North Central News

Matthew McCary ’10 earns prestigious National Science Foundation post-doctoral fellowship

Mar 24, 2016

Biology alumnus Matthew McCary ’10 will continue his quest to become an expert researcher in environmental biology with the help of a National Science Foundation post-doctoral fellowship. McCary is completing a doctorate at the University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC) and will use the NSF support after he graduates for a research position at the University of Wisconsin-Madison starting in January 2017. The three-year fellowship is valued at more than $200,000.

“I will be investigating how climate change impacts plant and animal communities in Iceland, which have pristine ecosystems that are likely to be most sensitive to changes in climate,” McCary explained. “I get to spend three summers in Iceland—about nine months in total. My research sites are located near Lake Myvatn and I will be stationed at the Myvatn Biological Research Station.”

McCary first became passionate about research when he traveled with others from North Central for a summer study program at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, OR. Sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, their work was part of a larger effort to understand the potential effects of urbanization, like fertilizer runoff, on coastal regions. McCary presented his research at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research.

At UIC, McCary has been conducting research in biological sciences—more specifically, the ecology of leaf litter arthropods in woodland ecosystems. His dissertation is titled "Consequences of invasion: Evaluating how invasive alien plants alter the structure of food webs in woodland ecosystems.” McCary’s study of insect populations has implications on everything from the management of invasive species to the overall health of the region’s ecology. The insects he studies are indicators due to their sensitivity to environmental changes.

His research has been published in Biological Conservation, one of the top conservation journals in the world.

Last April, McCary returned to North Central’s campus to share advice and life lessons with science undergraduates. As a Ph.D. candidate, he told the audience that he’s learned the importance of skills like grant-writing and time management.

“Life in graduate school is structured very differently than the undergraduate experience,” he said. “You have fewer classes but more free time and independence. North Central trained me very well to be self-disciplined.”

McCary is the second member of the Class of 2010 to earn NSF funding. Emily Albright ’10, a biochemistry major, was awarded a 2010 National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship which she applied toward a research position and doctoral degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.