Hometown: Fremont, CA
Undergraduate degrees: B.S. Biological Sciences, B.A. Chemistry, California State University, East Bay (2007).
Some questions for Amanda:
Q: Why did you decide to pursue marine science?
A: I grew up about 2 hours away from the ocean, but I only visited the coast a handful of times when I was young. Still, somehow I knew that I wanted to study the oceans. I fed my curiosity by watching documentaries and doing class projects about marine-related topics in high school. In college, people told me that it would be difficult to make a living out of a marine scientist’s career. I believed them, and I almost went into botany or biomedical research instead of marine science. Then one day, I came to MLML’s Open House and realized that there was nothing in botany or biomedical science that were nearly as interesting to me as in marine science. Since then, I have been going with my gut, which tells me that marine science is the right field for me.
Q: What experiences and opportunities have shaped your path to where you are now?
A: Once I decided to pursue marine science, I spent a long time trying to figure out what exactly I wanted to study. I started taking classes at MLML while finishing up my undergraduate degree at CSU East Bay, so I could get exposure to the different fields and figure out what I liked. I got scuba-certified and then signed up for a scientific diving class so I could see animals and interactions underwater. I also took a lot of classes as an undergraduate, and I always took note of what interested me during lectures. Still, even with all of that intense evaluation of what I liked best, I ended up changing my mind. I was convinced that I wanted to study invasive species, but I applied for an internship with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute doing deep-sea ecology so I could see what deep-sea research was all about. I told myself that I would not study the deep ocean, because it is a lot more difficult to study and very inaccessible, but I couldn’t help it – my interest in deep-sea processes grew as the summer internship went on, and now I’ve decided that I am willing to deal with the difficulties of studying the deep ocean.
Q: What are you studying and why do you find it interesting?
A: I am studying two species of deep-sea sponges (called “plate sponges”) off the coast of California. Even though they, at first glance, look almost identical, they are not very closely related and look very different under a microscope! The two species I am studying are not described, meaning they are new to science and do not have a scientific name. Part of my research is to name and formally describe these two species, so that other people will be able to recognize them and understand how they are related to each other and to other sponges. I am also studying how these sponges reproduce. Once a sponge dies, the tissue decays but the glass skeleton remains. The mat of glass fragments harbors a great community of animals on the deep seafloor, including new plate sponges. I am trying to figure out if those new sponges are a result of asexual reproduction or sexual reproduction.
I find my research interesting because very little is known about deep-sea sponges. These are some of the most primitive animals, and we can learn a lot about our own evolution through the characteristics of these sponges. In addition, sponges in the deep sea are important to the surrounding animal communities both while alive and after they die, as the spicule mats harbor dense communities of animals and are like oases in the abyssal plain.
Q: What are you hoping/planning to do when you finish?
A: After I finish my thesis at MLML, I hope to go on to a PhD program. I love research because I get to ask questions that no one knows the answers to, then I go out and try to solve them! While I could do research with my masters degree, I also appreciate the importance of teaching, and I will need a PhD to be able to both teach and do research.
Q: What advice do you have for someone who wants to get in to marine science?
A: If you are really interested in marine science, then don’t let people persuade you otherwise! You know best what it is that excites you. You will be involved in your chosen career for the rest of your life, so you’d better choose something you enjoy. If you really want to get into marine science, then just go for it, and everything will eventually start working out. I do recommend that you try to learn as much as possible about the field – there is way more to marine science than many people initially think, and marine science in general is a much dirtier job than most people ever think – have you ever noticed how many of Mike Rowe’s Dirty Jobs episodes feature marine scientists?! Make sure you are happy with the types of day-to-day tasks that you would do as a marine scientist. You can do that by reading our blogs, visiting, volunteering, or becoming an intern in a marine lab, and by getting in touch with people in the field (like me!).
Find out more about the deep sea!