Monday, May 26, 2014

Neptune's Daughters

Stillness and sunny skies greeted us as we rose to start the day.  The R/V Melville was floating near Heceta Bank, not far off of the Oregon coast.   We could see a silhouette of the shore, tucked under a thin sheet of clouds in the distance.

The Rosette's Niskin bottles
are ready for another round of sampling.

Dr. Mark Wells (Univ. of Maine)
is taking samples into the lab
for analysis.
After our morning CTD casts, we sampled from our second acidification batch and domoic acic experiments.  A nutrient analysis from the batch experiment, revealed that the phytoplankton in the incubators were growing at a very rapid rate.  With today's weather being optimal for phytoplankton growth, we decided to sample again at 18:00.  Within the sample bottles, we could see patches of algae growing inside.  We plan to sample the batch once again in two days, with time for a possible third acidification experiment.  As I am typing at 11:28, the scientists have either retired for the evening or are in the lounge for a movie.  This is the first time in three weeks, in which all operations have ended early.  I think that we all needed some time to rest -- and it came at a good time.


With this being my fourth cruise as a teacher at sea, I have been fortunate to have been able to work with some great people.  As cruises tend to go, we usually have scientists from several different universities or agencies working collaboratively.  As time passes, the lines between these affiliations, tend to become blurred, as new long lasting friendships are formed. On this cruise, we have a tight group of female marine scientists that in some ways, have formed a strong sisterhood. Their educational background, ranges from undergraduate training to PhD level research positions, and they come from varied cultural backgrounds. Their sense of humor is infectious and their work ethic is top notch.  When they are not sampling or casting the CTD, they are talking science, perfecting their knot tying, or helping others with their work.  I can't help but think that not too long ago, they were sitting at a high school desk--they could have been my students.  

I've been fascinated by their stories--of how they've reached this point in their educational careers. Since I cannot bring them to our classes, I've decided to bring them to high school students via my blog. I would like to share how they feel about science, tell you a little bit about their backgrounds, and share some of their wisdom to high school students everywhere.

Dr. Charles Trick and Julia Matheson
of  Western Univ., London, Ontario, Canada.
Julia Matheson, just completed her Masters degree in biology at Western University, at London, Ontario, Canada.  Since she was a young girl, she always enjoyed "playing outside."  She would spend her time watching the weather and trying to predict its patterns.  When she entered high school, she had three science teachers that had an impact on her:  Mr. Sitak (biology), Mr. Leedham (physics), and Mrs. Lowes (chemistry).  She says that they were "great teachers" and that they influenced her to pursue a degree in science at her university.   

Brian Bill (NOAA-NWFSC) and Kathryn Ferguson
Kathryn Ferguson, is an undergraduate student from Florida State University and is a Hollings Scholar at NOAA-NWFSC this summer. She cites her middle school years as the foundation for her love of science. Kathryn was left an impression to preserve and protect the environment, after her 6th grade science teacher allowed Kathyrn's class to raise horseshoe crabs, and then release them into the Chesapeake Bay.  She enjoyed high school and felt that while biology was easy for her, environmental science was the subject that has led her to where she is now.

Kit Angeloff took a different route to science. After working as an archaeological illustrator, she discovered she enjoyed being part of a scientific team, applied to be a volunteer with NOAA-PMEL, and as a result, is now part of this cruise.  Kit intends to study marine geochemistry.

Rachel Vander Giessen is a University of Washington graduate, and works for the UW-Applied Physics Lab. She is the captain of all CTD casts and dissolved gas sampling.  She decided to take part in our cruise because fieldwork is a large part of her job.  She is fascinated by the natural world and credits her mother for encouraging her to get her hands dirty.  "Don't miss out on opportunities because of fear," she advises.  When she's not in the lab, Rachel pours pints at Hilliard's Beer, a local Seattle microbrewery in Ballard.  Stop by for a cold one and sing a sea shanty with her.  

Hannah Glover is a graduate of Bowdoin College in Maine, and is working for NOAA-PMEL as Rachel's assistant.  After volunteering in the Applied Physics Lab, she was invited to join this cruise.  Hannah's sense of humor keeps the cruise lighthearted with her one-liners and other off-the-cuff quips.  She was raised in a household where the natural sciences were held in high esteem.  She loved chemistry in high school, but admits (with a smile) not so much in college.

L to R:  Kit Angeloff (NOAA-PMEL volunteer) Rachel Vander Giessen
(UW-APL), and Hannah Glover (UW/NOAA-PMEL)

Laura Filliger and Joselynn Wallace, University
of Rhode Island.
Joselynn Wallace and Laura Filliger are PhD students from the University of Rhode Island.  Joselynn is in her 3rd year of her degree and is interested in using molecular biology to look at phytoplankton diversity and gene expression.  In her spare time, Joselynn plays bass in a punk band.  Laura is a huge Los Angeles Kings fan, and is in charge of freezing phytoplankton biomass to be analyzed back at the URI lab.  She is using this cruise (her first) to learn what is like to work and conduct science at sea.  Her second cruise will take place this November, when she will take part in a cruise aboard the R/V Palmer to Antarctica.  Both scientists have expressed that it was their hands-on lab experiences in school that got them turned onto science.

Maribel Albarran of RTC-SFSU.
Maribel Albarran is an undergraduate student at San Francisco State University.  Starting off as a work study student in Dr. Cochlan's lab, and has since been accepted as a climate change scholar. With Dr. Cochlan as her mentor, she was brought on board, giving her the experience she needs to build her future in science.  She hasn't always felt that science was easy for her, but she remained interested because it challenged her to think more critically than in her other classes.  She enjoys playing guitar and is a fan of the San Francisco Giants.

Heather Richard is also a student from San Francisco State University.  She enjoys mountain biking, photography, and songwriting (she has an amazing voice).  As a ten year old girl, she had a desire to learn all of the plants in the forest, and how they were "connected to one another."  She encourages students to, "Figure out who you are and what you are most passionate about.  Follow your passions and be happy."  Heather is currently working on her Masters degree and is conducting the plastic pollution experiment.

Heather Martin (RTC-SFSU) and
Kathy Thornton (Univ. of Maine).

I think back to a career day was held at my previous school.  Speakers would volunteer their time to talk with our students about career options. Students rotated through several sessions, listened to a brief presentation by each speaker, and were allowed to ask questions.  One of the speakers was a good friend of mine that I've known since middle school.  As a jet propulsion engineer, she encouraged our students to take more science courses and to take their chances.   She then looked at our female students. "We need more women in science."  Heather explained to me that are a lot of women in marine biology, but not in the higher positions. Maribel is excited to show the younger generation that great discoveries have been, and will continue to be made by female scientists. Laura feels that female representation in science is "skyrocketing." She told me that when she was an undergrad at Carnegie Mellon University, the school announced that it had reached 40:60 ratio of female to male students.  It had previously been at 30:70. Aboard the R/V Melville, 11 of our 21 scientists are female.  

Dr. Vera Trainer, principal investigator,

One of our principal investigators is Dr. Vera Trainer of NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center.  She is well respected in the research of toxic algae. Besides being a PI, she is a morale booster and "integrator."  Dr. Trainer credits her grandmother with having a great impact on her.  As a child, she would hike with her family in the Alps. Her grandmother would share with her, the names of all of the flowers and mountains.  Dr. Trainer is fluent in German and is a mother of two beautiful kids.   

I asked these scientists, to imagine speaking to a group of high school students... If given the opportunity, I asked, "What would you tell them?"  So students if you are reading this, these are their words of wisdom:

"Do what you love.  Try everything.  Travel when you can or talk to people about their adventures. " -Dr. Trainer

Kathryn Ferguson and Laura Filliger
sampling from the Rosette's Niskin
"Live sustainably as a way to preserve and restore our environment for future generations." -Kathryn Ferguson

"Figure out what you really want to do, learn and master time management strategies and don't be too hard on yourself."  -Laura Filliger

"The most important thing you can do is figure out who you are and what you are passionate about."  -Heather Richard

"Don't choose what to do with your life based on what you think you're capable of or naturally good at--base it on what you think is worth doing--the ability follows." -Kit Angeloff

"Talk with your teachers and professors.  Meet them outside of class hours (or after class) to ask their opinions. They are people too!"  -Julia Matheson
URI's Joselynn Wallace with the R/V Melville's 
1st Mate, John Jeskevicius.  

"Not getting a concept doesn't make you stupid, you just need to study it more..."
-Joselynn Wallace

"Don't miss out on opportunities because of fear." -Rachel Vander Giessen

"Climate change is the problem their generation will face." -Hannah Glover

"Stay close to those who want to really teach you about something important.  It does not have to be science, but dedication and positivity is key.  Study, study, study, and don't procrastinate."  -Maribel Albarran

I hope that enjoyed reading this as much I as did writing about it.  We have a great group of scientists aboard the R/V Melville.   They would love to hear your comments.  

Please check back tomorrow for more updates on our scientific adventures!

We work and eat together at sea.


  1. I once asked my first Geology Profs why she taught geology. Her comment " I can't stop talking about it!" That is a very good clue if you really love something!

  2. The scientists on board are definitely that way!