Tell us about your work/research. What kinds of things do you do?
I specialize in the molecular ecology and metabolism of microbial protists. In particular, I use computational techniques to predict functional adaptations to challenging environments. Collection of appropriate 'omics data, such as genomes and transcriptomes, can offer great insight into adaptations of organisms to environmental challenges due to the relationships between genes, expressed proteins, and their catalyzed chemical reactions. Ultimately, functional information inferred from 'omics data can be used to predict relationships within an organism or interconnectedness between organisms using modeling techniques such as genome scale metabolic modeling.
What sparked your initial interest in your career?
I have always been very interested in exploring nature and being outside. But growing up in Scranton, Pennsylvania, I only got to experience the ocean sporadically. Luckily, my parents went out of their way to make sure I was well acclimated to the ocean. I loved it. In fact, when I was a teenager/young adult, I spent a large amount of recreational boating/sailing, particularly around the eastern shore – Virginia, Delaware, and Maryland, and this led me to fall in love with working in and around the water.
Due to this, I went to school for marine ecology to be in proximity to the ocean. I initially started out in the ecology of salt marshes by studying the interconnectedness of the natural world, represented through the push and pull of interactions of organism interaction through competitive pressure. But my interests in science quickly extended beyond the ecological and into the biochemical and molecular. I began to wonder, what are the mechanisms that underlie how species interact with their environments, ultimately leading to my interests in the metabolism of protists to investigate how they are able to function at a molecular level in extreme habitats. As my interest in mechanisms of adaptation grew, the organisms I was interested in studying shrunk in size, ultimately leading me to ask ecological questions through studying the metabolism of microbes. Deep-sea ocean conditions are excellent areas of study for these questions, as selective pressures are often unique and extreme, often resulting in equally unique metabolic adaptations.
Who influenced you or encouraged you the most?
My undergraduate mentors were extremely formative in my early years as a scientist, fostering a love for the ocean and encouraging me to ask all of the right questions.
What other jobs led you to your current career?
I've had many great opportunities that have led me to where I am today, including working as an aquarist for several years, working as a research assistant on projects studying bioacoustics and freshwater stream chemistry, a previous graduate career studying the ecology of free-living coral symbionts, and a short time teaching ecology as an adjunct professor. Not only have a had a variety of science experiences across broad fields of science, but I also worked as a data scientist for several years by developing platforms for data analysis in the social services sector, with auxiliary roles for developing educational programs for differently-abled individuals.
What are your degrees and certifications?
Bachelor of Science in Marine Science/Biochemistry -- East Stroudsburg University; Masters of Marine Science -- University of New England
What are your hobbies?
Birdwatching and cooking are my two main hobbies, although you can often find me hiking, kayaking, or exploring!
What advice would you give someone who wants to have a career like yours?
Be open to opportunities that come your way. You never know what relevant skills you can pick up by working in an unrelated field. For example, my data science and computational skills initially developed through my work in social services, and I was able to apply these skills to scientific computing later on.
How did you get involved with Ocean Exploration Trust?
I was recruited through an ongoing collaborative effort.