The Team

Ship Location

San Pedro, USA

Kelsey Barnhill

Photo of Kelsey Barnhill
Ocean Science Intern
Graduate Student
South Dakota School of Mines and Technology

Tell us about your work / research. What kinds of things do you do?

As a recent college graduate, my area of focus and research interests are still changing and growing. I have been very fortunate to gain experience in a wide array of topics, all focused around geology and marine science. At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Institute of Marine Science I completed and presented an undergraduate research project which focused on the effects that changing wave energy has on marsh shoreline erosion. Throughout the semester long field based program I also took part in a group capstone project centered on marine debris in the area. I spent the spring of 2016 as the Microfossil Intern at the American Museum of Natural History where I updated their database, helped conserve their collection, and 3D printed models of foraminifera through CT imaging. While there I also worked on a research project involving the 3D morphology- or size and shape- of foraminifera. I will begin my Master of Science degree in Paleontology this fall at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology where I will be a research assistant working on the curation of their invertebrate fossil collection and hope to focus my research on marine invertebrates, specifically corals. 

What sparked your initial interest in your career?

I've wanted to be an explorer since I was a child, but didn't think it was possible. I entered college as a sign language interpreting major and took an introductory oceanography course just to fulfill a general education requirement. During the first week of class my professor showed us Dr. Robert Ballard's TED talk, "The astonishing hidden world of the deep ocean." I can honestly say it was the most important 18 minutes and 19 seconds of my entire life, because during those 18 minutes and 19 seconds I was overcome by emotion as I realized that I, too, could really be an explorer. Freshly motivated, and more driven than I had ever been before, I approached my professor at the end of class and boldly told her I wanted to be a deep sea explorer. At her recommendation, I added her introductory geology course and was a STEM major by the end of the week. I would not be the person I am today, or be on the career path I am on today if it were not for Dr. Robert Ballard. I am ecstatic and appreciative to have the opportunity to take the next step in my career by interning for a program founded by my role model. 

Who influenced you or encouraged you the most?

The professors at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Institute of Marine Science all inspired and encouraged me to pursue a career in ocean science, especially Dr. Rachel Noble, Dr. Johanna Rosman, Dr. Charles Peterson, and Dr. Stephen Fegley. Their support gave me the confidence to be a leader in the program and apply to graduate school to pursue a research-based career path. Bushra Hussaini at the American Museum of Natural History has also been a great mentor and supporter of mine.

What element of your work / study do you think is the most fascinating?

Getting to see the 3D images created through CT scans of fossils is amazing. Oftentimes, you are seeing what no one else has ever seen! Microfossils are so delicate that they are frequently destroyed if you try to cut them in half to view their internal structure. CT imaging allows you to see the insides of specimens without harming the actual fossil. Editing the 3D image files can be quite time consuming, but once you have your finished product blown up and printed out in 3D with all the details visible, it is very rewarding.

What other jobs led you to your current career?

Volunteering at the San Diego Natural History Museum's fossil preparation lab, under Lead Fossil Preparator Nicolle Anderson, gave me my first experience working in a scientific laboratory. I enjoyed my time there so much that I went on to become the Microfossil Intern at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Those experiences led me to apply to a Masters program in Paleontology.  

What are your degrees and certifications?

Bachelor of Arts with distinction in Geological Sciences with a minor in Marine Science - University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 2015.

What are your hobbies?

I was a two year Varsity letter winner on University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's NCAA Division 1 Women's Fencing team's epee squad. Next year I will be on the cheerleading squad at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. In my spare time I enjoy traveling, hiking, horseback riding, doing gymnastics, and visiting national parks.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to have a career like yours?

Take any class that sounds interesting to you, even if it seems challenging. Don't be afraid or embarrassed to share your dreams, they are not too big! Once you start telling people about your aspirations, you never know what doors may open or what advice you may get. Don't think its too late to change paths, I didn't consider a career in science until I was 19-years-old. Volunteer and do internships whenever the opportunity arises, as interacting with people in the field you want to go into is extremely beneficial. There is no better way to see what type of job you would most enjoy than to try it out. 

How did you get involved in the Nautilus Exploration Program? How did you get on the ship?

During my semester at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Institute of Marine Science I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Cindy Van Dover, Director of Duke University Marine Laboratory. I expressed my interest in deep sea exploration and she told me to look into the Ocean Exploration Trust's internship program. I became so excited after watching videos of past explorations and reading information about the opportunities for students that I knew it was the perfect fit for me.