A Strong Set Of Sea Legs

David Johnston hits the high seas around the world

David Johnston, a research scientist with Duke's Division of Marine Science and Conservation, crouches next to a Gentoo penguin at Cuverville Island on the Western Antarctic Peninsula. Photo courtesy of David Johnston.

Name: David JohnstonPosition: Research scientist, Division of Marine Science and ConservationYears at Duke: 3

What I do at Duke: I do a little teaching but focus mostly on research about the foraging ecology and habitat needs of marine vertebrates in relation to pressing conservation issues. I have a big project in Hawaii looking at the effects of humans on spinner dolphins,  and I'm also looking at changes in the amount of sea ice in the Atlantic in relation to short-term climate changes.

David Johnston "tags" a whale in Antarctica.

If I had $5 million, I would: Spend a lot of that money on outreach and education for the issues that I work with because I think a lot of the conservation problems I deal with are ones that could be addressed through better education of the public.

My first ever job was: Delivering newspapers in a little town called Erin in Ontario, Canada. I was 14 or 15 years old.

My dream job is: I'm living it right now. I live in a beautiful place in Beaufort, and I work on fantastic things. I'm following my passion.

If someone wanted to start a conversation with me they should ask me about: In this stage of my life I'm most frequently in conversation about my children. I have two daughters who are 2 and 4. The wonderful thing about children is every day is a new day, and there's wonder in it.

The best advice I ever received: My grade 12 biology teacher told me I should be a biologist because I had the right mind and heart for it.

What I love about Duke: The Nicholas School of the Environment  is an amazing nexus of people who are involved in so many things from science to policy to economics. Academically, it's a very fertile place to work. There's such a diverse array of talents to draw upon for help.

When I'm not at work, I like to: Stand-up paddleboard in all the waters around Pivers Island. I also love spending time with my family.

Johnston discusses an open-source learning tool he uses with Duke students.

If I could have one superpower, it would be: I'd like to have the ability to see five minutes into the future because it'd help me shape the decisions I make. Or maybe 10 minutes, I'm not sure.

Something most people don't know about me is: I'm an avid amateur astronomer. It's relaxing to be able to look through my telescope and see planets.

An interesting day at work for me: I had the most amazing day at work while I was in the Antarctic. I passed the Drake Passage  - which separates the southern-most part of South America and the Antarctic Peninsula  - and there was no wind with very flat sea conditions. I saw four species of marine mammal I had never seen before - the southern bottlenose whale, hourglass dolphin, strap-toothed whale and spectacled porpoise .

A Book I like is: The Crow Road by Iain Banks. It's a great mystery story about family in Scotland. The character development is so good I didn't want to read another book for about two months after I finished it.