Hometown: Grahamstown, South Africa
Current Job Title: Assistant Professor
Work Location: Corvallis, OR, USA
Job Description: As a Biological Oceanographer my day to day work is highly varied. When I'm in the field in Antarctica, I spend all day out on the water in a small inflatable boat with one other person carving our way through a field of ice. We drive the boat back and forth along a grid, towing an echo sounder in the water. The echo sounder is used to detect krill. During other field trips, my days might be spent on a research ship running a 12-hour shift, deploying plankton nets, sorting zooplankton samples, counting and identifying and measuring. When I'm back home, my days are often spent in front of my laptop analyzing data or writing papers and proposals for funding. I also teach, so on some days I have students visiting or I'm teaching down the hall. Some days I spend in my laboratory, processing the samples I collect while I'm at sea or in Antarctica. Every day is different, every day is a new discovery waiting to happen.
Company, Academic Institution, Government Agency or Non-profit affiliation: Oregon State University
Highest Degree Level Achieved: and Area of Study: Post Doctorate Biological Oceanography
What do you love most about your career?
I love the exploration and discovery aspect of my career; I get to come up with really important questions and then I get to go out onto the ocean and try to find the answers. I love that the research I do will, in some small way, help us understand our oceans better; it's only with understanding something that we can then protect and conserve it. I love that my career takes me to some of the most awe-inspiring remote places on our planet, and that I get to work with some of the most incredible people too.
What inspired you to pursue a career in marine science or STEM related field?
I have to say my father. He is a Zoologist and when I was growing up he would take my brother and I on field trips to collect bats (he studied bats) and to the coast to explore the tidal pools in the rocky shore. I had my "AHA" moment when I was about 13 when my father told me about one of his colleagues, a man who had just recently returned from spending 2 months at sea in Antarctica. I remember him describing the adventures this man had on that trip and from that moment I knew that I wanted to study marine science and to work in Antarctica.
Describe one of the most exciting moments you’ve experienced in your work.
Every day that I'm out on the water brings some new and exciting experience! But probably the most exciting thing happened the day before Christmas in 2011. I was out sampling in a small inflatable boat in Antarctica, collecting krill with a plankton net, hauling it in by hand. We had stopped to take a break, as it's pretty exhausting work, when the whales appeared. Two curious humpback whales took turns swimming under our boat. As one of them came past I could see its eye, it was looking right at me! Then it splashed up through the surface and they went on their way, leaving my field partner and I in complete awe.
Describe the biggest challenge(s) that you’ve faced and how did you overcome it.
My biggest challenge early on was Math. I wasn't terrible at it, but I wasn't really great at it either. I knew I had to get a good grade for Math to get into University. I remember one high school Math test where I very nearly left early because I didn't know the answers, but then something inside of me told me to stay and try again - I decided to dedicate the rest of that test to my future career and somehow I managed to pass. More recently, in order to achieve my career goals I took a post-doctoral research position in the USA, leaving my homeland and my family, it was an incredibly challenging time for me, but I knew that I had to follow my dreams and that my family would always be there for me.
Who is your most influential mentor and how did they help you get to where you are today?
First my parents; my father has always, since I was a young child, guided me in the ways of being a scientist, always supported my dreams and always been an excellent role model. My mother, later in life, took on the challenge of a PhD in Anthropology and I was totally inspired by how brave she was and how determined; without knowing it, she showed me that a woman could do anything. Then, more recently, Deborah Steinberg, my post-doctoral research adviser. Debbie has been a phenomenal mentor over the years and has played a huge role in helping me develop my career as a Biological Oceanographer.
How do you feel you are making a positive difference in the world?
Climate change is having a major impact across the globe, particularly in the polar regions. My research in Antarctica provides valuable information about the ocean ecosystems there, and will help us to better understand the impacts of continued climate change.