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Career Path of John Alcock

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  • Myth: a story not based on fact or a natural explanation. Often dealing with supernatural beings or events.
  • Water dragon: a large reptile found in Australia. The scientific name is Physignathus lesueurii... more

Fast Facts:

  • Number of years in school: 16
  • Favorite class / subject: Biology
  • Hardest class / subject: Physics
  • First Job: Assistant professor at the University of Washington
  • Dream job as a kid: Bird watcher
  • One word you would use to describe your current job: Enjoyable

For as long as he can remember, John Alcock wanted to be a biologist. An early introduction to bird watching was probably the spark that sent him on the path to a career in science. It was at the age of five that his father first had him out “birding,” an activity that still remains one of his favorite things to do. It is also something that he recommends highly to anyone interested in nature. “It’s just fun,” he says.

As with most career paths, Alcock had many people who played a role in his career direction.  There was an eighth grade science teacher, Mr. McKelvy who encouraged his interests in science. Later at Amherst College another person would provide him with direction. Lincoln Brower, a professor and Alcock’s advisor helped guide him with an early research project involving the feeding behavior of captive warbler. According to Alcock, “His guidance was critical in steering me toward biology as a career.”

When asked if there was one skill he had that helped him in school and as a biologist his answer is writing. “I think that I was for some reason a pretty good writer early on and that helped a lot.” Another characteristic that Alcock says helped him is patience. “I am able to sit and watch things for long periods without getting restless or bored and that is a help for someone who studies animal behavior.”

These early experiences and guidance have contributed to a long career studying and writing about animal behavior. His writing interests lead him to author a successful textbook about animal behavior that is now in its ninth edition. The textbook is used in many classes around the country. He is also the author of multiple popular science books including his recent one titled, When the Rains Come: A Naturalist's Year in the Sonoran Desert.

It is not surprising that another favorite pastime for Alcock is photography. Spending long periods in the field provides him opportunities to document some amazing animals including his favorite – insects. His field studies have also taken him to many places in the world including Trinidad, Argentina and possibly his favorite place Australia. “I love Australia.” says Alcock, “It is a perfect place to see interesting wild places with fascinating insects.”


 John Alcock has authored several Ask A Biologist stories including: Desert Fruits Rock! and Big Bad Beetles. He has also contributed many of his photographs.

John Alcock with Water Dragon

John Alcock's cool catch of the day, a dragon. No, not a mythical fire-breathing dragon. This is a real water dragon in Australia.

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by volunteering, or simply sending us feedback on the site. Scientists, teachers, writers, illustrators, and translators are all important to the program. If you are interested in helping with the website we have a Volunteer page to get the process started.

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John Alcock with Water Dragon

John Alcock's cool catch of the day, a dragon. No, not a mythical fire-breathing dragon. This is a real water dragon in Australia.

Share to Google Classroom

Be part of Ask A Biologist

by volunteering, or simply sending us feedback on the site. Scientists, teachers, writers, illustrators, and translators are all important to the program. If you are interested in helping with the website we have a Volunteer page to get the process started.