Headshot of Leela Madhava

Leela Madhava

She/Her, They/Them
Ocean Science Intern
Undergraduate Student & Research Assistant
University of Washington

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

I'm very interested in exploring the ecology of deep-sea communities! I aim to eventually do research on things like predator-prey relationships, adaptations to deep-sea conditions, and community dynamics. Through this research, I hope to provide data that informs the protection of ecologically important sites throughout the ocean. In the meantime, I'm enjoying working as a research assistant analyzing samples of plankton and evaluating mussel reactions to different salinity conditions!

What sparked your initial interest in your career?

I originally realized that marine biology was an interest of mine while scrolling through the course catalog before my freshman year of college -- every class that stood out to me was marine biology-related! I dove headfirst into the curriculum, and quickly found that I had a particular love for deep-sea science. The idea that life persists despite the extreme obstacles it faces -- crushing pressure, minimal food, and complete lack of sunlight -- is just so fascinating to me.

Who influenced you or encouraged you the most?

I've always known that my parents believe in me and support me wholeheartedly, which gives me a lot of confidence as I move through life. Since arriving to college, there's been two professors that have changed the way I think: Dr. Jake Cooper has taught me to find joy in science, and Dr. Emily Carrington challenges me to be the best scientist I can be. I owe a lot to both of them!

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

I really love doing microscope work. There's an entire thriving, diverse world that exists all around us, but is largely invisible until we magnify it.

How did you get involved with Ocean Exploration Trust? How did you become part of the expedition team?

OET did a Q&A at my school early on in my freshman year that I attended -- I was immediately hooked. I was incredibly impressed by the work that OET had done in the past, and very excited about the opportunity to actually contribute to their expeditions. I applied to the Internship Program in both 2023 and 2024, and was accepted the 2nd time!

What other jobs led you to your current career?

The job that's most directly contributed is my position as a research assistant, which gives me relevant experience with sample collection & analysis. However, a lot of my past work in non-marine biology jobs have sneakily contributed to my marine biology skills -- I very much believe that no experience is wasted!

What are your degrees and certifications?

I'm currently pursing Bachelors of Science in Marine Biology and Biology at University of Washington.

What are your hobbies?

I love rock climbing, knitting, hiking, and reading! I've also gotten really into cooking this year.

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

Find out what excites you and follow it!


Leela participated in the following Ocean Exploration Trust expeditions: