Amanda Heidt

Amanda Heidt, Invertebrate Lab

imageHometown: Rochester, New York, although I’ve lived in California, Colorado, Nevada, and Texas.

Undergraduate: University of California, Santa Cruz (Major: Marine Biology, Minor: Chemistry), 2013

Thesis: Effects of Beach Structure and Sediment Characterization on Meiofaunal Diversity Along the California Coast


Work Experience Before MLML:

I have been working in the Invertebrate Zoology lab at Moss Landing since 2015, assisting on various projects. Our general scope of work involves molecular sequencing and invasive species ecology. In addition, I am currently a KQED-CSUMB Fuhs Science Communication Fellow working at KQED Public Media in San Francisco. I split my time between researching and developing story lines for the Emmy-award winning short video series Deep Look as well as writing stories for KQED’s Science News team.

In addition, I recently finished up in my post as the Education Programs Assistant for the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions. I helped to support education program
development and assisted in event planning and MARINE program coordination to help develop and advance a strong emerging ocean leader community in the Monterey Bay area.

Prior to beginnign graduate school, my first job in college was working in an invertebrate reproductive ecology lab at Long Marine Lab, as well as managing the on-site teaching laboratory. I tutored several upper division science classes and functioned as a mentor for academically-disadvantaged students. In addition, I volunteered extensively both as an undergrad and after graduation, allowing me to work closely with many agencies (MBA, USGS, NOAA, UCSC, MLML) and with many species, including otters, elephant seals, and cnidarians.

Why did you decide to pursue marine science?

I’ve always been a very outdoor-oriented person, even as a child. I remember appreciating the constancy of the ocean when I was younger. The more I looked at it, the more curious I became about what went on beneath the surface, or even just in the intertidal. I dabbled with the idea of pursuing marine biology but ironically enough feared the math and science. Fortunately, once I took my first general marine bio class in community college, I was hooked.


What are you studying and why is it interesting and important to you?

My thesis looks at the community composition of meiofauna all across the coast of California, which are essentially all the little critters that live in between grains of sand. Because they are a size-determined class, it makes them extremely diverse. And because they are small, it makes them very hard to study. Traditionally, it has taken a lot of expertise and microscope time to work on meiofauna. With new molecular techniques, it is possible to extract DNA directly from sand and compare sequences against a database to generate a “laundry list” of what species are in each sample.

I think this work is important because meiofauna form the base of the sandy-beach food web. Many other organisms depend on their presence. In addition, meiofauna make excellent indicator species for studying overall ecosystem health. The composition of a community can tell you how susceptible that space is to certain environmental stressors.

What are the most rewarding and challenging aspects of graduate school?

I’m going to start with the challenges. In my experience, Murhpy’s Law carries the day. Everything always has to go wrong before it goes right. Graduate school has thus far been an exercise in wall-butting, but when it goes right it feels extremely fulfilling.

I also think it has taught me a lot about self-advocacy and prioritizing self-care. You have to be vocal about your needs to progress.

What advice do you have for someone who wants to get in to marine science?

Get yourself involved in any way you can. It can be difficult at first when you don’t have a lot of experience, but all it takes is one yes before a world of opportunity opens up to you. Plus, sampling a variety of projects will let you know pretty quickly what you like and what you don’t. Be persistent. Everyone has a lot of demands on their time and sometimes an email might go otherwise unanswered.