Alumni Spotlight: Putter Tiatragul’s Adventure from Auburn to Australia
Auburn alumnus Putter Tiatragul takes his passion for creating healthy biodiversity around the world as he pursues his next degree.
From his home in Thailand to Auburn’s Department of Biological Sciences to a new Australian adventure, Tiatragul’s work as a steward of the environment continues to lead him to remarkable first-hand discoveries – making a positive impact in each area he visits.
Tiatragul graduated from the Auburn University Graduate School in 2018, culminating years of work in Dr. Daniel Warner’s lab, months of field research in Miami, Florida, five conference presentations of his academic research, and the chance to compete as one of 10 finalists in Auburn’s 3MT (Three Minute Thesis) Competition.
“Auburn gave me the opportunity to meet excellent researchers and friends that come from vastly different backgrounds. I got to take courses that help me develop skills I need to become a competent scientist,” Tiatragul said.
One of Tiatragul’s most notable experiences from his time at Auburn is his research on how wildlife adapts to urbanization, specifically, his discovery of Puerto Rican crested anole’s ability to thrive in areas such as the residential suburbs of Miami, he said.
But Tiatragul did not always have an interest in protecting biodiversity. In fact, he was deathly scared of lizards as a child, particularly the geckos that constantly appeared in his childhood home in Thailand, he said.
Yet after learning about the natural world, and developing a desire to improve it for every life form, Tiatragul began to sympathize with the geckos he once despised. Eventually, this led to his collegiate defense seminar: “A lizard’s shady way to beat the city heat.”
“The defense seminar was a great way to tell the story of my research journey to my peers. It was not just about the results, but also about the effort I put in to design the experiment, collect data and analyze it in a meaningful way. I think it’s a fun way to share your success and (sometimes) failures with the scientific community,” he said.
Now, he is continuing his involvement in the scientific community in a new setting – and a new continent too.
In July, Tiatragul began his schooling as a doctoral student at the Australian National University. There he studies evolutionary biology and ecology of reptiles and amphibians, and is exposed to nearly twice as many species of lizards and snakes than that of the U.S., he said.
For now, Tiatragul is focused on completing his Ph.D. thesis through studying these nearly 1,000 species. One aspect of his research involves developing models to predict which will be most likely to become extinct without proper management, he said.
“My dream is to see a world where current and future generations of humans can live healthy lives, breath clean air, have access to clean water, and keep reaping the benefits of a thriving natural world,” Tiatragul said.
His advice to current COSAM students – find a topic that truly interests you and ask yourself, ‘what are my values?’
“Knowing your values can help guide you through difficult times when your passion might fade a little,” Tiatragul said.