Dr. Lee Grismer is one of the world’s leading experts on the amphibians and reptiles of Southeast Asia and is a professor and the Director of Research in the Biology Department at La Sierra University.
Lee has taken hundreds of students with him on research trips into some of the most remote jungles in Southeast Asia which in many cases for them, has resulted in life-changing experiences. “I’m always happy to open doors for students who think that medicine is the only way to go in biology and I’m even happier when they reverse course and enter graduate school to become ecologists and conservationists.”
Lee began his professional career working for 25 years in the arid regions of Baja California, México until leaving for the humid tropics of Southeast Asia. He is currently a visiting researcher at universities throughout this region and mentors PhD candidates from four different countries. However, Lee’s greatest thrill comes from the discovery of new species. “There’s nothing like hiking in the middle of the night through a steamy jungle or crawling through a limestone cave 200 feet underground and suddenly coming upon a new lineage of life that no one else in the world has ever seen. You never know what you’re going to bump up against. Sometimes it’s good and other times it’s not so good—but it’s always exciting.”
In his career, Lee has discovered and described nearly 200 new species to science, and many of those descriptions were co-authored with his students. He has published nearly 400 scientific papers and has written three books on the amphibians and reptiles of Baja California, Peninsular Malaysia, and Singapore. That’s all well and good he says but “I really love watching a student’s eyes light up when he/she discovers something new and I realize I just changed the trajectory of that person’s life.” Lee believes there is no human endeavor more important than discovering, cataloging, and conserving the biodiversity of our planet because “Without species we’d all perish.” To this end, he has dedicated his life to doing field research in some of the most biogically diverse and remote regions in the world. Some of these areas are also the most imperiled so he feels his work here has the most impact. But when it’s all said and done and asked why he really does this he says “I just like chasing lizards.”