Grad Story #13


Grad Story #13


Ken Cabarle 

Biology, PhD


I came to UND specifically to study with Dr Bob Newman. I'm a herpetologist and currently I study salamanders. He's also a herpetologist, and is well respected and well published. My mentor at Minot State University, Dr Chris Beachy, suggested I continue my research (after my Master's degree). So I reached out to Dr Newman and he agreed to advise me and allowed me to further my research for my PhD.

Q. What kind of research are you conducting on salamanders?

That focuses on genetic variation in response to environmental stress in salamanders. So, utilizing salamanders as an indicator of environmental conditions – it’s called bio-monitoring.

I have chosen a bunch of sites in the field and one of them happens to be on Turtle Mountain Reservation. It’s a pond that’s at the bottom of their landfill. So we expect we might see differences there because of stress from toxicants in the landfill. 

I have another site that I surveyed last year that The Graduate School fellowship helped me go to which is a super fund site, called the Twin Cities Army Ammunitions Plant. It’s had $52 million in clean up over the last several years. I went there with the cooperation with Ramsey County and the Army and I collected salamanders. So we have two sites in the field that we would hypothesize are affected, or environmentally disturbed. 

Then I collected samples in the Sheyenne National Grasslands and that would be my reference site south of Fargo without any obvious effects from environmental toxicants. We're looking at the differences between a disturbed environment and what we would consider a non-disturbed environment.

Q. As a recipient of travel and research funds for Doctoral students, how did that money help you further your research?

The travel money sent me to a regional meeting – the Dakota Amphibian Reptile Network. It’s a coordination meeting for research that's going on with herpetological species. I presented some of my initial laboratory experiments and I made really good connections. 

And then the fellowship money allowed me to visit one of my research sites to collect the samples. I also got money for research – reagents, equipment, or whatever else it will need to go to. That money will pay for reagents to pay to do my molecular work. I literally couldn’t have done all the work this past summer without the support of The Graduate School.

Q. How important is that mentor relationship, as a grad student?

It’s the most important relationship that you have as a grad student. I have at least three people that I am indebted to for the rest of my academic career – Bob Newman, Chris Beachy and Brett Goodwin. There are others, of course, but these guys have really helped me. 

Bob Newman, my advisor, has allowed me to find my own way. But he's always there if I need to talk to somebody. It's the most important relationship you have.

Q. Any advice for an incoming grad student in Biology?

I think it's a great program. It would be beneficial for anyone coming in to have an idea of what they want to do with their degree. If you know what you want, and you know what your focus is, you can seek out an ongoing research program, or take advantage of funding opportunities.

Q. What does the future look like?

I want to get a job teaching and pay off my education! My education is geared towards the classroom and teaching. I don’t think I’ll ever give up research because I am just inquisitive in general and I love field biology. So I can’t see a time when I am not out in the field trying to track down some frog, toad, fish or whatever. It’s just part of what I do, and I‘ve been doing that so long. 

I’d love to get a World Wildlife Fund fellowship to go to Mexico to study the axolotl in it's natural environment, and get some samples. Then come back up here and work with all the cooperators I have been working with and compare those with the wild populations. So that’s what I am searching for. To have a teaching career and to continue my research.


Susan Caraher


The Graduate School



Original Format






Susan Caraher, “Grad Story #13,” Grad Stories, accessed January 22, 2019,