Born and raised in Melbourne, Australia, Dan Santos is a second-year PhD student in the Graduate School of Geography. He appreciates the interdisciplinary nature of geography and quality filmmaking.
Scarlet: What was your education prior to Clark?
Dan: I attended the University of Melbourne. In the Australian university system, I was able to do a double degree (BA/BSc) and complete four majors: English, environmental science, genetics, and of course, geography. After that, I worked at Monash University as a research assistant, studying metals recycling, specifically the recycling of steel in buildings. It was pretty great, I worked with a diverse team—a geographer, environmental scientist, economist, even a legal scholar—and I was able to publish my own work. The only downside was that I never got to see a building demolished [laughs]. Apparently, they can’t use dynamite any more.
Scarlet: Can you tell me about your dissertation research?
Dan: I’m still working on the specifics, but broadly I’m looking at biotechnology. Technologies for gene editing —you’ve heard of CRISPR [Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats] right? —have become cheaper and easier to use within the past few years, so much so that informal biohacking communities have cropped up in major US cities. I want to see how these informal groups practice science differently compared to traditional scientific laboratories, and study how these communities fit into the broader biotechnology industry as a whole. It is also interesting, and a little scary, to consider the ways in which new publics are starting to engage more in biotechnology, modifying nature in new ways and at new scales.
Scarlet: What has your experience of being a TA [teaching assistant] as a graduate student been like?
Dan: Well, this semester I’m serving as an RA [research assistant] for my advisor Jim Murph. Hmm, you’ve had me as a TA, what do you think?
Scarlet:[laughs] I’m not the interviewee. C’mon what it’s like?
Dan: Well, I had never been a TA before coming to Clark, but so far I’ve been fortunate enough to have been a TA in classes with either labs or discussions, so that allows me to get to know the students better. I like to hear about where people are from or what they’re studying. Regarding the classroom, I generally like to have a pretty relaxed environment. You know I can be pretty informal, and I think it’s always good to have a laugh.
Scarlet: Can you give me any juicy details on graduate student life?
Dan: No, not really, not if you’re recording [laughs]. We spend a lot of time reading and writing, and probably not getting out enough, but I can only really speak for the geography department, or more accurately, just [for] me. There are always some social events during the semester, and the first-years in particular have been great about organizing events … In general though, I think the most rewarding part of graduate student life, at least with respect to doing geography at Clark, is the fact that there are so many other graduate students with diverse interests and backgrounds. This always makes for interesting conversations, and it has helped me further appreciate the breadth and diversity of geography as a discipline.
Scarlet: I also understand you’re a bit of a movie buff, what’s your favorite movie?
Dan: Oh God, there’s too many to name – I think I’m just going to give you a smattering of movies: “The Lion King” … first movie I ever saw in a theater, lots of sentimental value there. “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” … I’ve never quite seen a movie like it, Charlie Kaufman [the screenwriter] is a genius, and Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet have perfect chemistry. The “Before” trilogy … definitely my favorite trilogy, it’s directed by Richard Linklater – it’s amazing how authentically he can capture relationships. “The Silence of the Lambs” … it showed me what horror films could be. “Seven” … such an unnerving, psychologically intense film. And more recently, “Inside Out,” props to Pixar for making a film that gets me to cry.
Scarlet: You also have a job writing movie reviews, correct?
Dan: Well, I really wouldn’t consider it a job. Basically, I write reviews for this website called “FilmBlerg” and in exchange I get free access to various film screenings. I really enjoy it — it forces me to more deeply analyze and appreciate films, and it keeps my writing skills sharp.
Scarlet: Lastly, any shoutouts?
Dan: Sure – a shout out to my officemate and dear friend, Sarah SanGiovanni. And I’ll give a shoutout to you too Eric — My dream of being Clarkie of the Week is now a reality.
Thanks for the interview, Dan!