Name: Heather Fulton-Bennett
Hometown: Santa Cruz, CA
Undergrad: BSc in Life Science – Ecology and Oceanography, University of British Columbia Vancouver, 2012
Work experience before MLML:
I spent the summer after high school as a field assistant with a UC Santa Cruz researcher catching and taking samples from amphibians to study the spread of a fungal skin disease. During my first year of undergrad, I volunteered in a microbiology lab learning general lab maintenance and protocols. The following summer I worked at Long Marine Laboratories analyzing the stomach contents of albatross chicks from around the Pacific Basin. Most recently, I worked at the University of British Columbia Herbarium as a collections assistant in the algal herbarium.
Q: Why did you decide to pursue marine science?
I think I always loved my science classes because they provided answers for my never ending ‘why’ questions. When I started university, I was considering various paths in genetics or molecular biology, but quickly realized that the inevitable lab time was only meaningful to me when offset by copious field work and shipboard research.
Q: What experiences and opportunities have shaped your path to get you where you are now?
Growing up between Hawai’i and California, the beach was a constant source of entertainment and my parents made sure to teach me about the tide pool creatures and the coastal erosion providing the sand for my castles. Late, surfing and sailing cemented my love for the ocean and it was only natural to carry that love into my academic studies.
Q: What are you studying and why is it interesting and important to you?
I am studying phycology, more specifically, the common intertidal kelp Egregia menziesii. This species has a highly plastic morphology and is a foundation species in the rocky intertidal. My thesis will look into the physiological adaptations that may be linked to morphology, as well the as the affect different E. menziesii forms have on their community and their own new recruits. As a foundation species, E. menziesii has a disproportionate affect on the intertidal community, and its plasticity, even in the same location, makes it fascinating to study.
Q: What are you hoping or planning to do when you finish?
While finishing my degree seems far in the hazy future, I would like to work at a marine lab in some capacity, and the path to that will mostly likely involve PhD research.
Q: What are the most rewarding and challenging aspects of graduate school?
The most rewarding aspect is being able to work with such an amazing group of people all focused on aspects of the marine system. We also have amazing opportunities to go on research cruises and field expeditions to get practical experience. Of course all these opportunities make it difficult to balance coursework and focus on your own thesis research with all these other cool opportunities to pursue.
Q: What advice do you have for someone who wants to get in to marine science?
Go for it, especially if you love the subject and don’t mind rainy days in the field and late nights in the laboratory. Get involved in research, both in the laboratory and field, to find out what you enjoy. Graduate students always need another helping hand, so don’t be afraid to email someone whose research is interesting. Any experience you can get, even unpaid, is great and will help in the long run.