Lab webpage: http://phycology.mlml.calstate.edu/ Individual page to come soon.
Hometown: Miami, FL
Undergrad: BS in Plant Biology, North Carolina State University, 2012
Work experience before MLML:
Way back in high school, I began working as an intern at the Children’s Zoo at what is now Zoo Miami. Then after graduating and moving to Raleigh, North Carolina, I began working as a field technician in Dr. Nick Haddad’s lab. I helped maintain silt retention fences around ponds for the monitoring of amphibian populations. I also spent a summer with his lab monitoring populations of the highly endangered St. Francis Satyr butterfly. He then introduced me to Dr. Marc Johnson, now at University of Toronto: Mississauga, whose lab I greatly enjoyed working in. He was the first to expose me to laboratory and greenhouse work in his plant evolutionary ecology lab. I then took my first graduate class in phycology with Dr. JoAnn Burkholder and found my passion which led me to working in her lab helping her graduate student, Stephanie Mixson, with algal biofuel research. I later spent a semester on exchange at Oregon State University which led me to volunteer for Dr. Kim Halsey helping to culture algae for her metabolic research.
Q: Why did you decide to pursue marine science?
A: Going into college, I had originally wanted to study elephants. I knew that in biology, you have to start learning to ask questions before you can get the opportunity to work with all the fun charismatic megafauna. Thus one usually works in labs with their not-so-favorite organisms. In doing so, I became part of a social network of ecology labs at NC State that often would get together and throw potluck dinners. Well, they invited me along for their annual retreat in Surf City, NC and so I went along. Playing in the surf and talking with some postdocs, I realized just how much I loved the water. I had grown up in Miami and had swum competitively for over seven years. I had also just finished taking my graduate phycology class which established my love for all things algae and lucky for me, the majority of them live in the water. Thus choosing to pursue a graduate degree in Marine Science was the perfect step in my education process.
Q: What experiences and opportunities have shaped your path to get you where you are now?
A: There is a quote by Dr. Jane Goodall that I absolutely love. She states that “Every individual matters, every individual has a role to play, every individual can make a difference.” Though her quote is regarding animal welfare and conservation, I apply it to my daily life. Every single person that I have worked with or been taught by has shaped me into being the young scientist I am today. Perhaps the most enabling of all the opportunities was working in Dr. Nick Haddad’s lab starting off my freshmen year of college. I had contacted Dr. Haddad via e-mail before I had even been accepted at NC State, but I had neglected to put a subject line in the e-mail due to my lack of attention to detail. I was so lucky he responded because that first interaction turned into a wonderful mentoring relationship that led me to what I am sure will be a fulfilling career as an educator.
Q: What are you studying and why is it interesting and important to you?
A: Though I have not yet formalized my thesis project yet, I am in the process of coming up with my topic. The questions about the world I live in that interest me most are those that are asked by the professors I had worked with in the past. I had always wanted to find a way to merge them and so I am hoping to be doing just that with my thesis. I am hoping to look at connectivity and gene-flow between populations of the giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera and its “integrifolia” ecomorph which was once thought to be an entirely different species. Thus I would be combining questions with origins in Conservation Biology, Evolution, and Phycology.
Q: What are you hoping or planning to do when you finish?
A: When I finish with my MS, I plan to go directly into a PhD program that will challenge me to become an even better scientist while also enabling me to learn a variety of new skills and ask even more exciting questions. I ultimately would like to be a professor so that I can influence the lives of my students much the same way the professors I have had have influenced me.
Q: What are the most rewarding and challenging aspects of graduate school?
A: The rewarding things about graduate school are always easy to talk about, such as the great classes, cool people, and the exciting research. The challenges, however insurmountable they may seem, are actually the most rewarding of all. Coming up and completing ones’ own research project is the challenge of graduate school, but the satisfaction of knowing what you have accomplished is what makes it undoubtedly the most rewarding as well. To be able to say that you came up with the idea for your project, the methods to collect your data, and the analysis to communicate your findings to the rest of the world has to be the most satisfaction one can get (I wouldn’t actually know, however, since I am still only in my first year, but I can imagine).
Q: What advice do you have for someone who wants to get in to marine science?
A: My advice not only applies to marine science, but to all the sciences. First, it is never too late or too soon to get started. I started in high school and I know people who started after already getting a degree in something else. Secondly, when you decide what you want to do, join a lab as soon as you can. Think about the type of research people are doing that excites you most. Find them at a research institution or university nearby and ask if you can volunteer or work with them. Sometimes, individuals will not respond in which case the best course of action is to dust your shoulders off and move on to someone else. Don’t be afraid to look into departments that you think will not interest you. You can gain invaluable experiences from all sorts of different departments like those in entomology, zoology, botany, horticulture, and genetics or if you are into the more physical sciences then look chemistry, biochem, physics, engineering, and textiles. Chances are, you will manage to get your foot in the door and seize opportunities that would not otherwise be available to you.