Undergrad education: B.S. in Biology with an emphasis in Genetics, University of South Florida (1999).
Work experience: During my last year of undergrad, I volunteered at a virology lab and a marine biology lab, and then with that experience I was able to qualify for a job at the Florida Marine Research Institute doing boat fieldwork to collect crab samples as well as labwork to analyze population genetics. That position led me to a more genetics-based job opportunity with Johns Hopkins Medical School, looking at spinal disorders in zebrafish DNA to apply to human medical research. As fascinating as that research was, it made me realize I needed my ocean back! I returned to the world of marine biology and worked for several years in various marine research facilities before I decided to pursue my Master’s degree.
Some questions for Kyle:
Q: Why did you decide to pursue marine science?
A: Most of my ‘growing up’ years were spent in Kentucky, very far from the ocean, but my parents always made sure to take family trips to the east coast every summer. That’s where I first learned to love the ocean. I distinctly remember a specific day after watching a Jacques Cousteau special when I was about 16 – it was the first time I realized that people could actually make a living from studying marine life. I quickly informed my parents, “I am going to be a marine biologist and live in California one day.” And finally, here I am!
Q: What experiences and opportunities have shaped your path to where you are now?
A: I was always fascinated by the great explorers I read about in history books. The idea of traveling the world and discovering things that no one has ever seen before has always been enticing to me. I remember being worried as a kid that everything had already been discovered in the world and there was nothing left for me to explore. I was thrilled when I found out the majority of the ocean was still completely unknown!
I actually received quite a bit of not-so-positive feedback from people who told me there was just too much competition in the marine science world for anyone new to break in, and from those who said a career as a marine scientist would never pay the bills. I actually allowed this advice to influence my decisions in the beginning and almost ended up as a business major. Looking back, I’m glad that I followed my heart. (No offense intended for any business majors out there!)
Q: What are you studying and why do you find it interesting?
A: For my graduate research, I’m studying reproductive adaptations in two large species of snails that live around hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the ocean. These kinds of habitats, underwater volcanoes of a sort, were discovered in my lifetime and very little is known about them. I find them fascinating because most of the animals that live on them are surviving on chemicals (through chemosynthesis) the way most organisms utilize sunlight – something no one thought possible until recently. Many of the vent species use bacteria living in their guts or gills to harness the energy from the vent chemicals.
Because of the great depths and pressure, to study this environment we had to send down a Remotely Operated Vehicle (R.O.V.) equipped with robotic arms to collect samples, and cameras to act as eyes so that the scientists onboard the ship at the ocean’s surface could watch what was going on as the R.O.V. explored the seafloor below. The vent system I’m studying is called the Lau Basin and is located in the waters of the Southwest Pacific between Fiji and Tonga. Some of the vents there are over a mile and a half deep and every time they’ve been visited, new species have been discovered.
Q: What are you hoping or planning to do when you finish?
A: I would be happy with most any career that allows me to study and appreciate nature. I have always been interested in natural history museums and would love to collect and curate deep-sea invertebrates. Creating exhibits would allow me to incorporate my artistic and creative abilities along with my scientific knowledge. I like the idea of helping people learn to love and understand the alien world that exists in our planet’s oceans.
Q: What are the most rewarding and challenging aspects of graduate school?
A: What I find most rewarding about grad school is simply: learning. Learning things I never knew about a topic that I find infinitely fascinating. Unlike a typical undergraduate curriculum, in grad school you get to choose the classes that interest you most. The classes are definitely more intense than lower level classes, but that’s a part of what makes them so worthwhile.
The biggest challenge of grad school is TIME! You tend to often find that there are not enough hours in a day to complete everything. Juggling time is a skill you have to learn quickly. Self discipline is key (and something I could always use more of!!)
Q: What advice do you have for someone who wants to get in to marine science?
A: Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer!! Anywhere and everywhere you find an opportunity to volunteer for an organization that you find interesting, do it! It will help you in several ways: 1) you’ll get to see if you are truly interested in the day-to-day duties that a job entails; 2) you’ll make lots of important contacts in your field of interest, increasing your chance of being hired; and 3) you’ll already have experience to put on a resume and on scholarship applications, which will help you out tremendously!
Find Out More!
Kyle’s student page with the Benthic Lab: http://benthic.mlml.calstate.edu/reynolds.php
Jason, the ROV: http://venturedeepocean.org/tools/jason.php
For general facts about hydrothermal vents: http://www.divediscover.whoi.edu/vents/index.html