It seems my whole life has been tied to water in one way or another. I grew up as a competitive swimmer which naturally led to many years of lifeguarding Southern California beaches and now, my research focuses on the most abundant mesopelagic fishes in the ocean, myctophids. When I’m not conducting my graduate research at the Hatfield Marine Science Center, I’m playing water polo for the OSU men’s club team, out hiking, or enjoying cooking and staying in.
Why I Do It
Marine debris, specifically plastic pollution, has always been concerning for me - especially after seeing first-hand how much seabirds and other marine organisms ingest. My current master’s project focuses on microplastics; unseen by the naked eye, these particles are potentially more harmful to a wider array of organisms due to their small size. Myctophids (lanternfish) are small fish that live in the open ocean and migrate up from the deep to feed at the ocean’s surface at night, likely encountering buoyant microplastics and incorporating those into the food web. Since myctophids are hugely abundant, they are common prey for marine mammals, seabirds, and commercially harvested species with the potential to affect the human food system. Results from my study can help increase our understanding of the way microplastics move through marine systems and identify potential sources of this contamination. Currently, there is a movement to reduce plastic production globally to manage the negative impacts of plastics persisting in the environment.
Love The Felid
The summer before I started graduate school, I was a research assistant on Southeast Farallon Island working on several monitoring projects for the 13 species of breeding seabirds. This remote island of San Francisco, California is home to 8 scientists, thousands of sea lions, and hundreds of thousands of birds. Getting constantly attacked and pooped on by the western gulls was a small price to pay for some of the most amazing field experiences I enjoyed daily; like handling and banding a variety of seabird chicks and watching the resident gray whales swim right by me. This field season also featured the first all-female island crew in history, inspiring me to feel fully supported and capable in challenging situations. This magical island and amazing crew will forever hold a special place in my heart.
As a fisheries science student, hands-on experience has been essential to building my professional network, gaining useful technical skills, and simply getting outside and enjoying the Oregon coast. Volunteer opportunities are announced frequently through departmental newsletters or listservs. Some of my favorite experiences were spent at seas, such as fishing for the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife hook and line surveys and helping fellow graduate students collect samples on overnight cruises. I have also helped spawn salmon at local hatcheries - a messy but necessary component of maintaining salmon populations. Volunteering at the Hatfield Marine Science Visitor Center has been personally rewarding as I get to teach kids and adults about the remarkable, tidepool creatures in the touch tanks. All of these experiences are fun for me but additionally, this service to my community has allowed me to be competitive for scholarships and fellowships.
Overcome Your Barriers
During my undergrad at Cal State Monterey Bay, I really struggled to support myself financially. To make ends meet, I lifeguarded part-time, was on a small scholarship playing collegiate water polo, and was an NOAA research fellow - all on top of a full biology course load. While I am now grateful for the friendships, experiences, and opportunities that came out of this difficult time, I realize that not everyone can afford to do so, creating barriers to entering wildlife sciences. Many internships right out of college are unpaid, therefore it was important for me as a member of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Working Group to push for livable wages for interns at Point Blue Conservation Science. Point Blue has since made this a priority to meet its DEI goals, and I hope this leads other conservation organizations to follow suit.
Look At Every Angle
One moment that has changed my perspective on life forever was meeting the survivor of a rescue I had as a rookie lifeguard. This man had had a seizure while surfing and luckily, we were able to perform life-saving measures, allowing him to return to his family and normal life. Up until this moment, I had been pursuing chemistry research not because I loved it, but because I thought it would lead to a more lucrative career. Although it wasn’t my near-death experience, speaking with him months after the incident made me realize how short life is and that I should pursue my true passion, marine biology. Since making that decision, I have applied my previous chemistry research skills to a new area of research that is more meaningful and enjoyable to me – it is never too late to change your career interests!
As someone who likes to stress and plan my life years ahead of time, something I wish I knew as an incoming student (and what I still have to remind myself) is that you don’t have to know exactly what you want to do for a future career because there is no “right path” to get there. In my experience, opportunities have led to other opportunities, and I learned that I couldn’t predict five steps ahead as much as I tried, I just had to put in good, hard work during my present opportunities and more would come. Taking things one step at a time also has allowed me to be flexible in following my interests as they developed and has helped me identify areas that I am not as interested in as I previously thought.