Plans and Needs of
The Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience
THE WHITNEY LABORATORY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
1. Mission and purpose of the Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience
The Whitney Laboratory's purpose is spelled out in its mission statement, as follows:
"The Laboratory will conduct and promote basic research in cellular and molecular biology and
will, in particular, exploit the experimental advantages offered by marine organisms. As part and
parcel of this mission, the Laboratory will train future experimental biologists, will contribute to
public education, and will facilitate the application of basic research to problems of human
health, natural resources and the environment".
2. Goals and Expected outcomes
Currently, the Whitney Laboratory's teaching efforts fall into two areas; outreach
education and undergraduate research training. The Laboratory offers three outreach education
programs: A Day at the Whitney Lab (grades 3-6), The Traveling Zoo (grades K-3) and The
Evenings at Whitney Public lecture series (all ages). Our undergraduate research training
program, which started before the inception of the NSF REU program, has been running for 22
years. To date, it has provided training opportunities for over 200 undergraduates, many of whom
have subsequently entered graduate programs at the University of Florida.
With the opening of the new educational facility, The Centerfor Marine Studies, the
Laboratory will be expanding the outreach education programs to include higher grades. More
important, we plan to offer a series of intensive residential lab and field courses at the
undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate levels. Planning for these courses in now underway,
with the expectation that the first course will be offered in 2008.
In the area of research, the Lab's major activity, it continues to perform well. Total grant
revenues have shown a healthy 125% rise over the past 6 years, and we expect to see this
continue. Only one research program does not have federal funding but it has several good
proposals pending. I expect those proposals to secure funding soon.
The Laboratory's major service is that provided by its faculty to the scientific community,
in the form of editorships and scientific reviews for grant and other agencies. We expect this to
continue for the foreseeable future at a rate that does not overly distract the faculty from their
The Whitney tenure track faculty is not very diverse: one female and seven white males.
During past searches, we have made a consistent but, to date, unsuccessful effort to increase this
diversity. This fall we will be conducting a search for one, perhaps two Assistant Professor
positions. We will make every effort to improve the diversity of our faculty through this search
by directly contacting current and past members of our scientific advisory board, colleagues and
other members of the scientific community to ask them to identify suitable candidates and
encourage them to apply.
The Whitney Laboratory has just completed a very successful capital campaign for a new
education building, The Center for Marine Studies. That this was the Lab's first capital
campaign made the achievement all that more significant. Fund raising is continuing on several
fronts. In addition to fund raising for programmatic support and endowed chairs, we have an
active capital campaign underway to secure funding for new housing for students and visiting
scientists, and for the Center for Marine Animal Health. We are fortunate to be surrounded by
several wealthy communities and our challenge is to market the Lab and its programs to
individuals within those communities. This opportunity offsets some of the challenge created by
the fact that we do not have an alumni base to work with.
3. Strategic Fit of the Whitney Lab
University's Strategic Plan:
The University's strategic plan identifies the Life Sciences, Ecology and the Environment
and Agriculture as areas for attention. The Whitney Laboratory has, or will have research and
educational programs in all three areas. The Lab's current research focus on marine biomedical
research falls within the Life Sciences category and research of many of the faculty encompasses
genetics and neurobiology, both areas of interest in the strategic plan. Because of its location, the
Center for Marine Studies will provide an excellent base for research and teaching in the coastal
and marine ecology and environment. Finally, the proposed Center for Marine Animal Health
promises to have an enormous impact on the state's aquaculture industry.
Board of Governor's Strategic Plan:
One growth area identified in the Board of Governor's Strategic Plan is job creation in
Natural Science and Technology. The Whitney Lab's proposed Centerfor Marine Animal
Health promises to establish a new sector of marine biotechnology in the state of Florida, with
Florida in a leadership position, nationwide. If successful, this venture will provide job
opportunities at several levels; for veterinarians and technicians who will apply the technologies
developed in the program at the state's marine attractions and aquaculture farms, and in small
businesses that would seek to develop and market the Center's findings to the worldwide
The Centerfor Marine Animal Health also promises to meet another goal of the strategic
plan, namely building world-class academic plans and research capacity. The center will be the
first of its kind marine veterinary school and, as such, meet a growing need for cutting edge
research in the diseases of captive (e.g aquaculture) and wild marine animals. This program will
build on the existing strengths of the UF Vet School, the Whitney Laboratory of the University of
Florida and other components of UF.
4. The Whitney Lab's Core Achievements
Top five achievements in 2006-2007:
- Occupied a new building, the Center for Marine Studies. This building was funded through a
capital campaign and matching funds from the University. It has already served as a
venue for one major meeting (the VIIth International Meeting on Carbonic Anhydrases)
and will benefit the Lab enormously by increasing our visibility to the scientific
community, to potential graduate students and postdoc, and to our local community, for
fund raising activities.
- The Lab's reputation in genomics and evolutionary biology was consolidated by the discovery
of a new animal Phylum. That work was published in Nature.
- The latest faculty recruit, Assistant Professor Dirk Bucher, was awarded an R01 on his first
- Dr. Barbara Battelle, who has been the major force behind most of the Lab's educational
programs, was recognized as an HHMI Distinguished Mentor.
- Dr. Moroz is being recognized by the University of Florida for a faculty achievement award.
Strategy for future Achievements:
We will continue to ensure that the necessary resources and intellectual environment for
strong productive science are available to our faculty and students. We will continue to mentor
junior faculty, including conducting in-house reviews of new grant proposals, to maximize their
competitiveness. It will be important to bring our upcoming search to a successful conclusion to
ensure we maintain a critical mass and, hopefully, increase our diversity.
5. Whitney Lab's Challenges
Top five impediments to our success:
- Distance from campus. The distance is more of an impediment for on-campus faculty wishing
to establish programs at Whitney, but it does affect resident programs. Several faculty
have active collaborations that take them to campus several times a week. While it
benefits their programs, it requires 4 hours per day driving. The distance is also an
impediment to graduate student recruitment. Some thrive in this setting; others are turned
off by the remoteness, limited social life and limited opportunities for spouses.
- The state of our facilities. Our research labs and on-site housing are over 30 years old and time
and the enveloping salt water aerosol have taken a toll. The impression created by their
condition is far from positive, as judging by comments made by visitors, particularly
prospective graduate students.
- Our vulnerability to serious storm damage. This is significant risk, made ever more pressing by
the projections of increased numbers of hurricanes for the next decade.
- Maintaining a strong intellectual atmosphere in a relatively small remote unit.
- The national funding situation. While the Lab's ability to secure grant funding is excellent, we,
like most units, are facing an ever diminishing source of funds. For us, this has been
compounded by the dissolution of the Section on Neurobiology and Behavior at the NSF.
This section typically funded comparative neurobiology of the type conducted by many of
the Whitney Lab's faculty. It's loss has impacted our programs.
Strategies for dealing with these impediments:
Our distance from campus is an acceptable consequence of having access to the facilities
that allow our research to be successful. Given this, and lacking a helicopter (a budget request?)
to simplify travel, we must continue to work to overcome the potential problems the distance
could create, most notably a tendency on the part of faculty to become so focused as to be almost
reclusive. To counteract this, and generally to create a vibrant intellectual atmosphere, we have
an active seminar series, and a weekly data club that encourages robust discussions and
constructive critiques that involve the faculty, postdoc and students. In essence, our approach is
to use the remoteness of the Lab as a catalyst for building camaraderie within the Lab.
The condition and vulnerability of the research space and on-site housing is something we
have little control over. We have an active maintenance program to ensure that everything is
operational and looks as good as it can, but there are obviously limits. The Center for Marine
Studies will afford protection from storms for our equipment since it has two floors and is built
to modem codes, but the issue of what would happen to the research space in the event of a
major storm remains a serious concern.
From the perspective of funding, we must continue to ensure that the technical and
intellectual environment necessary for high quality research is present at the Lab, and work
together to ensure that the quality of submitted proposals is of the highest level. Finally, we are
exploring more collaborations and previously untapped funding opportunities (e.g. Human
Frontiers of Science).
6. Whitney Laboratory's Improvement Strategies
Strategy to gauge progress on goals:
We will continue to measure process by way of regular faculty meetings and other
internal forums. Our major source of external evaluation of the Laboratory's achievements, goals,
and progress towards those goals, is our Scientific Advisory Board, which conducts an annual
review of our programs and performance. This board reports to the Provost. During the review
they meet separately, with the Director, Faculty and with graduate students and postdoc, to obtain
a measure of the issues and achievements. The findings of the advisory board are reported to the
Director. Typically, their advice and concerns are addressed promptly.
Assessment data you now have on goal achievement:
Given that our overall goal is to improve the quality and quantiy of our research and
training, and the grant funds to enable that, the most immediate measures of our success in
achieving that goal are numbers of papers, quality of journals, amount of research support
secured and numbers of students trained. The numbers of publications from the Whitney Lab
have been and remain consistently strong. Moreover, most of those publications are in good
journals, some in excellent ones. The total value of research funds secured by the lab has
increased steadily over the past 6 years, despite the number of tenure track lines at the lab
remaining constant. Graduate student numbers have fluctuated. In 2006, two of our student
graduated, so absolute numbers are down. Recent faculty meetings have discussed strategies for
improving graduate student recruitment.
Improvements already made:
As noted above, issues and concerns raised by past Scientific Advisory Boards have been
addressed promptly. We recently noticed a growing reclusiveness and lack of participation
among some faculty and held a faculty retreat to highlight the issue, identify its basis and correct
it. The retreat proved to be very successful.
7. Culture of the Whitney Laboratory
We have made every effort to create a very open, interactive atmosphere within the
Whitney Lab., and develop a strong team spirit. I think it is safe to say that we have been very
successful with this goal. The attitude among faculty is one of sharing equipment and expertise -
a student in one lab seeking advice or use of equipment in another lab knows s/he only has to ask
to be given advice or training and access to a particular piece of equipment. This includes both
minor items as well as major pieces of equipment such as complete electrophysiological rigs or
complex microscopes. This attitude pervades other aspects of the lab's activities. For instance,
postdoc preparing job seminars, or graduate students preparing qualifying exam or defense
seminars, are encouraged to give practice seminars that are attended and critiqued by faculty and
staff from other labs.
A measure of the success in developing a strong team spirit among faculty and students
has been very evident in the Show and Tells we have presented at venues in our community. Both
the faculty and students have enjoyed the opportunity to present their work and THEIR lab to the
invited guests, and judging by the responses we have received from participants, their enthusiasm
is well received.
Mentoring of students:
Mentoring is provided to undergraduates in our REU program at several levels. When a
students enters a lab they are typically assigned to either a senior postdoc or, more often, the
faculty member. Thereafter they typically function on a one-on-one level with their advisor who
provides the necessary guidance for their project, including issues such as how to maintain a
notebook, the scientific method, experimental design, etc. For other aspects of their training, the
students are given courses on ethics and behavior, lab safety, how to write a scientific paper
(from a former journal editor), preparing and presenting scientific lectures and poster
presentations. At the conclusion of their internship all students present a seminar on their
findings to the Whitney Lab. In preparation for this the student will give practice seminars before
his or her advisor and lab, and will be given thorough critiques on the subject matter,
presentation and delivery of their seminar. Towards the end of their internship, the students are
given an introduction to graduate schools and visit three graduate programs at UF to allow them
to get a flavor of different types of programs and the questions they need to ask themselves and
With respect to graduate students, the same theme continue. In addition to the mentoring
activities discussed above, the Lab has recently initiated what we call our Scicomm.workshop,
for graduate students and postdoc. Manuscripts, other written documents, and posters are
critiqued in open forum by all participants. One task given the participants was to prepare a
summary of their research that for consumption by the public. In this case, critiques were
provided by members of the public. The experience has proved to be immensely effective and
well received by the students.
Intellectual life of our programs:
The intellectual life of the Whitney Lab, as a whole, is strong, but there is (always) room
for improvement. Indeed, as noted above, the Lab held a faculty retreat in February to address a
tendency for faculty to become too reclusive, non-participatory and not contributing to a vibrant
intellectual environment. Judging by the comments during and after that retreat, the faculty now
recognize what was happening and are working to correct it.
Partnerships across campus:
The Whitney Lab and its faculty have active partnerships with the following units on
College of Medicine (excluding academic appointments)
Dept. of Opthamology
Dept. of Biochemistry
Dept. of Neuroscience
College of Veterinary Medicine
Joint Whitney/COVM aquatic animal health program
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Dept. of Chemistry
Dept. of Psychology
College of Engineering
Dept. of Biomedical Engineering
Dept. of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences
Institutes and Centers
McKnight Brain Institute
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Center for Smell and Taste
Service to the professional/academic disciplines:
All faculty members are expected to contribute to some aspect of the Lab's activities; i.e.
graduate student recruitment, seminar series, data club etc.
8. Budget requests for new funding in 2007-08
The Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience has established itself as one of the
premier marine biomedical research institutions in the country and world and its faculty and
programs have brought recognition to the University of Florida. If the Whitney Laboratory is
important to the University of Florida, the University must give very serious consideration to
replacing the existing research building with a modern building constructed to meet the threat of
major storms. This would secure the Lab's future and protect the significant investment made in
the Lab by Federal funding agencies.
As noted above, the current lab building is extremely vulnerable to flooding and wind
damage. It is not elevate at all and is not remotely near code for a coastal facility. Moreover, we
are in a period where the incidence of Atlantic cylcone activity and hurricane landfalls is
predicted to above average. While equipment and supplies could be protected by using the new
Center for Marine Studies as a refuge, survival of that equipment and those supplies would mean
little if the research space were lost.
The Whitney Laboratory is currently the tenth item on the University PECO list. Given
that this list is in constant flux as new initiatives (i.e. Emerging Pathogens) are developed, it is
unlikely that any funds would be assigned for new construction at Whitney for many years to
come, unless a decision is made to make Whitney a priority.
The amount requested is based on costs determined by UF Facilities Planning.
2007-08 Program Review
College/Unit: Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience
Justification Description of Project Amount Space
(Page location Availability
of narrative) (yes/no)
7 Construction of new research 33,000,000
Funding Area Salary Plan Months Salary Resources Office/Lab
Justification (If interdisplinary, (Faculty,TEAMS,G Title Appointed FTE (Includes (office/lab Space
(Page location note RAOPS) (9,12) fringe renovation and/or Availability
of narrative) College/Department benefits) equipment) (yes/no)
2007-08 Program Review
College/Unit: Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience
Justification Description of Request Amount
Funding Area Salary Plan Months Salary Resources Support Office/Lab
Justification (If interdisciplinary, (Faculty, TEAMS, G Title Appointed FTE (Includes (office/lab (office Space
(Page location note RAOPS) (9,12) fringe renovation and/or support, Availability
of narrative) College/Department benefits) equipment) travel) (yes/no)
S Connection) _