Tell us about your work/research. What kinds of things do you do?
My research focuses on deep-sea chemosynthetic ecosystems, places where the primary source of energy is chemicals, rather than sunlight (which it is in photosynthetic environments). I am examining the faunal composition and structure in and around cold seep communities and exploring how chemosynthetic ecosystems affect the larger ocean environment. I am also interested in using the combination of ecology and biogeography of deep-sea fauna to contribute to marine conservation. My research has brought me on cruises using a range of deep-sea research technologies including autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs), remotely operative vehicles (ROVs), and a human occupied vehicle (HOV). These vehicles assist in scoping out which areas are good for collecting samples, as well as using mechanical arms to bring biological samples back to the surface. These survey data and samples are later analyzed in an onshore lab.
What sparked your initial interest in your career?
I have always cherished my encounters with creatures, from hours spent speculating on the former inhabitants of shells washed up on the beach to the octopus rippling with a mosaic of textured colors as it flowed across corals of the Great Barrier Reef. Using improvised equipment in a home “lab” in middle and high school, I conducted studies of circadian cycles in freshwater hydra; I enthusiastically met other budding scientists and professionals when my project was selected for the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. That summer I attended a marine science program on the coast, where I was inspired by this intense combination of classroom learning, field studies, and the opportunity to run a self- a designed study on mole crab behavior in a formal lab environment. These early experiences motivated me to pursue a career in marine biology.
Who influenced you or encouraged you the most?
My parents were always very encouraging while I was growing up, emboldening me to pursue my interests and sharing their contagious excitement about nature.
What element of your work/research do you think is the most fascinating?
The field research is the most exhilarating part of my work – I love going out to sea on research cruises, working with amazing multidisciplinary teams of scientists, engineers, and crew members to use underwater vehicles to explore our ocean environments. Being able to participate in real time as deep-sea giant isopods swim by or as a shipwreck is discovered is exhilarating. With so much still unknown, I remain captivated during each mission to see what mystery, just beyond the submersible’s lights, emerges next.
What other jobs led to your current career?
During college, to expand my research horizons, I sought experience in a diverse array of projects. I became immediately immersed in fieldwork in my first semester at Oberlin, studying the ecology of the Vermillion River Watershed. Some of my summer internships included studying frog genetics at UNC-Chapel Hill and the behavior of rhesus macaques using touchscreen computers at the Duke Primate Center. At the National Institutes of Health, in the Laboratory of Developmental Glycobiology, I studied cardiovascular development in transgenic zebrafish following mRNA knockdown. While in the Australian tropics studying the composition of marking secretions produced by flying foxes, I openly met the challenges of performing laboratory research “off the grid” with capricious equipment and stunning tropical humidity. Integral to my Oberlin honors project, I completed a multi-year study into the molecular basis of cyclic muscle behavior in a small nematode worm. After college, I worked at the National Institutes of Health studying the genetics underlying neurodegeneration in fruit flies and volunteered at the National Aquariums in Baltimore, MD, and Washington, DC providing marine animal care and public education. These research experiences, although from varied scientific fields, gave me a broad toolbox that I could apply to my graduate studies and career path in marine science. If you are interested in marine science, draw from your experiences and continue to seek opportunities that inspire you.
What are your degrees and certifications?
I double majored in biology and neuroscience at Oberlin College, OH and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in 2010. I have recently graduated from Duke University with a Ph.D. in Biology, with a focus on deep-sea biology.
What are your hobbies?
I enjoy interacting with animals, swimming outdoors, needle-felting small creatures (especially ocean fauna), hiking with my dogs, and sailing.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to have a career like yours?
Take advantage of opportunities to develop new skills and study novel topics, even though they may not seem directly related to your career goal. Those might prove to be the experiences that set you apart from others in your field of interest, may direct you to further opportunities, or even lead you to a new career path. Make sure you develop skills to work independently and as part of a team – work at sea requires you to be able to thrive as part of a group working 24 hours a day to accomplish as many scientific goals as possible, but you will also need to be self-driven to bring your own projects and interests to fruition. If you go out to sea on a research expedition or conduct other fieldwork, be prepared to improvise! Sudden changes in weather, unexpected discoveries, and equipment issues are a few examples; you need to be flexible in order to fully utilize the valuable field time you have.
How did you get involved in the Nautilus Exploration Program? How did you get on the ship?
I learned about the Nautilus internship program through an ocean science email list-serv and applied during my first year of graduate school. I was accepted as an Ocean Science and Seafloor Mapping Intern. The following year, I was thrilled to be invited back to train as a Science Manager. This season will be my seventh year with Nautilus!