Tell us about your work / research. What kinds of things do you do?
I study the flow-sensing sensory system (the lateral line system) in a group of deep-sea fishes, the dragonfishes (Stomiiformes). Because these fishes are so fragile and hard to study in the wild, I work on preserved specimens that have been caught at sea and either given to me for my research or loaned to me from museums. I examine the morphology of the lateral line system to infer what type of sensory information these fishes are relying on to guide behaviors, such as prey detection. The majority of my research is conducted in a lab where I can dissect and carefully examine preserved specimens under microscopes.
What sparked your initial interest in your career?
I fell in love with the ocean when my parents took me on my first SCUBA trip to Grand Cayman when I was 12 years old. I was so fascinated by the beauty and serenity of the coral reefs and felt incredibly at home with a tank of oxygen strapped to my back, breathing under 50 feet of water. I continued to explore marine biology as I got older and became continually more enamored with the animals living under the sea and try to share my enthusiasm and passion with as many people as I can, hoping others will become excited about the ocean and want to study, explore and preserve the natural wonders below the waves.
Who influenced you or encouraged you the most?
My parents have continually supported me and told me to chase my dreams. They're unyielding faith in me has pushed me forward through life's hurdles and has encouraged me to never give up in this field.
What element of your work / study do you think is the most fascinating?
Every day in my lab, I am given the extraordinary opportunity to take time to look at bizarre, alien-like, fishes from the deep-sea. Most people will never see these specimens up close.These fish are really fascinating. For example, the dragonfishes are just COVERED in light producing organs. It is incredible to imagine what they are doing in their natural habitat.
What other jobs led you to your current career?
I had an internship at the Downtown Aquarium in Denver, which is the first time I realized I could turn my passion for marine biology into a career. After that I applied for as many research positions as possible to figure out what area of science I was most drawn to. I took courses in marine conservation, conducted research on coral reef ecology in Bonaire, and began studying sensory biology at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, MA. When I was a senior in college, I took time to explore my love of the deep sea by conducting a research project on the distribution of deep-sea fishes in the Gulf of Mexico for an honors thesis. I then was lucky enough to find a position for graduate school that would allow me to continue exploring the intriguing world of deep-sea fishes for my Master's research project.
What are your degrees and certifications?
Bachelor of Science in Biology with an emphasis in Ecology and Evolution and a minor in Spanish - Regis University 2013; Masters of Science in Biological Sciences in the Program of Integrative and Evolutionary Biology - University of Rhode Island expected August of 2016
What are your hobbies?
I love SCUBA diving and traveling. I also enjoy dancing, cycling, and have recently taken up knitting when I have a short break from research.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to have a career like yours?
If you want to go into marine biology, find what area of work (i.e. ecology, evolution, genetics, etc.) you like and then find a way to apply it to a system. It is much easier to plead your case for working on deep-sea fishes when you can say why they are a good model organism rather than trying to jump into a field because you just think deep-sea fish are cool. Work hard and don't give up. Learn to communicate to the public and in a scientific manner to get your thoughts across.
How did you get involved in the Nautilus Exploration Program? How did you get on the ship?
I started by watching NautilusLive footage to try and find live footage of the fish I study. I frequently follow the expeditions from home to see what the exploration team will find next. When I heard about the Science Internship I knew I had to apply and try to follow the voyage first hand.