Alumni Profiles

John Long '86

Professor, Vassar College


Home state: Michigan
Graduate program: Zoology, Ph.D. Duke University, NC
Senior project: Biomechanics of the Marine Mammal Vertebral Column
Internships: Field Researcher, Manomet Bird Observatory, MA and Research Assistant, National Zoological Park and Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

After graduating from COA, John attended Duke University, NC where he earned a Ph.D. in Zoology, specializing in the biomechanics of marine vertebrates. He is currently a biology department chair and has an additional half-time appointment in the Cognitive Science Program at Vassar College, NY. John has published many peer-reviewed scientific publications and authored Darwin's Devices: What Evolving Robots Can Teach Us About the History of Life and the Future of Technology, published in 2012. (Photo courtesy of Evan Abramson.)

Why did you choose to attend COA, and what kept you here?
I wanted to study marine biology at a liberal arts college. COA was ideally situated for that, both in terms of geography and faculty. What kept me there was the incredible dedication and brilliance of the faculty.

What was the most valuable skill you gained while at COA, and how does it influence your career today?
Designing, conducting, and finishing complex projects. After attending graduate school, I realized that my education at COA was much like graduate school: few exams, much hands-on work, and very high expectations.

Please describe one of your most meaningful experiences at COA.
[A former professor] created a course in the Marine Mammal Division of the United States Museum of Natural History (part of the Smithsonian). I went with him and five other students during the winter semester of my junior year. We spent long hours every day working on the biology of marine mammals. I'd never done anything that in-depth before in my life. It was exciting, intense, and exhausting. Because we were working on real research projects, the experience allowed me to see that I could make contributions to science, that I could be a scientist.

Why is a COA education still relevant — both in your own career and for current students?
By virtue of its small size and pioneer spirit, COA continues to blaze the trail for higher education in the US. If you want to see what other colleges might think about doing in 15 years, go look at COA now.

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