Lab webpage: Pacific Shark Research Center
Hometown: San Diego, California
Twitter Handle: @VickyV_TeamORF
Undergrad: Evolution & Ecology (Zoology) w/ Minors in Art Studio & Psychology, UC Davis, 2007
Work experience before MLML:
I have over seven years experience working in the education section of non-profits throughout California. This work has ranged from public outreach, outdoor education, classroom style teaching and curriculum development. My specialty has always been marine science and even more specifically, sharks. My interests have awarded me the opportunity to work on a range of boats and even gain deckhand experience with Coast Guard certification. I also have a special interest in engaging at-risk youth and under-served communities with marine science. In my spare time, I have volunteered heavily with marine-related organizations. Some of my most rewarding experiences have included: working on the Google Ocean project through the Sylvia Earle Alliance (SEA), hosting the education portion of the San Francisco International Ocean Film Festival (SFIOFF) and running Shark Trivia for the California Academy of Science’s Sharktober Night Life. Before starting my graduate program, I was invited to become the Founding Deputy Director of a newly established non-profit, Ocean Research Foundation (ORF). Currently, I combine my thesis work on sharks with my public outreach at ORF.
Q: Why did you decide to pursue marine science?
A: My research interests are primarily in behavioral ecology. In other words, I am interested in studying animal behavior to better understand how those species function within their ecosystems. Once I realized how misunderstood shark species have become through the public eye, I became interested in attaining and spreading accurate information on this wide range of species. In doing so, sharks opened my intrigue towards a greater focus of marine science and its many wonders.
Q: What experiences and opportunities have shaped your path to get you where you are now?
A: The best moment I can recall is a five day fishing trip with my father. During that one trip, I had the opportunity to see Great White sharks for the first time. I was fascinated by their nonchalant demeanor and lackadaisical swimming. To me, this suggested a calm and intelligent creature rather than an indiscriminately aggressive beast. I then became involved with internships and volunteer positions, such as with the Chula Vista Nature Center. This provided me with more shark experiences and marine science knowledge. I learned there were over 500 shark species, many of which are far closer to the brink of extinction than Great Whites. My involvement with my lab, the Pacific Shark Research Center and the opportunity to attend conferences has helped me realize just how dire the need to research lesser known sharks and other elasmobranch species has become. For instance, there are many data deficient species. As a result, scientists cannot determine the health of these populations. What I’ve learned has been the growing force behind my own Master’s thesis.
Q: What are you studying and why is it interesting and important to you?
A: I am studying the spatial and temporal distribution of Soupfin sharks (Galeorhinus galeus) in San Francisco Bay. I find this work really exciting because the Golden Gate Bridge is a world-recognized icon yet we don’t have a full understanding of the life below its waters. More so, when many people think about sharks in San Francisco Bay, they often think about Great White sharks (Carcharodon carcharias). This shark is not a regular visitor yet there is more information about Great Whites than the much more common Soupfin shark. What is most concerning about the minimal knowledge we have of Soupfin sharksis that they were heavily fished for their livers in the early 1940s. No one has done an assessment on the population in San Francisco Bay since then.
Q: What are you hoping or planning to do when you finish?
A: Once I’ve completed my Master’s thesis, I will move on to pursue a PhD and continue studying behavioral ecology. As my career develops, I intend to use ORF as an instrument for public outreach and marine-related collaborations in my local area.
Q: What are the most rewarding and challenging aspects of graduate school?
A: The most rewarding aspect of graduate school is becoming an accredited scientist from a reputable school as well as the colleagues you gain through your experience. However, these accomplishments take years and during that time nothing is guaranteed. Therefore the most challenging part of graduate school is staying determined. Yet, even a strong stint as a Master’s student doesn’t guarantee success in your next step. More so, that next step could be a PhD or Post Doctoral position, which all encounter the same challenges. So for myself, I should add that another and equally rewarding part of graduate school is being happy in the moment despite the challenges.
Q: What advice do you have for someone who wants to get in to marine science?
A: My advice would be to do your homework before making your decision. Talk with people already in the field but not just professors. Talk with graduate students at different levels (i.e. 1st year vs later year student or Masters vs PhD student) and talk with people in the profession who are not in academia. By talking with several people in varying stages and paths of marine science, you can get a clearer picture of your future options. If only a few specific options interest you, then you should look into how competitive those positions are. One of the most romantic ideas of marine science is a sustained connection with the ocean. However, many people are just as successful if not more so by having an ocean hobby, such as diving, surfing, kayaking etc. Marine science work may often times keep you indoors. In fact, I know many people (divers for instance) whose actual career allow them more water time than marine scientists as well as more money for vacations to exotic marine locations. More so, these people can still help marine science by supporting research as a volunteer or monetarily. If marine science still peaks your interest as a career, then great! I would next recommend volunteering with a professor or a university affiliated group. In addition, attending conferences is a great way to meet more people in the field.