What do you do?
My job is much more diverse than I thought it would be starting out in science. I founded a nonprofit organization that actively addresses immediate threats facing vulnerable shark species through innovative research and engaging outreach to ensure a sustainable future for our sharks. I help develop our nonprofit’s research and outreach strategies, which combines my passion for science and science communication. I help find funding for our research projects and because we are a small group, I get to go out in the field and collect the data, analyze it with the team and present and publish it. I also get to translate our work to the general public during outreach events and to the policy-makers on a state, national and international level. This past year, we initiated the first study of its kind to deploy satellite tags on great hammerhead sharks that are caught and released by recreational anglers to determine whether the sharks survive the fishing event. I also help run our Florida Shark Survey that uses non-invasive techniques, underwater visual surveys and remote video unites, to monitor shark populations.
Why did you choose this field?
I have always been immersed in the natural world, surrounded by animals and wildlife. It always made more sense to me than people did. I grew up on a horse farm with barn cats, a chicken coop, sheep and a pack of dogs, most of which were my responsibility. I also grew up at the beach, mesmerized by the ocean and a little bit afraid of sharks. I always asked a million questions, I still do, and always wanted to understand how things work. I believe all this combined to put me on the path to study ecology, marine biology and eventually focus on sharks. My reverence for nature gave me the push towards conservation. I knew this was how I wanted to contribute to a better world. By my senior year, I was sure I wanted to study sharks because of their complex nature and “underdog” status. I watched a documentary on breaching great whites and knew I needed to see that in person. I flew to Cape Town, South Africa and volunteered for a great white shark diving company and from there, my shark science and conservation network expanded, and I was hooked.
What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?
I co-authored a research proposal that was successfully funded by a foundation that I have always respected and that validation was incredible. When I put that first satellite tag in a great hammerhead shark and the data were downloaded, showing the movement of each animal, I was incredibly proud of what we had accomplished. As a small, independent nonprofit, it is easy to be discouraged when you get overrun by bigger organizations or ignored by funders, but if you believe in your ideas and you really fight for them for the right reasons, you will find a way!
Why do you love working in STEM?
I love working in STEM because I think my brain is wired for asking questions and is inspired by discovery and knowledge. I wake looking forward to learning. Learning about new projects, new findings, new perspectives, new solutions. STEM fields give us answers and that excites me every day.
Best advice for next generation?
There will be challenges no matter what you pursue, whether it be art, business or science. So, if you are really interested in STEM topics, why not let those challenges be for something you really want to do? Stay positive and inquisitive in all aspects but don’t forget to keep your horizons broad as I have found that you need a little bit of creativity, a dash of business sense and a pinch of marketing know-how can take you a long way to having success in STEM and makes it a lot of fun, too.
Inspo quote / fun fact / role model
Dr. Eugenie Clarke is well known in the marine biology world, especially among shark enthusiasts, for her pioneering work with sharks. She was a curious and brave girl who had a lot of questions about the ocean and its inhabitants at a time when it was very rare to see a female pursue those answers. But she did it. She worked in remote locations, collecting her own specimens, designing her own experiments, and not being shy about it. I think of her unabashed approach a lot and try to emulate it. I emphatically recommend her book, “Lady with a Spear”.