Faculty Spotlight: Gavin Cotterill

Gavin Cotterill
Meet Gavin Cotterill, research assistant professor in the School of Natural Resources.
November 15, 2021

About Gavin

I grew up in Maryland just outside of Washington D.C. and most of my family is scattered about the Northeast. I’ve always gotten a kick out of exploring natural areas and looking for tracks and signs of critters, if not seeing or hearing the animals themselves. That made going into wildlife research an easy choice. I have a bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology from the University of Vermont. From there I worked as a technician on research projects for a number of years and had a lot of amazing experiences. I got to study a breadth of taxa, travel internationally and do a lot of hiking. Those research projects tended to be either bird- or carnivore-focused, but now I study mostly ungulates. Academia’s siren song eventually drew me back in, leading to a doctorate degree in ecology at Utah State University studying elk disease issues in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Following that, and just prior to joining UNL, I studied respiratory disease in bighorn sheep in Washington, Idaho and Oregon.

What is your position at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln?

I’m a research assistant professor in the School of Natural Resources. Broadly, I study wildlife disease ecology.

What drew you to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln?

The opportunity to build my own research program and work closely with other researchers at the tops of their fields.

What aspect of working in an educational setting do you enjoy the most?

Being around lots of interesting and thoughtful people who are passionate about their work. That isn’t unique to university settings, but perhaps a little more common. It is an undeniable job perk.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Hopefully the best is yet to come! Honestly, I think simply persisting is an underappreciated accomplishment, but maybe one that the pandemic era has brought more to light. In that vein, I’ve worked on a couple of projects that I thought seemed really unlikely to succeed, but where, eventually, stubborn persistence paid off and my expectations were surpassed. One was in training a dog to locate an endangered species of ground squirrel. Another was a chapter of my dissertation, where getting up to speed on the methods followed a very steep learning curve.

What is something that most people don't know about you?

I’ve been in an enclosure with 20 wolverines at once. Wolverines, besides being the namesake of a Marvel character, are an animal native to North America—kind of like a terrier-sized grizzly. They’re solitary and despite being small can take down adult elk. I was working as a scat detection dog handler at the time, and our main source for training samples was a captive wolverine breeding program, so periodically we’d go pick up wolverine poop while they milled around us. One came up and put its front paws on me when I was kneeling down. Another one growled at me. It was a unique experience.

What is your life like outside of work?

Fall is my favorite time to be outside and I have two bird dogs that I love to romp around with. I like camping, and being new to Nebraska, I’ve been out to the Sandhills a couple of times recently. My partner, who is also faculty at UNL, and I are fixing up an old house, so we stay busy.

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