Janet Voight is a zoology curator at the Field Museum of Natural History, with a keen interest in octopods, clams, and other marine invertebrates. To study the ecology of these animals, she explores the depths of the ocean aboard Alvin, one of the few submersibles able to explore the deepest parts of the sea. Her participation in research cruises allowed her to observe novel octopus behavior as well as discover several new species, even genera, of animals including wood-boring clams and the closely associated flatworms that feed upon them.
To listen to our podcast where we discuss her deep-sea exploration and research on the curious wood-boring clam, click here
Although now her heart lies firmly in the ocean, she started her scientific journey living near the Mississippi River in the city of Davenport, Iowa. Growing up, she always admired the natural world; an interest cultivated by her parents. Although not scientists themselves, they encouraged her to pursue he passions, eventually leading her to Iowa State University. It wasn’t until an internship opportunity in college, however, that her pursuit of academic science took hold. During the internship, she was able to do hands-on animal research and publish a few articles to make her first contributions to scientific knowledge. From there, her passion for research was solidified and she continued to graduate with a B.S. in Biology from Iowa State University, and later her PhD from the University of Arizona Department of Ecology and Evolution.
In 1990, she began work as a curator at the Field Museum where she works in invertebrate collections as well conducts research into mollusk biology, ecology, and behavior. In her spare time, she is an associate editor of multiple scientific journals, helping scientists to publish relevant, novel research. While there are no immediate plans to take any Alvin dives soon, she looks forward to returning to the deep, dark blue to uncover more of our ocean’s secrets.
What brought you into this field of study (deep sea exploration) in the first place? What brought you down this road?
“I loved the idea of discovery; something new. And though mostly I work on preserved specimens, whether it be the wood boring clams or the octopuses, the chance to see them alive, or to create habitat for them is really wonderful.”
Where do you want your work to keep developing from this point?
“I want to learn more about the animals that live in the deep sea and in turn I want my increased knowledge of their biology to feed back on the predictions of what’s on the sea floor.”
Is there anyone in particular, not necessarily a scientist, who has inspired you to be where you are now?
“I think everyone we interact with impacts us to a greater or lesser degree. The most important quality for a scientist to have is tenacity. You don’t have to be brilliant, you just have to persevere; given a choice in students, I’d take the one who follows up any day!”
If you were to give advice to a grad student coming up in the ranks who wants to pursue science as a career, what advice do you think you would give them?
“I think if they are in graduate school, they need to step back sometime and think ‘is this really the best thing I could be doing right now? Am I having a good time? Am I learning things? Am I being more of who I am at heart?’ And whether or not academics as a career trajectory is what they want to do it’s like ‘yeah, I want to stay in this, because it’s good and it’s good for me’. It’s really about passion. “
What do you want the greater community at large, scientific or otherwise, to know about you or your field?
“The deep sea is incredibly vast. We have only seen a very small part of it. This is why it was so stunning this year that two clusters of brooding octopuses were discovered near 3000 m deep. no one suspected they would be there. I think it may be indicative of how little we know about that 70% of the planet that is covered by the deep oceans. (not to mention all the animals that live in the water column between the bottom and the sun-lit depths. It is the largest habitat on the planet that supports animal life.) ”