HRI’s Terry Palmer honored as Outstanding Doctoral Student

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Terry Palmer

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Terry Palmer of the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies (HRI) has been named the 2021 Outstanding Doctoral Student by Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi’s annual Outstanding Graduate Awards offered by the College of Graduate Studies.

Palmer is a senior research associate in HRI’s Coastal Conservation and Restoration Lab and a doctoral student in the Coastal and Marine System Science program at TAMU-CC. He had a unique path to his doctoral graduate program — after attaining his master’s degree in marine science from the University of Texas at Austin in 2006, Palmer spent more than a decade working in marine research labs at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute (UTMSI) in Port Aransas and here at HRI. He spent 12 years traveling to McMurdo Station, Antarctica, to engage in marine and terrestrial environmental monitoring — work that inspired his dissertation project, which is tentatively titled “The effects of human occupation on marine ecosystems in Antarctica.”

Palmer’s mentors and peers called him an accomplished researcher and down-to-earth person who acts as a tireless mentor to his fellow students. Palmer is often the first to volunteer his help to others, and was described by his colleagues as a genuinely nice person who doesn’t seek the spotlight in spite of all his talents and accomplishments.

“Terry really is what epitomizes being an outstanding graduate student,” said Dr. Jennifer Pollack, HRI Chair for Coastal Conservation and Restoration and chair of Palmer’s dissertation committee. “His leadership in the lab, his leadership in developing scientific ideas and projects, but also his leadership with the undergraduate and graduate students is really just unparalleled. He is a great mentor to students in terms of his patience teaching them scientific techniques, working with them as a scientific diver, as well as working with them on basic things like collecting, inputting and conducting basic data analysis and their writing skills.”

HRI Chair for HydroEcology Dr. Paul Montagna, who has worked with Palmer since he was an undergraduate student, and who brought Palmer over as one of the first employees to work in his lab at HRI, said that as a researcher Palmer has accomplished as much as many professors in his career.

“He really deserves a Ph.D. to recognize all the amazing things he has accomplished in his life,” Montagna said.

Palmer has a diverse range of research interests and has authored more than 30 publications over his career. Most of his research examines the impacts of human activities on water quality and benthic organisms. 

As a research specialist III in the Coastal Conservation and Restoration Lab he is actively involved in the lab’s work, including comparing the ecosystem functions of oyster restoration types, and comparing food webs on oyster reefs and offshore oil and gas platforms. Palmer also previously worked in Ecosystems and Modeling lab under Montagna, and has over fifteen years of experience investigating the effects of freshwater inflows on estuarine water quality and benthos along the length of the Texas coast and on both of Florida’s coasts. 

Prior to moving to Texas, Palmer was involved in environmental monitoring in his homeland of New Zealand where he worked as a hydrology technician and a marine ecology research assistant.

Palmer said he was happy and humbled by the honor, but added that he saw most of the praise lavished on him as part of being a good worker and student. He added that he's excited to earn his Ph.D. so he can someday start a lab focused on his own research interests.

“I appreciate everyone who helped make this happen and took the time to write letters of support for me,” Palmer said. He added that the award was possible mostly because “I work with good people and that makes my job and my academic work better. I’ve had good teachers, good advisors, and good colleagues.”