Jennifer Keliher-Venegas

Jennifer KeliherName:  Jennifer Keliher-Venegas

Lab webpage: forthcoming

Hometown: San Diego, California

Undergrad: BS Marine Biology and honors minor in Interdisciplinary Studies; San Diego State University, 2012

Q: Why did you decide to pursue marine science?

Biology has always fascinated me. Of the life sciences, marine science was the most befitting field given my interests and experience. The reason I chose to pursue marine science in general is rooted in my desire to pursue a profession that made it possible for me to continually learn new things and work outdoors regularly, exploring and ask questions about what I observe.

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

My summer-time childhood experiences visiting family along Mexico’s wondrous Baja California peninsula were integral in creating a deep appreciation in me for the ocean and an intense curiosity for understanding the biology of the creatures I encountered while tide-pooling, snorkeling, clam digging, and deep-sea fishing.

Somehow my dream to become a scientist turned into somewhat of an impossibility for me as an adolescent. However, thanks to the care and facilitation of mentors I acquired in community college I realized the tangibility of materializing my educational dreams and learned of opportunities available to obtain research experience and scholarship aid. Since then I would say that the 4 summer research programs and 6 semesters of research at NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center I participated in thereafter, through the support of several minority research training programs, were most influential in shaped my path leading to MLML.

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

My prospective thesis work will involve studying variation in biodiversity across an East-West gradient in the Indo-Pacific, specifically the Coral Triangle, and how biodiversity (species to individual level) is influenced by changes induced by human activities.

The Coral Triangle is a 1.6 billion acre area shared within the waters of 6 countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste, the Solomon Islands, Philippines) that is concerned the global center of marine biodiversity. It has been estimated that ~120 million of the region’s 363 million inhabitants critically depend upon marine resources of this coral reef ecosystem for daily sustenance and survival. However, despite the Coral Triangle’s biodiversity reputation, it is unfortunately also well known for being in dire need of improved marine resource management, most especially of coral reef fishes and reef building corals, due to unsustainable resource exploitation (e.g. overfishing), habitat destruction, and pollution. First and foremost, research contributing to the management and conservation of the Coral Triangle’s biota is important to me because the rapid rate of degradation in this area poses a serious local, regional, and global food security danger for the near future. Secondly, by integrating data comparing levels of biodiversity and how they change with respect to human activity with a variety of ecological, social, and political data, I see potential to make an impact by contribute to the development of a more comprehensive management plan for one of the world’s most diverse and threatened ecosystems.

Q: What are you hoping or planning to do when you finish?

Continue working as a researcher at either a government, academic, or non-profit institution. I have yet to decide whether I will pursue a doctoral degree after MLML but I’m definitely considering it.

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

Rewarding: The opportunity to exercise creativity in crafting novel experiments that are part of an independent research project on a topic that has long-held your interests and has potential for making a positive change.

Challenging: Balancing coursework, research on your individual thesis project, and work with a social and recreational life.

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

Get as much research experience as you can as soon as you can! There are volunteer opportunities all about you and for all ages. You will be surprised to learn how ready people are to help and grant you such opportunity, just ask and go the extra mile when they say yes. The more diverse the experiences, the more refined your interests will become and in turn, the more competitive YOU will be become for scholarships, internships, and graduate school positions. Ask lots of questions, do your best in school, and never forget to HAVE FUN!

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