Dr. Cecil Jennings: Biologist, Professor, & VP of American Fisheries Society
Dr. Cecil Jennings
PhD in Fisheries & Aquatic Sciences, 1990
Dr. Wiley Kitchens
Dr. Cecil Jennings has an impressive 32+ year career as a fisheries biologist. Prior to attending UF for his doctoral program, he earned a bachelor’s degree in biology/natural science/conservation from Carthage College and a master’s degree in wildlife and fisheries ecology from Mississippi State University.
Before Jennings retired, he worked as a Fisheries Research Biologist for the U.S. Geological Survey. He has also previously worked with the Virgin Islands Division of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and as an Adjunct Professor of Fisheries in the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources at the University of Georgia.
Jennings has a long history with the American Fisheries Society (AFS), and was named a Fellow in 2019. In 2020, he was elected Vice President of AFS, and took office this past September. We asked Dr. Jennings to provide some insights about his early career and how students and recent graduates can establish themselves in the field.
What drives you? How and why did you decide to join your field?
I’ve been inquisitive for as long as I can remember… always wanting to know the “why” of things. I also enjoy being outdoors, especially around water… So, when a chance encounter (field trip to a mangrove lagoon) in high school introduced me to the possibility of a career as an aquatic scientist, I jumped at it. It’s been a great ride, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat!
What advice would you give to a younger you or a recent graduate just starting out in the field?
Have some short- and long-term goals, but keep an open mind. As in my case, opportunities present themselves and being open to them can lead to worlds we didn’t know existed and were not part of our original plan. Volunteering and internships are great ways to gain experience and decide if you really like something you think you like. Also, don’t overlook networking and maintaining good relationships with people. A “good word” here and there from a former colleague or supervisor does wonders for progressing one’s career.
What’s your favorite memory of your time at SFRC?
There are many “favorites”… including personal relationships that have endured 30+ years hence. One of my most enjoyable memories was traveling ALL over the state with Dr. Jack Putz’s “Ecosystems of Florida” class to learn about various plant communities in FL, how they respond to water regimes, how the biota in those community respond to water availability, and how human activity can affect those systems. Really cool class with a very knowledgeable, engaging, and interesting professor. Thanks Jack!
Anything else you’d like to add?
I am grateful to the University of Florida, the SFRC, and the Florida Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit for the opportunity to learn and grow personally and professionally. I am a better person and professional for having spent time there.
Thank you, and congratulations to Dr. Jennings!