Emily Donham

Emily DonhamHometown:  Toledo, OH

Undergraduate education: BS Biology, University of Hawaii at Manoa, 2007

Work experience before MLML:

During my undergraduate studies I worked as a research assistant conducting field (SCUBA) and laboratory experiments on the behavior and sound production of butterflyfishes in Hawaii.  After graduation I worked as a technician assessing life history parameters of three species of Hawaiian reef fish.  More recently, I worked as a contractor for NOAA’s Coral Reef Ecosystem Division (CRED) conducting surveys on fish populations and developing geographic information system (GIS) products throughout the south Pacific.

Lab webpage:  


Q: Why did you decide to pursue marine science?

A:  I have always been interested in science.  At the age of 17 my parents encouraged me to become SCUBA certified so that I could go on a dive trip with them.  This is where I was first exposed to the spectacular shapes and colors of the oceans.  It was then that I realized I wanted to study marine ecosystems.

Emily Donham diving in school of fishes

Q: What experiences and opportunities have shaped your path to get you where you are now?

A:  Growing up in northern Ohio I spent many of my childhood summers out on my dad’s fishing boat in the Great Lakes.  I always enjoyed being out on or near the water.  I decided to move to Hawaii to attend a university where I could escape the cold fresh water of the Midwest.  Since my decision to move to Honolulu, I have had various opportunities to work on coral reef fish projects both throughout Hawaii as well as abroad.  I’ve worked on ships and at remote field camps sometimes for months at a time.  These experiences have taught me about the hard work and dedication as well as the rewards of being a field researcher.

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

Right now, the most challenging thing for me is figuring out my thesis project.  I’ve been lucky to have been a part of very interesting research in the past, but narrowing my focus is proving to be harder than I thought.

As far as the most rewarding thing, I’d have to say my classes.  During my bachelors I didn’t really take my schoolwork very seriously and I think I missed out on learning about a lot of really cool stuff!

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

Make sure to work hard, but not just at your schoolwork.  Marine science is a really small community and if you show someone that you’re excited and willing to work then that opens all kinds of doors.  All of the jobs I have obtained both during my undergrad and post graduation have been because of this.  Also, get involved.  The more people you meet the more opportunities you will have.  The University of Hawaii has a program called the Marine Option Program (MOP).  MOP is meant to help students with an interest in the ocean find jobs and other unique opportunities. MOP was an invaluable resource during my undergrad not only for jobs but also for the camaraderie and support of likeminded students and staff.  I would encourage everyone to find (or create!) a similar club/organization in his or her area.


1 Response to Emily Donham

  1. Pingback: New Recruits In the Ecosystem « The Drop-In to Moss Landing Marine Labs

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