Where to Now? Spotlight Alums

Dr. James (Jimmy) Nelson, Ph.D -- Ecosystem Educator

Jimmy received both his undergraduate degree in Biological Science (2004, advised by Dr. Felicia Coleman) and his Ph. D. in Chemical Oceanography (2011, Dr. Jeff Chanton)) from Florida State University (FSU).

After doing a post-doc with Dr. Linda Deegan at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, he landed a position as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Growing up in Panama City, FL, Jimmy always enjoyed being around the water, but never really thought about marine science as a career. It wasn’t until he started at FSU and attended a lecture from Florida State University's Coastal and Marine Lab's (FSUCML) own Dr. Chris Koenig, that he started perusing the idea of a career revolving around marine life.  Jimmy said, “The diving and research (Chris) and Felicia were doing was the coolest thing I had ever seen. I started bugging them about volunteering and doing anything I could to get involved in their work.”   He then applied and was accepted into the undergraduate Marine Certificate program in Marine Biology where he learned how to dive and began doing part-time work at the lab.

After graduation, he became a full-time technician in the Coleman-Koenig lab, and gained experience going in the field, diving, and working with fishermen.

"They loved him on the commercial fishing boats we hired," said Koenig, "because he could lift just about anything on the deck or out of the water."

 Jimmy with Dr. Chris Koenig

“It was an amazing time…the two years I worked with Felicia and Chris doing research was when I found my career.  I really can’t say enough how critical they were to me getting where I am today.” 

Jimmy went on to earn his Ph. D. under the guidance of Dr. Chanton, where he learned how to think outside of the box and make connections across various disciplines.  Along the path, he really came into his own and found that he naturally gravitated towards “big questions” and large-scale projects. 

This worked well for him when Koenig and Coleman received a grant to study grouper food webs in the Gulf of Mexico and this work became the topic for his dissertation. In fact, he published a few papers alongside all three of his mentors, revolving around the conclusions following from this study.  

"It was pure joy to watch Jimmy metamorphose through all the fits and starts of his undergraduate career to become a colleague and the well respected scientist he is today," says Coleman. 

Currently at the University of Louisiana, Jimmy teaches Ecosystem Ecology, Fish Ecology, and Management, as well as Quantitative Analysis in Research.  His goal is to “teach students to think in a systems perspective and to understand the relationships between organisms and their environment.”

In recent news, Jimmy just received a prestigious fellowship from the National Academy of Sciences Gulf Research Program.  He is so excited and incredibly honored to receive this award and is ready to hit the ground running. 

To keep up-to-date on Jimmy and his work, visit his website here.


When asked if he had any advice for current biological sciences students, Jimmy replied, “FSU is an amazing place to be for anyone interested in Marine Science.  There are incredible scientists, facilities, and habitats right at your fingertips.  Find out what interests you and follow it!”


Last Updated: Thursday, September 19, 2019 at 9:05 AM