Lila Ardor Bellucci
Tell us about your work/research. What kinds of things do you do?
Throughout my undergraduate career, I chose to specialize in marine invertebrate biology. I’ve always been intrigued by the unique physiological characteristics of diverse invertebrates, as well as the important ecological roles they play. I am particularly interested in the way marine invertebrates respond to anthropogenic stressors, especially how they will react to future changes in ocean temperature and chemistry. My undergraduate thesis was dedicated to investigating the neuromuscular behaviors of sea stars as well as how such behaviors are impacted by exposure to predicted future seawater temperatures. Considering the ecological importance of marine invertebrates, I believe such studies comprise an essential facet of marine research.
What sparked your initial interest in your career?
Exploring and understanding the natural world around me has been my passion for as long as I can remember. As a child, my father fueled my innate inquisitiveness with a game we called "the question game." I'd ask him anything and everything that came to my mind: How do birds fly? Why do flowers bloom? How does the moon control the tides? I was drawn to marine science in particular because of my fascination with the underwater world that covers roughly 70% of our planet, yet lays largely unexplored. Not only do I find marine research fascinating, but it truly enables me to feel like I am working to make a difference in the world. Through my studies, I realized how important it is that we strive to understand the many organisms as well as physical and chemical systems present in Earth’s far-reaching oceans. Expanding and sharing this understanding will enable us to better manage our relationship with the dynamic and often mysterious ocean. It will also help us to spread awareness about the ocean’s diverse beauty and inherent value in an effort to preserve it for years to come.
Who influenced you or encouraged you the most?
In my blossoming career as a scientist, I have been most inspired by my professors and my peers. Going to Eckerd College, a school with less than 2,000 students, enabled me to form close bonds with teachers and fellow students alike. My professors truly inspired me with their passion, wisdom, and dedication to both their academic fields and their students. Each of them pushed me to be my best by believing in my capabilities, providing me with countless opportunities to grow as a scientist, and offering endless mentorship and advice. I hope that in the future I may offer similar inspiration and guidance to eager students in my former position. I have also been strongly influenced by my peers who exemplified the high level of dedication and ambition that consistently challenged me to work my hardest. I will always believe it is extremely important to be surrounded by peers and colleagues who push you to bring forth your best effort.
What element of your work/study do you think is the most fascinating?
I find it most fascinating to study invertebrates because of the fact that they are often so completely different from humans and other familiar terrestrial animals, in every way ranging from anatomy to behavior. Marine invertebrate biology is a field that constantly excites me, especially because of how much we have yet to discover about oceanic invertebrates and their unique habitats. Hydrothermal vents, for example, offer a promising site for the origins of life on Earth, and yet we only relatively recently discovered and began to study them and the organisms they sustain. The ocean remains a thrilling frontier for future study and one that I am very happy to be a part of.
What other jobs led you to your current career?
As an undergraduate, I made it my goal to explore multiple different specializations within marine biology so that I might find one to explore more deeply through a senior thesis. I aided in various research projects including a fish toxicology study exploring the effects of sunscreen on reef fish. I also assisted in a risqué and very interesting project investigating the morphological plasticity of barnacle penises. Although these projects were not always exactly what I saw myself studying long-term, each opportunity offered me valuable experience in general research practices and showed me the dedication that is necessary to conduct valuable research. My participation in various studies equipped me to conduct my own thesis as a senior, which I now aim to publish. It also prepared me for other research and study opportunities such as that which I had at BIOS that ultimately lead me to work aboard the Nautilus. I think it's important to continuously seek out and pursue new opportunities to remain inspired and to gather up the auxiliary skills that make for a unique and versatile marine scientist.
What are your degrees and certifications?
I have a Bachelor’s of Science in Marine Science with a specialty in biology from Eckerd College.
What are your hobbies?
I have a never-ending list of hobbies that include hiking, rock climbing, scuba diving, traveling, yoga, painting, reading, and singing loudly to music in the car. In my dreams that list includes base jumping, but I’m not that cool yet.
What advice would you give someone who wants to have a career like yours?
Although I myself have not yet found my way to a defined career, I have one piece of general advice for any young marine scientist. It may seem cliché, but don’t give up! We all experience rejection and what feels like a failure; marine science is a very competitive and very difficult field. You are not always going to score your dream internship or job. Your research will not always go as planned. One of my professors once told me after a particularly upsetting rejection letter that "we ALL have setbacks: it's how we recover from them that will determine how we flourish." If there is one thing I've realized about a career in marine science thus far, it is that my professor was right. If you want to be successful in marine science you need to exercise persistence; don't beat yourself up over setbacks and you will always recover.
How did you get involved with the Nautilus Exploration Program?
During my late undergraduate career, I became very interested in deep-sea research, particularly that associated with underwater volcanic activity. During a summer research experience at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS), I was exposed to the R/V Atlantic Explorer and inspired by its crew to look into a career working aboard oceanic research vessels. I explored various ways in which I might be able to gain experience in such a field and came across the Ocean Science Intern position aboard the E/V Nautilus. I had watched Nautilus Live videos throughout my undergraduate career and been very intrigued by the work carried out aboard the Nautilus. I was extremely excited by the potential opportunity to be a part of the expeditions that I had admired for so long. I applied and am very lucky to say that I was accepted to join the Nautilus Corps of Exploration to participate in the Papahānaumokuākea leg of the Nautilus's annual cruise.