Undergrad (degree, school, year):B.S. in Marine Biology in 2005 from Florida Institute of Technology
Work experience before MLML?
My work experience has been diverse but almost always centered around my love for animals and the ocean. I’ve been a swimming instructor, lifeguard, kayak guide, zoo caretaker, regulatory scientist, and research assistant on numerous projects.
Some questions for Mariah:
Q: Why did you decide to pursue marine science?
A: As long as I can remember I’ve wanted a career in marine science. My father manages a dive store, Undersea Divers Inc., in Beverly, Massachusetts and my mother teaches swimming lessons and loves to play on the water too. Since they are both part fish, I was close to developing gills for a while as a kid. One of my favorite memories is when my father would return from diving trips to exotic islands, he would put on a slideshow of his photos and tell me all about the organisms pictured – where they lived, how big they got, the origin of their names. I was hooked. I became a lifeguard and scuba diver the very day I was allowed to, and have never looked back since. I love that the marine science field is so diverse and dynamic; there are always new opportunities and new things to learn.
Q: What experiences and opportunities have shaped your path to get you where you are now?
A: Getting outside and observing and experiencing the ocean was key. I’ve never lived far from the ocean, and consider it a big part of my life, for work and recreation. Traveling and scuba diving allowed me to see a lot of interesting creatures and become even more excited about marine science. My work experiences helped shape the path for me as well, and lastly getting into a very good undergraduate program at Florida Institute of Technology and working under the guidance of Dr. Jon Shenker allowed me to understand my full potential if I truly applied myself to my work and studies.
Q: What are you studying and why is it interesting and important to you?
A: I am studying the feeding habits of a deepwater elasmobranch, the roughtail skate, Bathyraja trachura. Feeding habit studies are interesting to me because not only do I get to learn about my study specimen, but I learn about all the organisms it eats too, because I cut open the stomach of the skate and identify everything inside. I am also studying the C and N stable isotope ratios of fishes in the deep sea as a different way to plot a food web. Food web and trophic level (what level in the food web an organism occupies) analyses are important to science as they allow us to understand the energy budget for top carnivores in the system. As we continue to fish our oceans more and more we need to understand how the trophic levels of organisms change in response to our manipulation and make sure that they remain stable.
Q: What are you hoping or planning to do when you finish?
A: Earn some money! I’m hoping to land a good job doing field research in ichthyology or deep sea ecology, although a doctorate degree is always on the radar as well. It really depends on what is available at the time that I finish my masters.
Q: What are the most rewarding and challenging aspects of graduate school?
A: Grad school is rewarding because it is the first time I’ve ever thought up an original set of research questions, designed a sampling regime to answer the questions, and carried out research on my own. The schedule is flexible allowing time to work on peers’ research projects and work with other organizations. I’ve been to Alaska and Fiji recently for work and volunteer opportunities that I would not have been able to take time off for with a full-time job. The challenge is the current lack of funding in science, and that working and going to school and carrying out your own is research is a lot to do at once, but it is well worth it for a few years.
Q: What advice do you have for someone who wants to get in to marine science?
A: Gain experience in marine science – volunteer for research projects or take a job in marine science. It will help you understand what opportunities are out there for work and schooling, what fields you don’t like, and will make your resume stellar. While marine science may be a tough field, if it is what you truly love to do, stick with it. Too many people out there are not doing what they love for work.
Find Out More!
Check out Mariah’s research in the Ichthyology Lab: http://ichthy.mlml.calstate.edu/