Hometown: Chandler, AZ
Undergrad: B.S. in Aquatic and Fishery Science with Honors, B.A. in Medical Anthropology and Global Health. University of Washington. 2012.
Work experience before MLML: My first job in high school was as a substitute ballet teacher at my home studio in Tempe, AZ (something I loved, and still miss). After starting school at the University of Washington, I took a job as an undergraduate research assistant in a biological oceanography lab. There I learned sterile culture techniques and participated in the development of R programs to analyze data from SeaFlow, an underway flow cytometer. I enjoyed the science but wanted more time in the field with critters larger than 97 μm, so I found a summer internship with NOAA’s National Marine Mammal Laboratory. I worked with the California Current Ecosystems Program to conduct annual surveys of gray whales and other marine mammals on the outer Washington coast. My most recent job was at the Seattle Aquarium where I managed shifts of volunteers, interpreted exhibits, and gave scheduled presentations to the public.
Q: Why did you decide to pursue marine science?
I am one of only a handful of people (it seems) who stuck to the same major in college from application through graduation. Like many of my colleagues, I was introduced to the ocean on family vacations, fell in love, and then never fell out of love. I learned about the scientific process in grade school, read marine books, visited aquariums…and then I applied to a university with a school of aquatic and fishery sciences. I have continued to choose to do what interests me, and I have been repeatedly delighted that my path is turning into a fascinating career.
Q: What experiences and opportunities have shaped your path to get you where you are now?
I credit my conservation-mindedness to my mom, who taught me to recycle, celebrate Earth Day, and carry a reusable bag to the market from the time I was in diapers. I have also been irrevocably molded by my parents to be a self-confident individual: they helped me believe I could do anything and have been infinitely supportive of my choices.
But these things were basically out of my hands.
Experiences that were in my control include volunteering at an aquarium (volunteering, period); applying to MANY funded internships in my desired field in order to get a few good experiences outside of school; volunteering and then working in a lab on my college campus to get an accurate sense of lab work; and checking out what it would be like to be a NOAA research scientist by interning with them for a summer. The Hollings scholarship program, in particular, was instrumental in helping me gain experience in the field of my choice as well as with the US government.
Q: What are you studying and why is it interesting and important to you?
In the Vertebrate Ecology Lab I am studying marine mammals: the charismatic macrofauna of the ocean. Specifically, I hope to do my thesis work on eastern gray whales along the Washington outer coast. The group of gray whales that forages on the outer coast in the summer time is interesting because they cut short their migration up to the Arctic seas. They forage on different prey using different methods than gray whales normally use when they travel further north. There are several Nations along the outer coast who have long histories of traditional whaling practices along this coastline, specifically targeting gray whales. Although traditional whaling ceased when gray whales were listed under the Endangered Species Act, gray whales have since recovered and been de-listed. The Makah Nation in particular has petitioned the government to allow traditional whaling to resume, as long as the gray whale population as a whole will not be harmed. My studies of gray whale foraging patterns in this area will contribute to the body of knowledge that helps make these management decisions. I will hopefully learn what the gray whales are eating in Washington and try to associate their distribution with that of their prey species.
Q: What are you hoping or planning to do when you finish?
With my master’s degree, I hope to be attractive to agencies like NOAA, state Fish and Wildlife, or a number of non-governmental groups. I’d like to work as a marine mammals research scientist, but I’m not quite sure yet about the what, the who, or the how. My experiences thus far make me think that my future career will depend heavily on my networking skills in the next few years.
Q: What are the most rewarding and challenging aspects of graduate school?
It has only been a short time for me, but so far the most rewarding part of being in graduate school is the sense of like-mindedness that comes from around the lab. It is stimulating to know that you are in a room full of people who are on the same page, so to speak. I’m not talking about a hive-mentality where no one has original thoughts or conflicting ideas…just the opposite. We have taken many different paths to get to this same place. It is really a great feeling to be around people who are working (and working really hard!) towards similar goals.
I think that the most challenging aspects of graduate school all fall under the category of funding. Classes are never the only things that we are doing, and the multitasking alone is a challenge. But having the future funding for your research resting squarely on your shoulders is both a huge responsibility and an opportunity to experience real-life grant writing. And it is most definitely a challenge.
Q: What advice do you have for someone who wants to get in to marine science?
My advice is to make sure you figure out what it is that you really want. If it turns out to be marine science – wonderful! It’s hard work, only moderate pay, but bushels and barrels of fishy fun. And the people you will be working with are among the coolest in the world.
But as you proceed along your way, make sure that you don’t pass up an opportunity that seems a little random, a little scary. Grab those chances and gain experience in as many areas as you can. You may have never thought you wanted to study freshwater systems until you experience stream surveys. Or you think you like oceanographic cruises, but you get so seasick that you are immobilized on a boat. Professors and graduate students are always looking for help on their projects. Be the person who tries it all. If nothing else, you will appreciate the extra experience and knowledge (and fun!) that is gained from working a little outside your field.
And get some exposure to computer programming.