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Ari Daniel, Ph.D.

Science Journalist






He got a Ph.D. studying communicating killer whales, and switched to telling science stories to humans.  

All Kinds of Science Ari Daniel
00:00 / 03:08
IWAK Ari Daniel SQ.jpg
Way Leads to Way Ari Daniel
00:00 / 01:26
A Wish to ServeAri Daniel
00:00 / 04:24
In a CaveAri Daniel
00:00 / 02:26


Always a curious, involved kid, Ari liked the connections with nature he found in science. It was something he got to explore when he took Advanced Placement (AP) biology with Mrs. Doerder at his high school in Cleveland. “I was just having all these questions, like why do your hands get sticky when you peel an orange? These questions just came to my mind, and I wrote them down and brought them in to Mrs. Doerder. We worked through them. I get a little emotional thinking about her, how I was just blessed with a teacher who gave so much of her time and herself and really shaped me.” 



Running for President

Mouse Lab

a bad interview 

Try               This! 

Second Thoughts 

Running for President 

“Why did I do it?,” Ari asks, looking back at his teen years, when he considered running for high school president, “I don’t remember why I wanted to do it.” He had done theater since middle school, but didn’t feel that confident. Again, a teacher may have made the difference – in this case Ms. Clemson, a phenomenal art teacher and artist. “I knew I wanted to work with her, so I ran for the at position of junior executive vice president, which would lead into president of the school my senior year.” He found he liked the visibility of these offices, and in senior year, when the principal left, he enjoyed helping organize and lead.. Drama was another way Ari found his voice, starring in plays and occasionally in musicals. Did he use this experience later when he stepped away from science research and fell in love with radio?

Try This! 

Ari applied for, but did not receive, the NPR Kroc Fellowship currently paused for 2023). A yearlong fellowship, it’s designed to help develop one's journalistic voice in audio and digital media. 


Ari led the Hillel chapter at his college campus, an experience that introducedhim to meet Jewish kids all over Boston , and beyond. Hillel is an international community of Jewish college students. 

After college, Ari applied for and received a Fulbright scholarship to pursue a Master's degree at the University of St. Andrew’s, in Scotland. Fulbright scholarships support graduate students, young professionals, and artists who study or work abroad.

Mouse Lab 

Fascinated by the idea of lab work, Ari campaigned hard to work in a Boston College neurolab. “I hounded the professor. I went to his office, left Post-it notes for him, called, emailed… finally I bumped into him. He said, ‘Are you the one…?’ I said yes. So he brought me in.” Ari worked for a semester in the lab, which used mice to study, among other things, epilepsy. It involved snipping off bits of their tails and ears. What do you do when you finally reach a goal — then dislike it? “It woke me up,” Ari says. “Listen, it had important applications: they were studying epilepsy and seizures. I just didn’t like the day-to-day.” 


So the next semester he tried something completely different: a coastal field ecology course. “That class connected me with Don Griffin, a huge figure in the field of animal behavior and communication. In the 1950s, Griffin, then at Harvard, had discovered bat echolocation. Now in his seventies, he was studying animal consciousness, studying the problem-solving abilities of beavers whose dams or lodges have been damaged.” Ari went into the field in Canada with Griffin. “Doing that, taking that course, doing that field work, participating in an animal behavior research project, really helped me realize I liked environmental biology, I liked ecology, I liked being outside.” 


That led Ari to a field course in Costa Rica, and eventually to Peter Tyack’s lab in whale acoustic communications at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. (Don Griffin had been Peter Tyack’s advisor at Harvard.)

A Bad Interview

The Fulbright Scholarship is a prestigious and competitive program — and Ari was thrilled to be granted an interview, until he fumbled.  “There were two questions that I didn’t answer very well. I had applied to study dolphins, and they asked me, ‘Why do these dolphins matter to the average British postal worker?’ And I don’t think I had a good answer.  Then they asked me to describe a moment of leadership, and I responded by telling them about a bagel brunch that I had organized for Parent’s Weekend!” 


Ari couldn’t settle for that. “I ended up sending a note to the committee afterward saying, ‘This is how I should have responded.’ His response to the leadership question was that he’d organized a national conference for Jewish students attending Jesuit universities called JSJU. Young people from all over the country came to Boston College to talk about the opportunities and challenges of being Jewish in a Jesuit environment.


Ari got the Fulbright, evidence of the power of persistence — and not settling for your own nerves and shaky response.


Second Thoughts

Ari was well on his way — a strong undergraduate experience, a Fulbright scholarship, and a track into Peter Tyack’s lab at WHOI, where he would earn his Ph.D. and go on to research animal communication. He felt certain enough of his trajectory that he decided to defer his graduate work for a second year to take part in an Americorps program in New York City. “I’d done a lot of volunteer work and service work (my grandmother instilled that in me at a young age) but this was the first time I’d devoted so many waking hours to it. It was terrific. After that year, when I got to MIT and WHOI (for the MIT/WHOI Joint Program), my Ph.D. felt very self-serving. It was like, ‘What am I doing exactly? Who is this helping?’”


But Ari stuck with it. “I got back in the groove, got my head in the game. You have to have your head in the game to do a Ph.D.! And getting to work with Peter and doing fieldwork with killer whales in Norway and Alaska was just incredible. But as I was finishing up and thinking what’s next, that service part was still calling to me. I had the opportunity to go to work with elephants in Africa… but that’s when I met someone who suggested I check out Atlantic Public Media.” 


He sums up his decision this way: “When I look at people who’ve pursued successful careers in science research, I see individuals looking at a system — like ocean currents in the North Sea — and spending 30-40 years peering deeper and deeper. There’s always more detail, more interesting questions, branching off like a fractal.” But not for Ari. When he tried to drill deeper, “the fractal would pixellate. I couldn’t get at the detail.” But in radio he could. “It’s not like you’re exploring one topic in greater and greater detail. Instead you’re flying over the landscape and there are all these things to explore and understand. That diversity of knowledge and ideas, that’s for me.”

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