Hometown: Lexington, MA
Current Job Title: Center Director-Tropical Island Biodiversity Studies (TIBS), School for Field Studies, Panama
Work Location: Bocas del Toro, Panama
Job Description: As Center Director of the Tropical Island Biodiversity Studies (TIBS) program at the School for Field Studies (SFS), Bocas del Toro, Panama, I oversee all aspects of our program including, operations, student health and safety and academics. I work to ensure that our visiting students have the best experience of their lives while living and studying in Panama. Our program is centered around tropical ecology and has both marine and terrestrial components. Students do hands-on research alongside our outstanding faculty in marine ecology, resource management and environmental policy.
I am thrilled to be working as the Center Director for TIBS, SFS. Everyday there is a new challenge working in the tropics on an island. I never know what is in store for the day, but I meet everyday with optimism and positive energy.
Company, Academic Institution, Government Agency or Non-profit affiliation: The School for Field Studies, TIBS, Panama
Highest Degree Level Achieved: and Area of Study: I received my Ph.D. in Marine Biology and Fisheries with a focus in Marine Molecular Evolutionary Genomics in May, 2009 from the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Studies (RSMAS) at the University of Miami, FL. The focus of my research was on the heritability of the variation in gene expression in Fundulus heteroclitus. The purpose of my research was to better understand whether or not patterns of gene expression are passed down from one generation to the next in an effort to understand the degree to which our environment plays a role in genetics.
What do you love most about your career?
I love that it is always changing and evolving. I started out as a marine biologist, then I used the skills I learned as a marine biologist to gain more knowledge about the way people learn science. I found out that in the US, we can do a much better job teaching our young scholars about science (especially marine science!) and I decided to dedicate my career to improving how people learn. I love where I'm headed and am proud of what I've been able to accomplish so far!
What inspired you to pursue a career in marine science or STEM related field?
I fell in love with dogfish sharks when I was 19 years old. I had never been in close contact with marine organisms (except to eat them) until I got to do research with a marine biologist at Mount Desert Island Biological Labs. It was the first time I realized that we can use marine organisms to understand human diseases. Fish and other marine organisms are our oldest vertebrate ancestors and for this reason, I wanted to study our ancestors and learn as much as possible from them. I am also very concerned about the environment and I wanted to pursue a career that would enable me to teach others about marine life and protecting our natural resources.
Describe one of the most exciting moments you’ve experienced in your work.
Moving to Panama has been one of the greatest highlights of my work. Every day, I wake up to all sorts of birds chirping in a cacophony of songs and calls. I especially love living on an island and having access to the water. It's really cool to be able to live in a country that has such easy and close access to both Pacific and Atlantic coasts. A few weeks ago, I visited the Pearl Islands and got to witness the majestic migration of humpback whales moving south with their calves. I was able to sit in the boat and listen to the whales talk to each other under water. I then got to see them surface right next to our boat! It was the most amazing experience I've had since being here in Panama. I'm learning a lot about the diversity of insects and birds in addition to keeping up with my fish species counts. I also had another amazing experience going diving this past weekend. Bocas is home to many shallow coral reefs. The diversity of fishes, corals and sponges is incredible. I feel very very lucky.
Describe the biggest challenge (or challenges) that you’ve faced and how did you overcome it to achieve your goals?
One of the biggest challenges I've faced was being told that I couldn't become a marine biologist because there aren't many people of color in the field. Unfortunately, there are not many female, marine biologists of african decent in the marine biology field. Sometimes it can be a challenge when you are the only person of color at a conference or in a classroom. You have to deal with how people perceive you and how they think you are supposed to be. You have to remind yourself every day that you are a rock star (this applies to everyone!). You also have to get people to look beyond the obvious and to get them to see you for all of you and all of what you have to offer the world.
Who is your most influential mentor and how did they help you get to where you are today?
Two of my most influential mentors were Dr. Lora Fleming and Dr. Alexandra Worden. They were two no non-sense women who fought for me throughout my entire PhD experience. They believed in me every step of the way and were my biggest cheerleaders. They believed in my research, they believed in my ability and they believed that I could achieve my goals no matter what. They provided unconditional support and guidance and I would not be where I am today without them. Oh yeah, and there's my mom, Dr. Carol Scott, who has been an amazing mentor to me since I was born.
How do you feel you are making a positive difference in the world?
I feel that by educating the next generation of scientists that I am changing how people view their interactions with the environment. I love sharing my expertise as an educator, a scientist, an environmentalist and administrator. All of these skills are important for educating aspiring scholars. My position enables me to mentor and grow our future scientists and there is no greater joy than seeing people succeed in what they want to do.