Lab while at Moss Landing: Physical Oceanography, Dr. William Broenkow
Undergraduate education: Biology, University of Maryland, College Park, 1990
Current job position and location: Software Engineer in Research and Development, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) (since 1998)
Some questions for Brian:
Q: Why did you decide to pursue marine science/come to Moss Landing?
Growing up on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, I was always fascinated by life uder the sea. But what really got me hooked was when I took a SCUBA class as an undergraduate. SCUBA was my gateway drug to marine biology! After finishing my Bachelors degree, I spent a few years teaching marine science and SCUBA and took advantage of the locations to spend every possible minute underwater. Going to graduate school was just the next logical step to pursue what really interests me. MLML was an easy choice as a) I really wanted to live in Monterey and b) my wife was going to MLML too.
Q: What did you do your thesis on and why do you find it interesting/important?
In a nutshell, I used a long term time series, collected by MBARI, to examine the physical processes that might be affecting the distribution of midwater animals. My animal of choice was the physonect syphonophore, Nanomia bijuga, as it’s well studied and relativly common in Monterey Bay. For me, trying to figure out deep-sea ‘seasons’ was a real intellectual challenge; trying to coupling physical processes to biology was pretty cool too.
Q: What did you go on to after graduation?
While I was at MLML, I did a summer internship at MBARI. Shortly before finishing my Masters, I was offered a position as a Research Technician at MBARI. I’ve been there ever since.
Q: What do you do now (if different from above?) Please describe your job and the highlights/challenges of your work.
My current job title at MBARI is ‘Software Engineer’. My principal duties are designing and building software systems to support various projects. MBARI collects a phenomenal amount of data; my role is to build tools to enable scientists to actually do things with the data. My job entails working on a wide variety of projects, so I’m always challenged. One day I might be designing a database system, the next I could be working on image analysis software. The variety keeps my job fresh and interesting.
Q: What’s the best thing that you took away from MLML? How did you time at MLML prepare you/influence you for what you do now?
My principle advisor, Dr. Broenkow, was great at teaching how to break things down to first principles. I learned how to dissect seemingly difficult problems into more easily digestable bites. That alone was worth my time at MLML and has been vital for being succesful at my current job. The other was taking the Matlab class. It opened my eyes to how important and useful it is to have programming skills.
Q: What would you do if you could do anything differently?
Probably buy every share of Apple Stock that I could back in 2001 when it was $15. Other than that, I wish I had had an oppurtunity to learn more about robotics.
Q: What advice do you have for someone who wants to go into marine science and/or graduate school?
Be involved! Take advantage of your time in school to volunteer on research cruises, do internships, help out others projects, etc. It’s the time to get a wide variety of experiences and make connections. Experience + connections = cool jobs!
Q: What advice do you have for someone who wants to pursue a career like yours?
For my career, you’ll need to build up lots of experience programming. But honestly, I think everyone these days should be able to do some programming. It’s incredible powerful and handy to be able to write your own tools; it also makes one more employable. Pick a programming langauage, it really doesn’t matter which one, and start using it to solve problems in your research. Other skills that are useful in my field are math, critical thinking, math, some basic computer science knowledge, and math.