have an interest in more things than I
have time for. I get just as much pleasure in playing a good,
three-hour tennis match as I do from a successful grant proposal,
but the difference is that the tennis is purely for me, while
the grant is for many. I wish I had twice as much time
for everything. I also get frustrated with meetings and paperwork
and concerns about unimportant matters that detract from what
I really should be doing.
to Meet the Scientists
The bold words that are on this page are words that
are in the glossary. You can find their meanings below.
If you want to see the whole glossary, click
related to the science that studies the growth and life processes
of living things
ball-shaped molecules of carbon
the science that studies basic elements and their compounds
trying to win; working against someone else
beliefs or opinions that are strongly held
masses of liquid or air that flow in one direction
science that studies the relationships among plants, animals,
and the environment
money for a specific research purpose
complex and complicated
the science and study of oceans
small plants (best seen with a microscope) floating in the
upper layer of the ocean
an elementary particle; a building block of protons and neutrons
contests of skill; a series of games