Don Anderson

Location of Interview
Collection Name

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Oral History Project


The Oral History Project began in 1998 to record the recollections and personal insights of the scientists and staff of the Woods HoleOceanographic Institution. Under the auspices of the Data Library and Archives, the project endeavors to include the entire spectrum of the WHOI community, scientists and engineers, support staff ashore and afloat, and collaborators from other organizations   such as MBL and USGS. 

Since its inception in 1930 the Woods Hole   Oceanographic Institution has grown from what some     had called a summer camp for scientists to a unique,   multi-disciplined, internationally recognized giant in the world of ocean sciences. World famous not only to the international scientific community but to the average  citizen who has thrilled to the many documentaries,   books, and articles featuring the men, women, research and technology that form the backbone of the institution. WHOI represents  a unique group of innovative scientists, engineers, technicians and support staff with the common purpose of gathering, interpreting and communicating an understanding of the ocean.

Date of Interview

National Capital Contracting

Biographical Sketch

Dr. Donald Anderson is a renowned authority on Alexandrium and a leading figure in the study of red tide, a phenomenon that has gained significant attention in relation to climate change. Born in Milwaukee, Dr. Anderson's early life was marked by frequent moves across the country, from Salt Lake City to various locations on the East Coast and California. His father, Earl Anderson, was a marine engineer and a lieutenant in the Marines during World War II, while his mother, Joan Anderson, worked in various jobs for the government. Dr. Anderson has a brother, Dennis Anderson, who pursued a career as a psychiatric counselor and was deeply involved in the arts, music, and Native American traditions. Dr. Anderson's career in science was shaped during his high school years in Marin County, north of San Francisco. His early career was marked by significant achievements, including receiving funding from the National Science Foundation and Sea Grant as a postdoc and being invited to Japan to give lectures on his work on red tide. His research on red tide cells and their germination process has been recognized as groundbreaking in the field.

Scope and Content Note
March 24, 2009: This interview with Dr. Donald Anderson provides a comprehensive overview of his life, career, and significant contributions to the study of Alexandrium and red tide. The interview begins with a discussion of Dr. Anderson's early life, including his birthplace, family background, and the influence of his high school years on his decision to pursue a career in science. The interview also delves into Dr. Anderson's career trajectory, highlighting his early achievements as a postdoc, his research on red tide cells, and his international recognition as an authority in his field. Notably, the interview includes an anecdote about Dr. Anderson's early career trip to Japan, where he was invited to give lectures at various universities. The interview also touches on the personal life of Dr. Anderson, providing insights into his family dynamics and the contrasting career paths of him and his brother. The interview provides a rich and detailed account of Dr. Anderson's life and work, offering valuable insights into his contributions to the study of red tide and climate change.

April 14, 2009:  This interview with Dr. Donald Anderson provides a comprehensive overview of his work in oceanography, specifically his research on red tide and his efforts to secure funding for the ECOHAB program. He discusses the importance of understanding the political landscape, particularly the role of congressional committees and staffers, in securing funding for scientific research. He emphasizes the importance of not just appealing to local congressmen but to those who sit on relevant committees and the necessity of arguing for the broader scientific community rather than just his own institution, Woods Hole. Dr. Anderson also discusses his approach to learning and problem-solving, attributing his success to his quantitative background and his ability to recognize what he knows and what he needs to learn. He highlights the importance of collaboration and forming partnerships with colleagues who have different skill sets. He also discusses the application of molecular biology in oceanography and his realization in the late 1980s that he needed to learn more about this field. The interview also touches on his teaching philosophy, emphasizing the importance of understanding the process of arriving at an answer rather than just the answer itself. He draws parallels between coaching sports and teaching science, highlighting the importance of understanding common principles that can be applied across different contexts. Finally, Dr. Anderson discusses the seasonality of red tide, noting that it varies depending on location but that it typically begins in April in the Cape Cod area.

May 13, 2009: This interview with Dr. Donald Anderson provides a comprehensive overview of his research in the field of red tide and its implications. Dr. Anderson discusses the future of the field, emphasizing the importance of understanding the physiological conditions of cells in the environment. He highlights the potential of molecular biology in identifying cellular or molecular markers of certain physiological conditions, which could provide more detailed insights into the physiology and nutrition of organisms. Dr. Anderson also discusses the importance of understanding the diversity within populations of organisms, using forensic techniques to identify different individuals within these populations. He suggests that understanding why certain groups emerge over others could have significant implications for the field. The interview also touches on the growth of the field internationally, with Dr. Anderson expressing satisfaction at the increasing number of countries represented at conferences. However, he also notes that many areas in the world still lack the capability to conduct research or manage these problems, and he discusses his efforts to help develop these capabilities in various countries. Dr. Anderson reflects on his career, discussing the recognition he received for his contributions to the field. He also talks about the importance of having established scientists who believe in your work and can advocate for you. He credits Jim McCarthy and John Ryder for their faith in him and their ability to see the potential in his field of research. Finally, Dr. Anderson discusses the importance of being able to anticipate future needs in the field and the challenges of developing new departments to meet these needs. He cites Bob Gagosian's experiences as an example of this.

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