Mikki McComb-Kobza

Hometown:  Arvada, Colorado

Current Job Title:  Executive Director

Work Location:  Boulder, CO USA

Job Description:  My day to day job is very diverse. I collaborate with other researchers on projects which involve being in the field to collect data, analyze data and also to write publications. I work with museums and schools in outreach programs to provide hands-on experiences and to talk about the marine science and why sharks are vital to healthy ecosystems. I work with many organizations and individuals to develop programs that promote ocean sustainability and ocean literacy. All in all, I have a great career; I get to share my love of the ocean and the importance of science.

Company, Academic Institution, Government Agency or Non-profit affiliation:  Ocean First Institute

Highest Degree Level Achieved and Area of Study: I have a Ph.D. from Florida Atlantic University (Boca Raton, Florida) in Integrative Biology. I did a two year Post Doc at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Fort Pierce, Florida.

What do you love most about your career?

I love being able to work with sharks and to know that the research I do can help them. Much of the research I have done involves understanding sharks sensory biology and we are beginning to use this knowledge in efforts to reduce the number of sharks caught as unwanted bycatch in fisheries. Being a scientist is embracing and embarking on the greatest adventure you can ever have.  It is a state of mind. This is true because you have to explore, observe and think about things with an open mind. You have to be creative in solving problems and trying to understand whatever it is you are working on. Its being in tune with your surroundings and maintaining a childlike fascination about the world and all that surrounds you.

What inspired you to pursue a career in marine science or STEM related field?

When I was very young I saw the movie JAWS and it really scared me. I believed that sharks were in the carpet and even in the swimming pool! I began to read about sharks and realized they were not the monsters that they were portrayed to be. What we were being shown was wrong! I learned that there were a few people out there trying to dispel the myths and fighting to change that image of sharks. I knew that was what I wanted to do. I was seven years old and my lifetime passion and path was set.

Describe one of the most exciting moments you’ve experienced in your work.

The most profound and exciting moments in my work have always been while swimming with sharks and sharing space with them. It is an honor and a privilege to be in the water with these ancient and beautiful animals. I have swam along side great white sharks, hammerheads, and tiger sharks. The feeling is humbling and brings me a deep sense of responsibility to share what I have seen and to talk about the need for their conservation. Sharks do not have a voice and through my research and outreach efforts I am trying to change that.  

Describe the biggest challenge(s) that you’ve faced and how did you overcome it.

Some of my early shark research involved aspects of endocrinology. I was taking blood samples from sharks in the field and then determining the levels of certain hormones and what that was important. At the time, many of the hormones I was measuring had never been measured in shark serum before. I was using a technique called Radioimmunoassay. I had to figure out a way to quantify and validate the levels of hormones I was measuring. I ended up modifying a technique developed for mammals and I had to spend hundreds of hours to validate that my results were correct. In the end, this resulted in one publication! Science is not easy and being ok with failing and trying again and again is really important. In the end, I solved my problem and have used that method for many other hormone assays, even ones that measure stress hormones in stingrays.

Who is your most influential mentor and how did they help you get to where you are today?

Her name is Dr. Mo Donnelly and she has been a true inspiration to me since I was an undergraduate at Florida International University. She was my General Biology professor and turned into a lifetime mentor and friend. She is a one of kind, think outside of the box, take no prisoners type of woman.  She is also wildly funny. She is an adventurer and always has a wicked smile and good story to tell. She is a herpetologist and she studies the reasons behind global amphibian declines. She is a voice for the species that don't have a voice. She showed me how to fight for the rights of nature, and that it is a grand and fulfilling lifetime endeavor.

How do you feel you are making a positive difference in the world?  

I feel that I am in a unique position in life in that I straddle the interface between scientific research and public outreach. This is not an easy landscape to be in. In order to be a good scientist, I feel you must be able to discuss your work and let the public join you in the journey. Sharks are an amazing group with a staggering diversity, of which we are still discovering. As scientists, conservationists, filmmakers and shark lovers, we all have a stake in their future. We must come together to educate as many people as we can about sharks and how they really do need our help.