Tell us about your work / research. What kinds of things do you do?
I use genetic techniques to explore the biology of deep-sea corals. I use genetic markers to identify and catalog deep-sea corals that have been both collected by researchers or caught accidentally. I also use genetic markers to examine the connectivity of coral populations between regions. I am currently also developing genetic markers to use on environmental DNA(eDNA), which is DNA that is floating loose in the water, having been shed from local animals. By using this DNA along with photographs taken by an R.O.V. we can identify deep-sea corals even when we can't take a physical sample.
What sparked your initial interest in your career?
I have wanted to be a scientist for as long as I can remember. After moving to Washington State, I discovered a love of exploring tide pools and the marine environment, so in college I decided to major in Oceanography. While working on my degree I also worked in a genetics lab and had a lot of fun, so I specialized in genetics. I went on to get a Ph.D. in Marine Biology, studying how marine organisms use their genomes to interact with their environments.
Who influenced you or encouraged you the most?
Growing up my dad took me out hiking all the time and taught me a love of nature and exploration. He also taught me how to make observations, and identify the plants, animals and rocks I was seeing, and I was hooked. He and I explore together still. In college I had a wonderful mentor in Oceanography who let me work in her lab, and encouraged me to do my first solo projects, and this hands on experience was wonderful and encouraging.
What element of your work / study do you think is the most fascinating?
Working with deep-sea corals themselves is the most fascinating part of my job. While science has known of the presence of deep-sea corals for some time, little exploration of their biology had been done until very recently. It is a lot of fun to be working with species that are relatively unkown, I feel like I get to make new discoveries all the time.
What other jobs led you to your current career?
Early opportunities to work in research laboratories while going to school influenced my choice of working in genetics. Over the course of my studies and career I've also gotten to work on many different species ranging from tiny plankton to dolphins and being able to work with such diverse organisms is one reason I enjoy genetics.
What are your degrees and certifications?
Bachelor of Science in Biological Oceanography-University of Washington 2003; Doctor of Philosophy in Marine Biology-University of Miami 2009.
What are your hobbies?
I am an avid alpine and rock climber and backpacker, I also SCUBA dive enjoy bicycle tours. My husband and I love foraging wild mushrooms together. When I'm not outside I really enjoy textile craft: sewing, knitting and spinning.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to have a career like yours?
Expose yourself to disciplines you might use to study marine science, like biochemistry or genetics. Look for opportunities and internships to work in current research labs or programs like the Nautilus Exploration Program. These activities are invaluable in gaining experience in the day to day efforts of science.
How did you get involed with the Nautilus Exploration Program? How did you get on the ship?
Myself and my colleagues were interested in the scientist ashore program for the Cascadia Margin cruise, and registered to participate. Once we began communicating with the Nautilus Exploration Program we asked about the possibility of eDNA sampling. The Nautilus Exploration program was interested in the protocol and asked if we could send a team member aboard to demonstrate the technique so that it could be used by the program in the future.