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James Paul Fortin


  • Time Zone

  • Organization
    Harvard University

  • Role
    Scientist Mentor: I will mentor teams of students online

  • Research Interests (300 words)
    Hello! I work in with a lab that studies the evolution of developmental patterns in plants. We try to answer major questions about why and how plants came to have the diverse structures and behaviors they currently exhibit, such as flowers, vascular systems, wood, root hairs, deciduousness, et cetera. My particular research focuses on the alternation of generations and how the characteristics of each generation (sporophyte and gametophyte) have changed over time in different lineages of plants.

    I am currently co-authoring a paper on the morphology (the structures and how they interact) of a group of bryophytes called hornworts (Anthocerotae). We are also studying homology—when structures in different organisms evolved from the same ancestral structure—which can be a tricky concept for even veteran scientists! Plants are fascinating to study, and I look forward to learning more about them with you.

  • Which of the following best describes your career stage?
    (not set)

  • Profile Question 1
    What is best about being a scientist?

  • Answer the question you selected for profile question 1 here (300 words):
    Biology offers something for everyone, whether you like to work with computer programs, experiment with plants in a greenhouse, conduct chemical reactions in the lab, scour scientific literature, write compelling papers, or explore biology in the field. In any project, you will call upon and develop multiple skills, and to succeed, you will likely need to work with colleagues whose specialties differ from your own. Science is a process not just of expanding human knowledge but of challenging and improving yourself, and to engage in this endeavor as part of a community of people extending into the past and future makes it all the more rewarding. I have started to see scientific work not only as an exciting way to spend time and an essential tool in solving human problems (examples from the plant world include food production, conservation issues, and the development of treatments for diseases), but also as a calling to advance knowledge and uncover truth, which scientists must then share with the world. Studying nature and thinking about it scientifically has grown my appreciation for the world immensely and has made me a more joyful person able to find beauty whenever I look out the window. Whenever I can, I try to help others find this appreciation. Having the interest, ability, and opportunity to pursue science is an honor and privilege, as well as a responsibility, as it means we owe to both our listeners and our subject our dedication, gratitude, and integrity.

  • Profile Question 2
    Do you have advice for students about preparing for a science career?

  • Answer the question you selected for profile question 2 here (300 words):
    First, remember that there are many careers in science. Pursuing science does not mean you must become a principal investigator (PI) with your own research lab at a large university if that is not your dream. Your interests and the skills and expertise you develop in studying science will unlock jobs in industry, non-profit institutions, government agencies, liberal-arts colleges, high schools, and many more organizations even well outside the natural sciences. Learn as much as you can about your options, and remember that your path will probably be neither linear nor smooth. Patience is one of the most valuable skills in science and in life. Also, if no one is offering the job in which you think you would excel and be fulfilled, consider creating it yourself. Initiative, if you combine it with persistence and tact, is a great asset. You cannot know now how your life will evolve, so find what matters to you today and identify some goals that seem worth pursuing. Pursue your goals to the best of your ability, yet pay attention if they change. In your day-to-day life, explore what opportunities are out there, spend time studying what you're passionate about, and gain as much research and relevant work experience as you can—the more concrete experience you have, the better you will be able to adapt to new challenges and grow as a scientist.

  • Profile Question 3
    When and why did you decide to go into a science career?

  • Answer the question you selected for profile question 3 here (300 words):
    I always thought I might become a biologist, because from a young age I tried to spend as much time as I could either outside in nature or reading about the natural world. I enjoyed my science classes in middle school, especially when we learned about living things. I like to understand how the world works and to know the stories behind why the world looks the way it does today. In high school and college I studied not only the natural sciences but also history, English, and many more subjects. I have learned that these disciplines are all connected and that studying each one allows you to better understand the others and to think about them in unexpected ways. During college, I started as a biology major, but after a few courses was not sure if it was the right subject for me. I switched to physics for a few semesters, but this was not the right fit, and I went home during the pandemic unsure of what I should do with my time in college. I was fortunate after the pandemic to get to study for a semester at Mystic Seaport, in Connecticut, where I learned about maritime history, marine policy, literature of the sea, and marine ecology. For that science course, my friend and I designed our own research project and built our own crab traps to place in the estuary and see how different crab species migrated along the river as the weather cooled. On a grey, windy day in early November, I was swimming underwater against the muddy, bone-chilling current to retrieve one of our traps. I swam it back to the riverbank and found we had caught two massive blue crabs (Callinectes sapidus), many fish, and a beautiful, purple sea jelly! Dripping wet, nearly hypothermic, but staring out over the water as the sun broke through the clouds, I realized that this project was the best thing I had ever done for school. I knew I would eventually find my way as a field researcher in biology.

  • Help represent the outreach efforts of your societies. Please click all those organizations you are a member of:
    (not set)

  • Capacity: How many teams at a time are you comfortable working with?

Recent Posts

achsrichbourgcfernspring2024 project 2 James Paul Fortin

Good morning, all,

I hope you had nice weekends.  I am sorry to hear that the Ceratopteris have so far failed to germinate.  Contamination is a common problem with agar plates, which often contain nutrients that foster…

achsrichbourgcfernspring2024 project 2 James Paul Fortin

Good afternoon, Logan, Ruby, and Connor,

I hope everyone had a nice week.  I am happy to have received the invitation to work with you on this project, as the alternation of generations in plants is a major focus of my research in the…

Donuts James Paul Fortin

Thank you, Jenn!  So cool.




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NSF_Logo.jpg This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant #2010556 and #1502892. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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