Shannon Johnson

Shannon coming out of HOV Alvin

Year graduated from MLML: 2003

Lab at MLML: Invertebrate Zoology and Molecular Ecology

Undergraduate Education: BS Biology, UCLA, 1999

Current occupation: Research Technician, MBARI (since 2003)

Contact information: sjohnson@mbari.org

Some questions for Shannon:

Q:  Why did you decide to pursue marine science/come to Moss Landing?

A:  I really liked the area!  Also, I was very interested in Molecular ecology, which my advisor, Jon Geller, was known for doing well.

Q:  What did you do your thesis on and why do you find it interesting/important (the short version)?

A:  For my thesis I used molecular biology to explore settlement patterns of three species of mussels. One is an invasive species from the Mediterranean sea. As adults all three species live attached to rocks and piers in different levels of wave exposure. I was interested to find out if the larvae were responsible for these patterns. I used molecular biology to identify the larvae since they all look very similar. I found that all three species settled on the outer coast but wave exposure and predators seemed to remove the adults that typically weren’t found there. In the protected environment, even though all three species of larvae were present, they didn’t all settle and grow into adults.

Q:  What did you go on to after graduation?

A:  As I was finishing my thesis, I was offered a job at MBARI in the Molecular Ecology lab as a student assistant working on deep-sea organisms. I was very lucky! I finished my thesis and a full-time job in my lab became available.

Q:  What do you do now (if different from above)? Please describe your job and the highlights/challenges of your work.

A:  I am still at MBARI. I work on population genetics and phylogenetics of deep-sea organisms. My job is great! I get to go to sea and work in the lab. Going to sea is the highlight because it seems every time we go out, we find a new species! We primarily work in the Monterey Bay, but we also do long-range cruises. For example, in 2005 we explored the hydrothermal vents of the East Pacific rise and the Fiji/Lau basins. It is always exciting to explore the ocean, you are seeing things no-one has ever seen before, and the deep-sea is truly beautiful. My biggest challenge is sea-sickness… ick!

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?

A:  MLML teaches you to work hard and think for yourself. It is an excellent M.S. program and is known to be essentially a “mini-Phd”.  (Of course it isn’t a Phd and they will always make more money!) It is an excellent program for a person who is very interested in research. Also, MLML has a great classes on statistics and sampling design, two vital tools in science.

Q:  What would you do if you could do anything differently?

A:  I would have listened to Mike Foster and Jon Geller when they told me to use the samples from a thermal outfall project for my thesis.. (but NO, I wanted to collect my OWN samples…) A tip, listen to the experts, they really do know what they are talking about….

Q:  What advice do you have for someone who wants to go into marine science and/or graduate school?

A:  There are many people with doctorates in the field right now having a very difficult time finding jobs. A masters degree makes you infinitely employable because your background is more varied. Someone has to do the work! Also, do what you love and you will be really good at it. I am lucky because I love lab work, statistics, and going to sea. The best advice someone gave me for getting into graduate school is find what you like (LOVE, because you will be spending a lot of time doing it!) and then find a professor doing what you like doing- then go meet her/him-then apply. When they see your application they can help accept you. Also, be flexible, lots of people miss out on good research opportunities being stubborn and insisting on doing a project that may not work. Your advisor is your advisor for a reason!

Q:  What advice do you have for someone who wants to pursue a career like yours?  What skills do you find most important?

A:  Go for it! Work HARD (but you aren’t going to get rich doing marine science)! Math is as important as writing. Your work may be brilliant but if you can’t write papers into concise, readable stories that get published it is as if you didn’t do it at all!  Most importantly, have fun!

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