Hometown: Santa Cruz, California
Undergrad education: BA’s in Biology and Environmental Studies, UC Santa Cruz (1997)
Work Experience: Mostly seabird work, focused on academic research and restoration projects. I’ve worked on seabird colonies along the Northeastern Pacific Rim, from Mexico to the Aleutian Islands. Over the past ten years I have done seasonal work for UC Santa Cruz, UC Berkeley, Oregon State University, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. My longest tenure (six years) has been with Humboldt State University as a staff biologist working on a very successful seabird restoration project in central California.
This summer I am employed by the USFWS, conducting at-sea surveys of pelagic (open ocean) seabirds in the Bering Sea. I am currently on board the NOAA research vessel Oscar Dyson.
Some Questions for Nate:
Q: Why did you decide to pursue marine science?
A: I grew up the son of a California state park ranger, and so had access to open spaces all my life. For vacations we usually went camping. In 1980 my family moved to the coast, and I began to know the water. I will never become tired of learning about the outdoors, and my love of the ocean has kept me by the coast. I have become fascinated with the biology and ecology of marine birds, and so I decided to pursue a degree in marine science.
Q: What experiences and opportunities have shaped your path to where you are now?
A: It is difficult to single out some few events or people; a person’s education in life is ongoing, and is so much more than a simple summary of grades or coursework. Certainly my exposure as a youngster to outdoor experiences; the unconditional support of my parents; the enthusiasm, knowledge, and skill of my high school math, chemistry, and biology teachers; the inspiration and experience I found in my fellow undergrad students at UCSC; the mentoring I received through my work on so many graduate student projects; the advice and examples set forth by my colleagues and supervising scientists.
Q: What are you studying, and why is it interesting/important to you?
A: I am going to investigate the foraging ecology of seabirds in the Bering Sea (Alaska) during May – August in 2008 and 2009. Specifically, I am going to be looking for differences between two types of birds (murres and kittiwakes), and among three ocean habitats (the ice-edge, the continental shelf-break, and the Aleutian island passes). I am interested in differences between murres and kittiwakes because they have contrasting foraging strategies (murres dive to catch prey, while kittiwakes feed at the surface) and, as a result, have differing energy requirements (murres need to consume more calories per day). They often feed on similar types of prey, however, so my question in contrasting these species is: How do murres manage to obtain more calories in a day when they are feeding on the same types of food that kittiwakes are?
In contrasting habitat types, I am interested in finding out whether birds foraging in these geographically separate locations are finding similar amounts of food, and whether this food is of similar quality (calorie content, species composition, etc.). Answers to these questions will hopefully help in understanding seabirds in general (most seabirds are either divers or surface-feeders), and in understanding how the Bering Sea food web functions as a whole.
Q: What are you planning or hoping to do when you finish?
A: In the future I would like to continue pursuing science through a combination of research and writing, but focus my energies primarily on teaching in classrooms and field settings. I am inspired to become involved at the community college and state university levels because I believe that these institutions function as the most broadly accessible and financially efficient means of drawing new talent to the sciences.
Q: What advice do you have for someone who wants to get in to marine science?
A: First, get outdoors to DO what it is that inspires you!
This activity surely feeds your curiosity and stokes your love of the natural world, and will always provide you the space and time to find peace of mind. Perhaps you love to fish (will you become an ichthyologist?), or to kayak or sail (a marine technician, a ship’s captain?), to surf (a physical or chemical oceanographer, a marine mammal biologist?), to scuba dive (a phycologist or invertebrate biologist?), or to beachcomb, run and play on the sand with your kids (a marine geologist?). Whatever it is, don’t give it up. Beyond that, the sky’s the limit and the horizon’s expanding. Our society is devoting more and more energy to understanding and managing marine resources.
“Marine Science” is a general term, and there are many lanes on this broad road. Some of these include: Academia (pure research, and teaching); government agency work (some research, monitoring, resource management, and skilled operation of technical equipment); private consulting (some research and monitoring, business development, engineering, and skilled operation of technical equipment); and non-profit (some research, monitoring, advocacy, law, politics).
There is one commitment required of all “marine scientists”, however, regardless of their chosen specialty. Marine scientists must continually pursue education and skill improvement.
Most all marine science careers require extensive education and a specific, technical skill set. Students at all levels should consciously chart their academic route and get the best possible grades. Professionals will enroll in training courses, graduate school, or a trade school to continually acquire new skills and knowledge. In the process of pursuing this training and education, I encourage everyone to seek out mentors and professional advice.
For example, go meet with your school career counselor; look up the local fish and game warden; seek out college professors and (especially!) graduate students; talk with the deckhands on the docks; search high and low on the internet. Many people will be happy to give you advice and guidance, provided you are serious about your interests and respectful of their time (come prepared with some questions, for example).
One other thing about pursuing marine science: don’t underestimate the value of hands-on experience!
It’s very important to take jobs or internships that are related to marine science. Do this as soon as is practical or possible. Such experience will prove invaluable in learning essential skills, making professional contacts and, most importantly, will provide exposure to the actual conditions enjoyed (and, endured…) by real marine scientists doing real work in the field and laboratory.
Q: What are the most rewarding and challenging aspects of graduate school?
A: The intellectual stimulation and personal freedom are the most rewarding… and the most challenging aspects of graduate school! Graduate school is different from all other types of education I’ve had. At Moss Landing Marine Labs the direction of my education is
largely up to me. I choose my courses, and I produce an original thesis that is a reflection of my creativity. I appreciate having this freedom to study specifics that interest me, but with it comes a certain amount of responsibility. I find that I am much more personally invested in my research and coursework, and that it can be a challenge to live up to my own expectations. Finding the time to balance work, research, courses, and some amount of play is always tricky. Graduate students have very little “free” time… but they’re
almost always doing something interesting!
Find Out More!
View Nate’s profile on the Vertebrate Ecology website: http://www.mlml.calstate.edu/groups/bird_mam/njones.htm