Dr. Kristine DeLong: a Scientist and a Historian

Walking through Dr. Kristine DeLong’s laboratory at LSU is like walking through an archive of history. Various segments of objects like corals, shells, and trees sit upon dissection tables waiting to be tested by Dr. DeLong and her graduate student researchers. In the midst of DeLong’s busy lab lies history and hundreds of years worth of data that is waiting to be found.

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Oyster shell being tested by Dr.DeLong’s research student. Photo Credit: Courtney Healy

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Piece of coral that was drilled into. Photo Credit: Courtney Healy

Dr. DeLong is an associate professor at LSU in the department of Geography and Anthropology. She has a PhD in Oceanography from the University of South Florida. Dr. DeLong is a paleoclimatologist, a scientist who “studies climate of the past.” She gets most of her data from objects that have rings, like oyster shells, corals and trees. “Anything that has rings, we can date it,” DeLong said. She is passionate about learning and teaching about natural climate variability. “Climate variability is no longer a question, it is a fact,” DeLong said. DeLong often runs into people who question her field of work. ”I find that climate tends to be a political topic, so you have to be ready for skeptics and people who do not agree with you and you can not like it phase you,” said DeLong. Dr. Kristine DeLong finds joy in helping people come to the conclusion that climate variability is real and is something they too should feel strongly about.

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Fragments of coral collected by Dr. DeLong. Photo Credit: Courtney Healy

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Tree stump in Dr. DeLongs lab use to help students learn how to count rings on objects. Photo Credit: Courtney Healy

 

Kristine DeLong has always felt passionately about the ocean. She attests her love for the ocean to her father, who served as an intelligence officer during the Vietnam War. Due to her father’s high ranked position, DeLong and her family could not know his precise whereabouts during the war. The way her father communicated his location was by sending boxes of shells back to DeLong and her family. As a young girl, eager to know where in the world her father was, DeLong would examine the shells her father sent home.

“I would go to the library and look at books to figure out where the shells were from,” Dr. DeLong said. While in high school, DeLong wanted to study oceanography but was detoured by negative responses from her high school counselors. The counselors told her that there would not be much work for an oceanographer so they encouraged DeLong to go into engineering. Dr. DeLong graduated with a Bachelors Degree in Mechanical Engineering, which she admits she hated. But, she was interested in theater, so she minored in theater technology. Right after college she got a job with Warner Brothers, where she worked as the lighting designer/ lighting engineer for the Bugs Bunny on Broadway show and The Bugs Bunny World Tour.

“Working for the shows got old after a while, so I searched for a new job,” DeLong said. “So, after working for Warner Brothers I started working for an international corporation, Ricoh. I did well but I started to see where things were headed. I knew we weren’t going to use paper and printing in the future so I knew this would not be a job I would stay at until I retired.”

This influenced DeLong, to head back to school to get her PhD. DeLong left her prominent corporate job in fear that the company would become outdated. She now is ironically a researcher who focuses on dating pieces of the past.

DeLong confesses that although she enjoyed the big paycheck she received at her corporate job, she appreciates working at the University more. She enjoys how being a professor allows her to “be her own boss.” She explains that her freedom allows her to do the research she wants to do and teach the classes that she wants to teach. Although, she says, with that freedom comes responsibility. “You have to be someone who is self-motivated,” she said. The flexibility that Dr. DeLong has in being a professor and a researcher allows her to “do cool things like SCUBA dive in the gulf of Mexico and visit coral reefs,” she said.

This spring, Dr. DeLong will be taking a sabbatical from teaching. During this sabbatical, she will be doing research in a new place where she will “learn a new skill and make new connections.” The trip Dr. DeLong most looks forward to is her month long trip to Singapore. She will be going to Singapore to write a research paper and work in the lab where she will learn a new technique. DeLong hopes that she will be able to bring the new technique and system back to her own lab here at LSU. “While I’m on that side of the world I will probably end up going to Australia and my scuba gear will definitely be coming with me!” she said.

DeLong often gets negative comments about her research trips. Many people think that these trips are vacations where DeLong scuba gives and beach hops all day. DeLong says, “while the trips are fun and beautiful, I am doing research and collecting a large amount of very useful data.”

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Research poster produced by Dr. DeLong. Photo Credit: Courtney Healy

Even though Dr. DeLong will be on the other side of the world, she will still tend to her daily routine of checking emails, reading and reviewing papers and communicating with fellow scientists. Although, she does admit that she will have a lot more time to do research, which she struggles to fit into her everyday schedule here at LSU. Her site for research will also be changing significantly. Dr. DeLong typically does research in the Dry Tortugas in the Florida Keys. DeLongs sabbatical will also give her the chance to work in a totally different environment than what she is typically used to. DeLong says she is excited to do research in a place that she is unfamiliar with. “There will be so many opportunities to learn new facts and skills,” Dr. DeLong said.

It is obvious that Dr. Kristine DeLong is passionate about her field of work, as any great scientist is. She is an incredible and inspiring woman who has worked hard to be able to do something that she loves. She admits that while she does know a great deal about paleoclimatology, she is always looking to learn new things about the world around her to tell her things about the past.

 

Editorial Note: Edited by Paige Jarreau

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