Hometown: Chandler, AZ
Undergrad: B.S. in Aquatic and Fishery Science with Honors, B.A. in Medical Anthropology and Global Health. University of Washington. 2012.
Work experience before MLML: My first job in high school was as a substitute ballet teacher at my home studio in Tempe, AZ (something I loved, and still miss). After starting school at the University of Washington, I took a job as an undergraduate research assistant in a biological oceanography lab. There I learned sterile culture techniques and participated in the development of R programs to analyze data from SeaFlow, an underway flow cytometer. I enjoyed the science but wanted more time in the field with critters larger than 97 μm, so I found a summer internship with NOAA’s National Marine Mammal Laboratory. I worked with the California Current Ecosystems Program to conduct annual surveys of gray whales and other marine mammals on the outer Washington coast. My most recent job was at the Seattle Aquarium where I managed shifts of volunteers, interpreted exhibits, and gave scheduled presentations to the public.
Q: Why did you decide to pursue marine science?
Like many of my colleagues, I was introduced to the ocean on family vacations, fell in love, and then never fell out of love. I learned about the scientific process in grade school, read marine books, visited aquariums…and then I applied to a university with a school of aquatic and fishery sciences. I have continued to choose to do what interests me, and I have been repeatedly delighted that my path is turning into a fascinating career.
Q: What experiences and opportunities have shaped your path to get you where you are now?
I credit my conservation-mindedness to my mom, who taught me to recycle, celebrate Earth Day, and carry a reusable bag to the market from the time I was in diapers. Both of my parents taught me to be a self-confident individual: they helped me believe I could do anything and have been infinitely supportive of my choices.
Experiences that were more in my control include volunteering at an aquarium (volunteering, period); applying to MANY funded internships in my desired field in order to get a few good experiences outside of school; volunteering and then working in a lab on my college campus to get an accurate sense of lab work; and checking out what it would be like to be a NOAA research scientist by interning with them for a summer. The Hollings scholarship program, in particular, was instrumental in helping me gain experience in the field of my choice as well as with the US government.
Q: What are you studying and why is it interesting and important to you?
In the Vertebrate Ecology Lab I am studying marine mammals. The trajectory of my thesis has recently changed, and I now hope to partner with labs at UC Santa Cruz and the Monterey Bay Aquarium to study a unique group of sea otters (Enhydra lutris) living in the Elkhorn slough. More to come, as my project develops!
Q: What are you hoping or planning to do when you finish?
With my master’s degree, I hope to be attractive to agencies like NOAA, state Fish and Wildlife, or a number of non-governmental groups. I’d like to work as a marine mammals research scientist, but I’m not quite sure yet about the what, the who, or the how. My experiences thus far make me think that my future career will depend heavily on my networking skills in the next few years.
Q: What are the most rewarding and challenging aspects of graduate school?
So far, the most rewarding part of being in graduate school is the sense of like-mindedness that comes from around the lab. It is stimulating to know that you are in a room full of people who are on the same page. We have taken many different paths to get to this same place. It is really a great feeling to be around people who are working (and working really hard!) towards similar goals.
I think that the most challenging aspects of graduate school all fall under the category of funding. Classes are never the only things that we are doing, and the multitasking alone is a challenge. But having the future funding for your research resting squarely on your shoulders is both a huge responsibility and an opportunity to experience real-life grant writing. And it is most definitely a challenge.
Q: What advice do you have for someone who wants to get in to marine science?
As you proceed along your way, make sure that you don’t pass up an opportunity that seems a little random, a little scary. Grab those chances and gain experience in as many areas as you can. You may have never thought you wanted to study freshwater systems until you experience stream surveys. Or you think you like oceanographic cruises, but you get so seasick that you are immobilized on a boat. Professors and graduate students are always looking for help on their projects. Be the person who tries it all. If nothing else, you will appreciate the extra experience and knowledge (and fun!) that is gained from working a little outside your field.
And get some exposure to computer programming.