Hillary Sullivan

Research Assistant, Woods Hole Research Center

And - Biogeochemist


You are capable of more than you think.

What do you do?

I am a biogeochemist studying human impacts on two specific and very different environments. First, I study at how nitrogen loading from fertilizer and sewage system affects salt marshes in northern Massachusetts. These marshes lie in very important coastal zones that would have widespread detrimental effects if destroyed. Second, I study the effects of phosphorus fertilizer on protected riparian streams in the Brazilian Amazon. Deforestation for intensifying agriculture and subsequent fertilizer use is growing, and we want to understand the widespread implications of the added fertilizer to naturally protected systems in hopes of reducing the necessary fertilizer load to these farms.

Why did you choose this field?

I always knew that I wanted to be a scientist, specifically because of my love of marine biology. In high school, I was invited on a trip to the Galapagos Islands where we studied giant tortoises, and experienced such a unique habitat only found one place on earth. Something about making my own discoveries and observations in a place that influenced such important scientific findings as those made by Darwin that empowered me and after this trip, I knew this was what I wanted to do for my career.

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

Some variation of my dream job, existed and that one day I would have the honor of working at it. I wish younger me had been more confident in my abilities and desires, because only when I realized this did I end up pursuing amazing experiences and opportunities.

Why do you love working in STEM?

It has pushed me to question the world around me and to be curious about how things work. I look at problems with the perspective of trying to understand why something is occurring and how we can change it. I wake up looking forward to not only following my passions and making discoveries, but truly trying to make a lasting difference and leave a mark on the world.

Best advice for next generation?

Science and discovery is awesome and exhilarating. You can absolutely make a difference and your dream job is out there. Do not ever be afraid to ask questions and push boundaries because you are capable of more than you think. And do not let anyone tell you otherwise.

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

My role model has been Jane Goodall for as long as I can remember. She is an example of a scientist, a female scientist at that, who pushed boundaries, asked for and earned the respect of many who doubted her, and ultimately made discoveries that changed science her field. Her motivation, fearlessness, and perseverance have influenced how I handle any obstacle I face to this day.

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