Biology professor Luis Espinasa’s mainly teaches Genetics courses for Marist students. However, every year, Espinasa also teaches a popular Field Biology class where he travels with this class to perform research in “interesting and exciting places.” Espinasa describes these international excursions as well as his own life, his work and after hours.
What do students take away from your Field Biology course?
The course is open to all majors and its goal is to challenge you to see if you have what it takes to do research in the field. What we do in the lab can be tough but it is a controlled environment. You might be out in the field, planning on starting something but then it rains and you have to deal with the challenge. There is a physical challenge and an environmental challenge.
What else do the trips entail?
Typically, we go to really exciting places. Last semester we were in the Galapagos. This semester we are going to Machu Picchu. We are going to do a whole week of trekking in the Andes so we have to bring our tents, our sleeping bags, and our food. We are sleeping out in the open for the whole week - basically surviving and doing research.
What research projects have you been working on most recently?
Right now the project that I am working on is with cavefish. We have this particular cave where the ceiling collapsed. When you get inside this cave you reach this big lake in which half of the lake is illuminated and half of it is in the darkness. When you collect in the illuminated part of the lake, there are pigmented fish with eyes. In the dark part of the lake, there are eyeless albino fish. We have sequenced the entire genome of these fish and basically, it is evolution that has rescued the eyes and pigment of these cavefish.
Do you get students involved in this? What is that dynamic like?
Basically all of the research that I do is student oriented. The projects that I organize are projects that the students can conduct. Students work with me both in the field and in the laboratory. Most important for me is that it is really goal-oriented for students to get published. I feel that in many schools, and most professors, are teaching the students how to do research. But when you are going to apply to medical school or a Ph.D., everybody has a BA, everybody has good grades and everybody has internships. That will not get you into graduate school. But, if you have an undergraduate student that has publications in science journals and things like that, that is something that will really make them stand out. My students have a publication rate of close to three articles a year.
When not on Marist campus, how do you spend your time?
Apart from family (I have a wife and two kids), my life is outdoors. I do rock climbing; I do caving; I do mountaineering; I do hiking. What happens is I always invite students to all of my outdoor things. We have an informal hiking group at Marist and every other weekend we are hiking somewhere. So basically, in my free time away from Marist, I typically spend it being a friend to Marist students. That is where I tell my students ‘I am Luis. I am not Doctor Espinasa.’ So I am in the outdoors every other weekend and students are always coming along.
How did you end up at Marist?
I am from Mexico. That is where I was born, raised and studied my BA. I did my Ph.D. at NYU here in New York and that is where I met my wife. We married and went to Mexico but it is easier for a Mexican to work in the United States than for an American to work in Mexico so we decided to come back to the states. Since my wife is from Croton-on-Hudson, it was perfect to find a teaching position close to her home. Marist was an excellent fit because, in addition to being an excellent college, it also supports the type of research that I do.
Written by Sarah Gabrielli '18
Profile Tags:Profile Type: Faculty
Academic School: Science
Campus: New York