This issue of “Who Makes Millersville Special” features Dr. Dominique Dagit, associate professor of biology.

Q:  Since you’re a professor of biology, were you a science nerd in high school?
A: Yes. Very “geeked out.” I studied hard and put a priority on focusing on my education.

Q: Why did you decide to focus on ichthyology, or the study of fish?
A:  I actually love bats and wanted to study bats. My mentor in college, Dr. Thomas Griffiths, convinced me instead to do a senior project on ratfish. Once I found out that there was nearly nothing known about this group of fish, I decided that was the area of study for me. I’m not especially competitive and the idea of being the only person studying this group of fish really appealed to me.

Q: You seem to be fascinated with sharks. Are you glued to the television during Shark Week on the Discovery Channel?
A: NO! Too much sensationalism and I’m not a big fan of television. I’d rather be swimming with sharks than watching them on TV.

Q: Your thoughts on the movie “Jaws” – misunderstood, playful creature or a mean-spirited vacation spoiler?
A: Yuk, really bad movie. Probably the single most influential bit of propaganda leading to the decline of sharks that exists today. People kill about 100 million sharks per year, and on average sharks in the North Atlantic have experienced declines of over 50%. Pretty soon the only sharks we’ll see will be on TV during shark week.

Q: You work with global fisheries and conservation organizations on fishery guides for identification. Have you ever thought about making an “app” for that?”
A: I’m too busy working in the 3-D world. I have no desire to spend all my time in a 2-D, electronic world.

Q: Are you interested in studying chimeras, or ratfish, because of their mysterious and enigmatic nature?
A: Yes, and they are seriously beautiful fish. They have been around for more than 300 million years – since the Carboniferous Era; they’ve survived nearly unchanged for millions of years.  They were here before humans were and likely will be here long after we are gone.

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Q: What is the proper way to pronounce Chondrichthyes?
A: Kon-drick-thees

Q: What would you consider a relative of a shark?
A: Lawyers.

Q: So you have had the privilege of naming your own fish, how does that feel?
A: It’s really cool, actually. Once you name a species your name is associated with that species name forever. Every time someone refers to the species, they also include the name of the namer.  It’s a legacy. The fish I’ve named are kind of like children, they will bear my name forever, and it’s a lot cheaper than raising a kid (although not nearly as much fun)!

Q: Why did you choose the name you did for the fish?
A: There are actually very specific rules for how to name a species. The rules are in a small book called The International Code of Zoological Nomenclature (ICZN). Typically I name species for a particular attribute of the fish, and sometimes I honor friends and loved ones by naming a species for them, but either way, I still have to create the name following the rules of the ICZN.

Q: From the looks of it, your car has a vanity license plate. What does it say and why?
A: I’m not telling – the campus police will be able to find me!! Just kidding. My license plate says RATFISH because they are my favorite fish. I get lots of strange looks while driving the “ratfish mobile” on the highway. Maybe it’s the license plate . . . maybe it’s my driving!

Q:  Tell us about your work at Wallops Island.
A: I’m so excited about what’s going on there I could fill the whole Exchange, but to answer your question, I was at Wallops Island at the Marine Science Consortium (MSC) teaching a class on fish called Marine Ichthyology. We get to go fishing every day in my class! Summer classes at the MSC are loads of fun! Each session is only three weeks long and students have lots of opportunities to be outside in the field, plus the beach is nearby. It’s a great hands-on learning experience. We’re expanding the curriculum to include non-major courses and courses in other disciplines, like art.

Q: You have a great relationship with your students. What do you think gives you that little something extra that students look for in a teacher?
A: I’m not sure. I guess it’s because I really like my students. I like their enthusiasm and curiosity. I also have a lot of energy which I guess helps too.

Q: Do you enjoy working in the classroom or at on-site locations?
A: Oh I much prefer being in the lab or field. That’s when you really learn things. Get wet, get your hands dirty and discover new things. That’s when learning is exciting and it’s more fun to teach in that kind of environment.

Q: Of all the oceans, which is your favorite and why?
A: The Pacific. It’s full of lovely ratfish, but also it’s where I’ve spent most of my research time. The Pacific Ocean, to me, also seems so wild and forceful – it’s just awe inspiring.

Q: Since you spend so much of your time working in, around or near the ocean, do you still enjoy vacationing there as well or is there someplace else you enjoy?
A: I’d always rather be at the ocean. My dream life is to be somewhere where I can wear a bathing suit to work every day.

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