Dr. Karen P. Maruska passed away on March 7th after a long and courageous fight with colon cancer. She was beloved by all who knew her.
Karen was born on September 26, 1969, in Teaneck, New Jersey. Karen's journey as a scientist began at the age of three when she and her grandfather caught a crawfish in a brook behind her family home. She soon declared to her father that she wanted to be a "fisher lady" when she grew up. When Karen was in 2nd grade, her parents, Caroline and Bob Maruska, bought a family vacation home on Martha's Vineyard, giving Karen and her sister Susan great times at the beach. This was also an opportunity for Karen to learn more about the aquatic creatures that she loved, sharks being her favorite. Throughout her K-12 years, Karen was at the top of her class and participated in a variety of athletics, including soccer, basketball, softball and windsurfing during her summers on the Vineyard.
Karen began her academic career at the University of New Hampshire where she majored in Biology. As an undergraduate she worked with Greg Skomal, a Massachusetts Marine Fisheries Biologist doing shark research. Karen pursued a Master's degree at the Florida Institute of Technology, where she studied a close relative of her favorite animal, the stingray. She then moved to the University of Hawaii for her Ph.D. with Tim Tricas, where she spent most of her time at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology on Coconut Island studying sensory systems in coral reef fish. Karen was also a Grass Fellow at the Marine Biological Laboratory at Woods Hole. Karen did her post-doctoral training at Stanford University with Russ Fernald, where her four years of research studying social interactions among fish led to 19 publications. It was there that she initiated the research she brought to LSU in 2012. Karen wanted to understand the sensory and neural mechanisms underpinning behavior. Her organism of study was the African cichlid fish Astatotilapia burtoni, a fruitful choice due to its rich repertoire of well-characterized reproductive behaviors.
Karen led a vibrant, well-funded, and productive lab. She devoted her work to studying A. burtoni, an African cichlid fish, as a model organism to reveal the roles of olfactory, visual, and auditory cues in reproduction and the brain regions and circuitry that mediate specific behaviors. Karen attracted excellent graduate students, including three who were funded by the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships. Forty-five papers and five book chapters were published by the Maruska lab, with authors including graduate students, post-docs and 12 undergraduates. Karen was a remarkably gifted mentor, and fostered a lab environment of achievement, collaboration, inclusion, and respect.