Dr. Scott Lovell portrait

Dr. Scott Lovell

Assistant Professor, Biology
Chair, Natural and Mathematical Sciences

Phone: (403) 254-3764
Email: Scott.Lovell@stmu.ca
Office: A207
PhD Biology, University of Calgary
MSc Ecology, University of Calgary
BSc Biology, Auburn University, Auburn, AL

Specialization/research interests: avian behavioral ecology, ornithology, bird song, evolution, conservation biology and wildlife biology

Dr. Lovell was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee. His interest in the natural world began when he was 14, when he developed an interest in birds. During his undergraduate career, at Auburn University, he worked in the lab of the bird biologist as a research assistant. At that point, he discovered that he could actually make a career out of his hobby. After travelling the world, bird watching, he moved to Calgary in 2000 to start his M.Sc. in Behavioral Ecology , working in the lab of Dr. Ross Lein at the University of Calgary. The focus for his Ph.D. was Evolutionary Ecology and Speciation in birds.

Experiential Learning with Dr. Lovell
I am passionate about science, particularly all aspects of biology. I believe my approach to teaching reflects this. Most of my courses have a lab component, I use that time to get the students out into nature, either to observe species in their natural habitat or to collect “real-world” data on actual living organisms. I want our students to be component field biologists, as this is a valuable skill employers look for. To reach that goal, our students gather data in Fish Creek Provincial Park, Ann and Sandy Cross Conservation Area, and Kananaskis Country. Currently, I am designing a Tropical Ecology course, where we will visit Belize to learn about sampling in tropical ecosystems.

My research interests currently involve understanding how new bird species arise, how geographical variation within these species are produced, and how behaviours, such as song, evolve. I study these processes by assessing variation in a variety of traits such as: DNA, song characteristics, plumage characteristics, and even wintering ground locations.

When I think about teaching and learning, two thoughts typically come to mind. First, we are born filled with curiosity and the desire to learn. Ideally, these innate traits will be nurtured throughout our lives, whether we are in a classroom or not. I can honestly say that I find great satisfaction in learning some new fact or idea every day, regardless of whether it is in science or not. Secondly, I view teaching and learning as a two-way contract between the instructor and the student.

This idea arose from a course, I took as a freshman at Auburn University in 1994. On the first day of Animal Biology, Dr. Robert Lishak presented us with a contract. In it, he spelled out his obligations for the term: he would teach to the best of his ability; he would breakdown any abstract concepts into parts and pieces we could understand; he would be enthusiastic about the topic of the day; he would be available to students both inside and outside of class; and finally, he would mark fairly. We, as students, were expected to ask questions if a concept was unclear; read the relevant chapters in the textbook before lecture; have a positive attitude about the course; and finally, simply perform to the best of our abilities for the term. While I do admit that this contract was partially done for theatrics, it did have an effect on me as I still remember it, almost 20 years later.

As an undergraduate and graduate student, I came across both excellent teachers and for lack of a better term, less than excellent teachers. The best teachers were enthusiastic about their subject and presented it in a clear, thought-provoking manner. Passion for and a thorough understanding of the subject matter, is in my opinion, one of the single most important components of effective teaching. This is accomplished by extensively preparing for lectures, continually evolving teaching skills, and constantly updating course material. Although this may seem like a daunting task, if done correctly the reward of watching students learn, appreciate the subject matter and see the world from a new point of view is worth all the work. Based on these experiences, I try to incorporate into my teaching style those traits and ideas that I gleaned from the teachers that made me want to learn more, and I try to avoid in my teaching style, those traits and ideas that did not motivate or inspire me to want to know more about the subject matter. My goals every time I walk into a classroom to lecture are to 1) present the topics, ideas, and concepts as clearly as possible; 2) express overall excitement for the topic (which is not too hard given that science is amazing); 3) ideally have one or more of the students have their interest piqued by an example I give in class; and 4) show the students that I am not some hard to reach guy behind the lectern, but someone that cares about their overall success in life, and who they can come to if they have questions or concerns.

In whatever class I teach — a non-majors course, majors course, lab section or a guest lecturer for the day — I want the students to take away a greater understanding of science and the natural world around them. Additionally, I hope that some of the topics or examples given in class force them to start to develop that all important skill of critical thinking. Often, biology is characterized as a subject where you can get by on rote learning alone. While that may be partially true, a large part of science, medicine, and other scientific fields, is critically evaluating an experiment, a journal article, or devising an experiment of your own. This takes a special set of skills that students just entering university are typically lacking or that need to be refined and nurtured.

I am passionate about science, particularly all aspects of biology. I believe that every student, from those who struggled with biology in high school to science majors that just seem to automatically “get it” can appreciate some aspect of biology for, after all, it is the science of life. To accomplish this, my lectures and seminars always have a series of “did you know” interesting tidbits about the natural world. While teaching biology to non-majors, I include topics that have been in the news recently or ones that the students have brought up in class. For example, in the Fall of 2013, I lectured about influenza (Bird/Swine flu), antibiotic resistant bacteria, and birds holding funerals for other individuals of the same species. Additionally, at the beginning of my lectures, I like to start out with a picture or statement, relevant to the topic of the day, to get the students in a science frame of mind. These have included: “Do sharks get cancer?; “How many omelets can you make with the world’s large single cell?”; or simply a genetics word problem. Some students enter a biology course with the idea that it will be hard, a boring collection of facts and just a course they have to take. I find that simply sharing my passion for the subject and thinking of interesting examples and videos to drive home basic concepts causes many of them to become intrigued. I’m often asked after class and in office hours to talk about something the student found interesting in more detail, and students approach me with random biological questions and actually started sending me links to videos they saw and thought I would like.

To keep myself organized and help manage lecture time efficiently, I prepare detailed notes for my lectures. After class, I review what I thought worked and what I thought didn’t. I often start each lecture with a brief overview of the last lecture by posting 3 – 4 questions based on the previous lecture material. I try, while time constraints can sometimes make it a challenge, to provide a short summary of the current lecture at the end of the class. I put a lot of effort into making my presentations easy to follow, enlightening and thought-provoking. Prior to lecture, I will post on the course website outlines of the lecture slides, so the students can listen and think about the material instead of writing for 50 minutes. For difficult concepts, I break down the material and present it in steps, asking every so often, “Are there questions? Is this clear?” From day one, I openly encourage questions from the students. I view this as a chance to interact with them, perhaps sparking more thought or interest, and an opportunity to discuss the topic in more detail.

As an undergraduate, I found purely lecture courses to be at times dry and not very thought-provoking. When I began teaching, I mixed lecture slides with some hands on material. For example, when we are learning about bacteria and viruses, I bring in some stuffed, plush toys modeled to look like various types of these. These serve as comic relief as they are humorous and informative and we discuss each one. Once we move on to various animal groups, I always bring specimens, skins, and bones, so the students could experience at least part of the animals first hand (Interestingly, college age students react just as enthusiastically to these props as the grade two and three students at my son’s school).

Finally, what may define me most as a teacher is that I want my students to succeed in the class and take with them something about the world we live in. I challenge myself to learn the names of each and every one of my students and in about three weeks, I have most of them down. I am okay when the students catch a mistake I made or point out something I have yet to think about. I want them to feel comfortable doing that and having a good time in class; I believe it makes for a more positive learning environment. I want to do anything I can to help them when they struggle, ask questions, or come see me. My ultimate goal is to make each lecture a positive learning experience with the hope that something I say or mention will make each student appreciate the diversity of life around them.

My research interests currently involve understanding how new species arise, how geographical variation within species is produced, and how behaviours, such as song, evolve. The main focus of my research are contact zones: areas where distinct species or sub-species meet, and potentially mate. I study these contact zones by assessing variation in a variety of traits such as: DNA variation, song characteristics, plumage characteristics, and even wintering ground locations. Alberta is a prime location for addressing these questions as it is a “hybrid hot spot” due to its geologic history and location. In addition to my interest in contact zones, I am also currently studying the nature and function of song variation in avian communication systems among birds (the suboscine) whose songs are “hard wired” rather than learned, with particular focus on their pre-dawn singing.

Invited Seminars

Lovell, S.F. 2013. “Empidonax Flycatchers: the bane of birdwatchers or just a misunderstood group?” Invited speaker for Calgary Field Naturalists’ Society Meeting.

Lovell, S.F. 2006. “Vireo problems in Alberta?” Invited speaker for Calgary Field Naturalists’ Society Meeting.

Lovell, S.F. 2004. “Howdy Neighbor? Neighbor recognition by song in Alder Flycatchers.” Invited speaker for Volunteer Citizen Scientists Program, Alberta Bird Atlas Program, University of Calgary, Kananaskis Field Stations.

Lovell, S.F. 2003. “Neighbor-stranger discrimination in Alder Flycatchers.” Invited speaker for Calgary Field Naturalists’ Society Meeting.

Conference Seminars

Lovell, S.F. and M.J. Braun. 2008. Mitochondrial variation in Warbling Vireo (Vireo gilvus) subspecific populations in Alberta. Oral presentation at Joint Meeting of American Ornithologists’ Union, Cooper Ornithological Society, and Society of Canadian Ornithologists, Portland, OR USA, August.

Lovell, S.F. 2003. Individual recognition of neighbors by song in a suboscine, the Alder Flycatcher. Oral presentation at the 121st Stated Meeting of the American Ornithologists’ Union, Urbana-Champaign, IL USA, August.

Lovell, S.F. 2002. Neighbor-stranger discrimination in a suboscine, the Alder Flycatcher. Oral presentation at the 3rd North American Ornithological Conference, New Orleans, LA USA, September.

Lovell, S.F. 2001. Song variation in Alder Flycatchers in Southwestern Alberta. Oral presentation at the Prairie University Biological Symposium, Calgary, AB, April.

Conference Posters

Lovell, S.F. 2012. Warbling Vireos in Alberta: One or Two Species? Revisited 27 years later. Poster presented at the 5th North American Ornithological Conference, Vancouver, B.C., August.

Carscadden, K.A., Rogers, S.M., Lovell, S.F. & Lein, M.R. 2012. Hybridization between Warbling Vireos in a Contact Zone. Poster presented at the 1st joint congress of Evolutionary Biology, Ottawa, Canada, June.

Lovell, S.F. 2006. Subspecific Variation in Songs of Warbling Vireos in Alberta, Canada. Poster presented at the 4th North American Ornithological Conference, Veracruz, Mexico, October.

Lovell, S.F. 2005. Song characteristics and variation of “Audubon’s Warbler” from two locations within Alberta. Poster presented at the 123rd Stated Meeting of the American Ornithologists’ Union, Santa Barbara, CA USA, August.

Lovell, S.F. and M.R. Lein. 2004. Geographic variation in the songs of a suboscine, the Alder Flycatcher. Poster presented at Joint Meeting of American Ornithologists’ Union and Society of Canadian Ornithologists, Université Laval, Quebéc, PQ, August.

Lovell, S.F. 2001. Song variation in a population of Alder Flycatchers in Southwestern Alberta. Poster presented at the joint American Ornithologists’ Union and Society of Canadian Ornithologists meeting, Seattle, WA USA, August.

Lovell, S.F., and G.E. Hill. 1998. The Importance of Mountain Longleaf Pine and Hardwood Forests for Breeding Birds in the Talladega Mountains, Alabama. Poster presented at the 2nd North America Ornithological Conference, St. Louis, MO USA, April.