Professor of the Week: Derek Sikes

By Kelsey Gobroski
Sun Star Contributor

Name: Derek Sikes
Department: Biology & Wildlife
Teaches: Invertebrate Zoology

How long have you been working at the university?

“Since 2006. I was at the University of Calgary for three years before that.”

What do you like about teaching at UAF?

“I like the small class sizes and the great students who come from diverse backgrounds, but are usually very good and very enthusiastic. I have hired a number of students.”

What is your main focus in your research?

“I work on these carrion beetles. They provide parental care. The male and female make a nest in the ground like a bird nest and raise their young. I’ve been working on that since ‘95.”

What brought you into the world of entomology?

“My parents. My family was always out and about in nature. My grandmother was an amateur geologist. My great aunt was an invertebrate zoologist. When I was a little kid visiting her in New York we’d see her live crab collection. As an undergraduate, studying entomology at the University of California Santa Cruz, a light went off in my head that I could make a living at this. My dream job was to be a curator of insects at a museum.”

And you were able to get that job.

“Yes.”

Besides Fairbanks, where has field collection taken you?

“In Alaska, recently, the arctic, Sitka, the Aleutians, the peninsula, the King Salmon Area, Naknek,

I had some recent tropical work on the island of Saba, which is close to the Virgin Islands. I’ve been to various parts of Asia – Nepal, Japan, Indonesia, the Solomon Islands, and Queensland, Australia.

I’ve never been to Africa, but I’d love to get to Algeria and Morocco and study this one species that could be distinct from the European population.”

Do you have any stories of neat finds or interesting beetles?

“The new species that were found on the island that erupted [Kasatochi volcano in the Aleutian Islands]. One species that lives in rock cracks that I’ve found on all the islands. Usually, each island has its own species. There’s probably going to be quite a few undiscovered species. I’ve also done some crazy things like accidentally eating a bowl of cereal with three species of beetles in it.”

How do you try to bring your passion for entomology into your lectures?

“Aside from telling occasional interesting adventures, I do photography. I’ve got a Flickr site up. I use a lot of my photos in my classes.”

What qualities do you think make a good student?

“Enthusiasm, but enthusiasm won’t get you far enough. You need the ability to be focused and work hard … you need those two things in combination.”

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