woman scientist

in the field

Author: Allison Lee (page 1 of 7)

Allison Lee: Polar Phytoplankton PhD Student

A big thanks to Allison Albritton (formerly Randolph) for the interview on the Ocean Allison podcast before my trip down to Antarctica.

Episode #54, Allison Lee: Phytoplankton PhD Student.

 

Allison Lee is a biological oceanography PhD student at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, working to bring phytoplankton research to the world of Citizen Science in the Arctic and the Antarctic. In this episode we discuss her experience working in a lab setting, her inspiring blog ‘Woman Scientist’, her passion for phytoplankton research, and more.

Allison just completed a field season in Antarctica aboard the Hebridean Sky, launching her FjordPhyto Citizen Science project with willing and excited passengers. The beginning of this story was featured in the San Diego Tribune.   During the 2017 – 2018 Antarctic summer, citizen scientists from multiple tour ships will be collecting samples which contribute to current climate research.

If you’re interested to learn more about the Citizen Science Project – FjordPhyto – in Antarctica, follow along on the FjordPhyto website, Instagram, and Facebook.

Visit Allison Lee’s website womanscientist.com and follow her on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook.

Allison Albritton is an ocean advocate, herself, sharing stories of positive change for the ocean. If you’d like to learn more about Allison Albritton, read the Woman Scientist interview here.

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Life of a Desert Field Scientist – Mindi Lehew

Mindi Lehew is an Environmental Scientist working for the US Forest Service. She has been hiking the Sonoran Desert and Coronado National Forest for more than six years and absolutely loves it.

Check out the video below where Mindi explains the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, the unique desert ecosystems, including the iconic Saguaro cactus, and her work as a field scientist.

Keep reading to learn more about how Mindi first became interested in science.

What is your earliest memory of being hooked by science?

Growing up in a small town, playing in nature was my every day adventure. At the time, I didn’t understand that was the beginnings of scientific exploration and a lifelong conservation ethic. I spent my childhood in the desert, hiking with my dad or riding my horse with my mom. Our family spent a few weeks every summer visiting different national parks.  I remember carrying around a notepad in Yellowstone National Park taking detailed notes and keeping a count of every plant and animal species I encountered. I was probably 10 years old at the time, but I still have the little notebook today, and I know now that was field science at its finest!

What did you think a scientist did before you became one?

I thought all scientists worked in a lab and wore a white coat. It wasn’t until I started college that I realized you could make a career out of studying the environment (and get paid to play outdoors!). Now I know scientists also wear cargo shorts and hiking boots!

What keeps it fun?

I never get tired of the landscapes. Since I was little, I’ve always been humbled by nature and the evolution of our planet and all the species that exist on it. Nothing beats the feeling of summiting a peak and being rewarded with a panoramic view for hundreds of miles in all directions. As an environmental scientist and public land manager, it’s rewarding to know I play a small role in protecting those natural places.

Is there anyone that inspired you? 

My dad! He is a pharmacist by profession, but a conservationist at heart. We always joke that we’re both scientists, the only difference is that he helps the people and I help the planet. For as long as I can remember, he’s had one mantra: leave this earth a better place than it was when you got here. He inspired me to make that mantra my life’s mission!

Let’s learn more about the region: 

Desert Range

This region of Arizona, California, and Baja hosts a convergence of many types of desert ecosystems that span from Mexico all the way up into the Rocky Mountains.

Saguaro Cactus 

The Saguaro cactus (Carnegiea gigantea) live on rocky terrain and do not occur anywhere else in the world. Many people mistakenly think the tall cactus in Baja are Saguaros, but they are actually look-alike cactus called Cardón (Pachycereus pringlei). The Cardón resembles the Saguaro in growth, but can grow to be much more massive, and is not as frost tolerant as the Saguaro.

The average lifespan for a Saguaro cactus is about 200 years. As they grow taller they branch arms and extend their radial root system. Even though the root system is very shallow for such a tall, heavy plant, it provides a sturdy base allowing the cactus to absorb water from the occasional desert downpours.

I had always thought, if lost in the desert, I could survive by drinking water from the cactus tissue. As if cactus were giant rain barrels storing an oasis of refreshment.  I surely would have died! It turns out succulents create toxic products from photosynthesis including Malic Acid and Oxalic Acid. If ingested, Oxalic Acid combines with calcium in our bodies to produce calcium oxalates which are harmful to our kidneys. While a human may be able to survive off small amounts, ultimately dehydration would take over.

Mindi shows us there are some edible parts to the cactus; She delicately plucks a barrel cactus fruit and gives us a taste. Sour!  Like a granny smith apple.

Thank you for taking us through your kind of desert Mindi Lehew!

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Writing Your Dreams into Realities

They say those who write down their goals and dreams have a higher success rate of turning them into realities.

I recently found a very artistic goal book I had made in 2001, sixteen years ago, during my 11th grade English class. Thank you to Mrs. E for giving us time in class to create these visions! Flipping through the pages, I realized that a lot of the goals I had written down, I have now accomplished. You can also tell which song was popular at that time…

“Watch a sunset in Africa.” In 2014, I traveled to South Africa co-leading a group of undergraduate students on a Big Cat Research trip.  I made sure to watch every sunrise and every sunset, imprinting the experience in my mind. I was able to travel back to Africa at the end of 2016, this time watching sunsets in Botswana and Zimbabwe (look for future posts to come).

“Swing on a vine in the rainforest.” I have this strange obsession with the rainforest. I’m not sure if it comes from gazing at all the National Geographic magazine spreads of the Amazon canopy, the film documentaries I watched as a kid, or from my visits to the Rainforest Exhibit in the Woodland Park Zoo. I remember the day I arrived in the Amazon and reached the summit of a hike I did near Aguas Calientes in Peru. My heart fluttered as I looked out over the canopy. I’m here! I’m seeing this in real life.  I can’t believe it. I’ve been to the Peruvian rainforest a number of times now as a tourist and as a volunteer biologist with Earthwatch and the Tambopata Macaw Project. On a regular basis, I daydream of the soonest time I will be able to return. I find it interesting I’m on the path to becoming a polar oceanographer, because I’ve always had a vision of myself as a rainforest biologist.

“Jump off a tall cliff into water.” Why did I want to jump off a tall cliff?! I have no idea. After college I traveled Europe with my best buddy Kristina Ciari (she hosts an awesome blog called An Adventurous Life and works for The Mountaineers). We did one of those canyoning adventures out of Bern, Switzerland and at one point had to jump off a cliff into a narrow section of the river. Terrifying to say the least. I hesitated before my jump and got reprimanded by the guide. “YOU JUST HAVE TO JUMP!” he said, “Do NOT overthink this. Now, GO!” It really is a life metaphor if you think about it.  Years later, she and I visited Smith Rock near Bend, Oregon for a climbing trip and found this beautifully tall cliff. The guide’s words still rang in my ears, “Now, GO!” We all jumped 30 feet down into a wide calm river. Some of us came up with nose bleeds. I luckily did not.  But I think I cured my desire for jumping off tall things.

“Scuba dive in exotic waters.” I grew up in Washington’s Puget Sound. A beautiful location for diving. However, scuba is an incredibly expensive hobby and I never found the means to get in to the activity until 2013 when I finally had saved enough cash to get my Open Water Certificate. I spent the next two years working to get certified in Advanced Open Water, then Dry Suit, and Rescue Diver. My progress stalled when it came time to buy my own equipment. I couldn’t pass that next financial hurdle. One day, I was talking to a science colleague while working in the lab, and he said that he got funded to dive during his graduate program. I vowed to myself that if I ever went to graduate school I would find a way to dive for science. When I found out I was going to be attending Scripps Institution of Oceanography for my Master of Advanced Studies degree, I immediately signed up for the Scientific Diving course. I then spent my loan money on nearly $3000 worth (probably more) of gear so that I could be independent of a rental shop whenever I wanted to dive. I have yet to dive in exotic tropical waters, but I did manage to snorkel in the frigid 2°C Silfra fissure of Iceland.  Some day I do plan to dive in the polar oceans, namely Antarctica. Because I’ve already written it down, I know it will happen!

“Stay in an igloo at the poles and watch the Aurora Borealis.” Ok, so the igloo part hasn’t happened yet but I have made it near to both poles and seen the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) and Aurora Australis (Southern Lights). In 2013, I was sent to Antarctica aboard an icebreaker for a two month research expedition. During one of the nights, we all went on deck to gaze at the Southern Lights. Dazzling ribbons of green, electrifying the sky.  The only time I have seen the Northern Lights occurred while I was in Seattle, funnily enough, about 14 years ago. One evening I was driving home from college around midnight and I saw funny clouds moving high in the sky. As I got closer to my house I realized those funny clouds were the Aurora Borealis and I raced inside to wake my parents. They ran out, mom in a nightgown, dad in his flannel pajama set. We all gazed up as the green lights danced above us, flickering, sizzling, then moved out of sight. It was magical. Seeing the full curtain of  blues, greens, purples, and pinks — from an igloo — is still on my To-Do List.

“Walk the wall of China.” This still needs to be accomplished!  Asia has been a region of the world I haven’t devoted much time. Malaysia was the first international country I visited back at the ripe age of 15. We traveled to Kuala Lumpur and to the small island of Penang. Growing up, our family hosted over 25 Japanese exchange students, so I have every reason to plan a trip to this side of the world.

I knew at a young age I was an adventurer. I have that Wanderlust. That Travel Gene. I have visited 35 countries and all 7 continents. I had no idea at the time of my 11th grade English class assignment, that I would actually end up traveling the world, for curiosity and for science, fulfilling the goals I had written down in that little book.

I’ve been writing goals ever since, many more of which have come true. I have dozens of notebooks and journals scattered about my room.

Apparently, if you just *think* about your goals and dreams, its not enough to make them real. Dreaming and imagination occur in the right hemisphere of the brain. Writing taps into the power of your left hemisphere, or logic-based side of the brain. When you operate the two together, you send your consciousness a signal that says,  “I want this, and I mean it!” Throughout time, its as if your subconscious mind then orchestrates those visions into realities.

Seeing this book, and reflecting on the accomplishments I’ve made over the past 16 years, I’m convinced I need to keep writing down those dreams and goals so that some day they become reality!

What are the dreams and goals you have written down wondering if they would ever be achieved? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

Thank you for reading and following Woman Scientist! As always, feel free to share with a friend or young scientist!

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Allison Randolph: for the Ocean

My friend, Kate Ruck, told me to follow a woman named Ocean Allison on Instagram. “She is doing awesome podcasts about the Ocean, I think you would enjoy!”  Of course, I hit ‘Follow’ and started listening. The first podcast I heard highlighted the work of Dr. Greg Rouse from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Dr. Rouse is a marine biologist frequently discovering new deep sea species like bone eating worms, ruby sea dragons, and purple socks (curious? listen to the podcast!)

Allison has gone on to interview 48 and counting, other acclaimed ocean advocates such as: Dr. Wallace J Nichols (author of Blue Mind), Rob Machado (pro-surfer), Pam Longobardi (plastic pollution artist), and Jim Toomey (cartoonist of Sherman’s Lagoon).

With a background in Marine Biology, she now combines her knowledge of ocean science with her skills in communications in order to be a voice for the ocean.

“I consider myself a marine biologist since that’s what my background is in, but in reality I am an ocean science and conservation communicator.  I strive to help scientists communicate their important ocean research to the public through education and digital media.” ~ Allison Randolph

Teaching plastic pollution to K-6 students.

While earning her degree at Florida Institute of Technology she worked as a coral reef researcher in a Marine Paleoecology Lab and as an intern with Dr. Andy Nosal at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Allison has also worked as an educator at the Birch Aquarium in San Diego.

After traveling to Antarctica as the Outreach Specialist on a National Science Foundation expedition, Allison began to build her brand as Ocean Allison in order to educate the public on all things ocean via her podcast, social media channels, and educational programs. She is also currently working on a project with the San Diego Natural History Museum, and welcomes every opportunity to communicate ocean science and conservation topics.

Let’s hear more from Allison as she share’s her career journey:

What is your earliest memory of being hooked by science?

My love the ocean started before I can remember.  My childhood revolved around the ocean and over time this interest turned into curiosity, but I don’t know if I ever really thought of this ocean exploration as science (even though it was!).  Growing up, it seemed to me that science was something you did in school, and this subject always drew me in.  I completed my first science fair project in third grade and continued to participate in science fair till my junior year of high school, making it to regional and state fairs several times.

What did you study during undergrad? Did you know what you wanted to study before beginning?

I majored in Marine Biology at Florida Institute of Technology (FIT) during my undergraduate degree.  A big reason I chose FIT was because they have a great marine bio program, and this proved to definitely be true.  Apparently, I knew I wanted to study marine biology as early as 1st grade.  Six year old me used to go around saying, “I either want to be a chiropractor or a marine biologist”.

What was your first science-related job?

My first science-related job where I got paid was in the Marine Paleoecology Lab at Florida Tech during my undergrad degree.  I was a student worker in the lab for three and a half years, helping to analyze climatic variability and upwelling regimes in coral reef cores from Pacific Panama, dating back to about 6,000 years before present.

My first unpaid science-related job was as an intern with Dr. Andy Nosal at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, studying the biology and ecology of a large seasonal aggregation of leopard sharks in Southern California.

Shark survey cruise with NOAA SWFSC in Channel Islands.

 

What are your thoughts on getting a higher degree?

Thus far, I have not chosen to earn a higher degree.  While I don’t rule it out, I have found that I see more opportunity in forging my own path rather than continuing on in academia.

Additionally, since a main focus of mine is science communication, it is actually important for me to be outside of academia so that I can see the big picture and relate to the public; while still of course maintaining a professional relationship with colleagues doing research at universities.

Did you have any preconceived notions about science, or scientists, and did that change once you explored your career in science?

Before entering college I thought that marine scientists spent majority of their time out in the field, researching their subject.  After working in a lab and doing an internship in the field, it became clear to me that grad students and scientists were spending majority of the year analyzing data and writing papers and grants in the lab, with only a few weeks, to maybe a few months each year spent in the field collecting data.

Scientists are dedicated researchers that put in long hours to make sure that the results they present to the world are accurate and peer-reviewed.  This both impressed me, and also made me realize, maybe my interests will steer me in a slightly different direction.

Has your work allowed you to travel? If so, where have you gone and what were you doing there?

Through my work I’ve had the opportunity to travel to some truly incredible places around the world.

As an undergraduate I traveled to Indonesia for a research internship with Operation Wallacea.  There I spent 6 weeks living on a remote island, diving twice a day, helping graduate students collect field data on various coral reef related research projects.

In 2015, I traveled to Chile and Antarctica as the Outreach Specialist on a National Science Foundation research expedition studying how climate change is effecting the ecology of Antarctic deep seafloor organisms.  I wrote blogs, formed relationships with K-12 students, posted on social media, and produced a short documentary film about the expedition and it’s science.

A few months ago, I attended the BLUE Ocean Film Festival and Conservation Summit in Monaco where my film, Antarctic SeaScience Expedition, was awarded Honorable Mention.

I had the opportunity to meet some incredibly inspiring ocean filmmakers, conservationists, and scientists all working to create positive change for the ocean and the planet.

Over the last several years, my work has brought me to San Diego and surrounding areas in Southern California.  I have worked on leopard shark research projects in La Jolla and on Catalina Island with scientists from Scripps, I have surveyed shark populations in Southern California waters with NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center, I have worked at Birch Aquarium as an informal marine science educator, and continue to work on a comparative fish skeleton collection project with the San Diego Natural History Museum.

Could you expand more on your experiences working in different sectors?

While I’ve had experience working in all of these sectors, some of which I personally preferred more than others, I am now working to bring them all together and highlight the positive characteristics of each.  Regardless of what sector I want to work in, I find all of these (and more) vital and important entities in the world.

Through my podcast, Ocean Allison, I highlight individuals from any and all business sectors that are creating positive change for the ocean.  In this way I am uniting people from all areas that are maintaining a common goal, just going about it in all different ways.  You can listen to weekly episodes of my podcast by searching Ocean Allison on Soundcloud, Google Play, iPhone Podcast App and oceanallison.com.

 

Have you experienced any big compromises or struggles making a career in the sciences?

One of the biggest obstacles I came across when pursuing a career in science was when I realized that much of what science uncovers remains only within the scientific community.

What keeps you motivated when you’re feeling the drudgery? What keeps science FUN for you?

Earth is Blue!  The ocean is the driver of our planet.  Life came from the ocean.  Our climate system is controlled by the ocean.  Majority of our oxygen comes from the ocean.  99% of Earth’s biomass is in the ocean.  It’s what makes our dot in the solar system unique.  We need the ocean.  We have abused it.  And now, in order to help ourselves, we need to help the ocean.

Remembering all of the above, keeps me motivated everyday.  These are the fundamental truths that inspire me to do science, to communicate science, to educate, and to document.  Not to mention getting out in the water and enjoying all that the ocean has to offer, like SCUBA diving, snorkeling, surfing, swimming, and boating!

Snorkeling in the Bahamas.

Was there any one person that inspired you?

In terms of ocean curiosity and exploration, my parents were definitely my biggest inspiration growing up.  They facilitated my ocean experiences and always were teaching me about ocean animals and ocean dynamics.

In school, my middle school science teacher Simone Flood was a huge inspiration.  She really invested time into her students, forming a close bond with us.  This allowed for more authentic teaching and for me, I really opened up to how fun, interesting, and diverse science really is.

What are some inspirational materials you’ve used along the way?

Racing Extinction is an incredibly motivating film that I hope opens people’s minds to changing their actions for the preservation of our planet.

Mission Blue, a film documenting Sylvia Earle and all of her incredible accomplishments is also incredibly inspiring.

The most inspiring thing of all is to immerse yourself in nature.  When studying the natural world, I’ve found this to be the best way to gain fresh perspective and increase appreciation for what you’re dedicating so much time to.

When I met Sylvia Earle at BLUE Ocean Film Fest in Monaco.

What are some key points you wish you knew or that you remind yourself of during your science career journey?

No matter how groundbreaking or important your scientific findings are, in order to create change for this planet they have to be communicated to a large and varied audience.  If there is no communication, the significance of and interest in science decreases.

Also, always keeping in mind and promoting this quote has helped me greatly: “We are not apart from nature, we are a part of nature.” -Prince Ea

What is your big dream?

My big dream is that we will protect and preserve the ocean so that it is as healthy and thriving as possible.  The ocean drives our entire planet — getting humans to recognize the ocean’s vitality and make change to effectively protect our waters is my ultimate goal.

Through my career I strive to educate others about that vitality of the ocean, since we can only care about what we understand.  Once people understand they will care, and once they care we can work to protect our oceans the way they need to be protected.

Tidepool Guide for Birch Aquarium

~~~

To see more photos of Allison’s adventures, check out the Feature Photo Album on Woman Scientist Facebook Page. Like it and share!

Thank you so much for the interview Allison!

For more on Allison Randolph, visit allisonrandolph.com

To see all of her ocean adventures, learn about marine species, and find ways you can help preserve our planet’s blue lifeblood, follow her on social media @ocean_allison on Instagram, Twitter, & Facebook.

~~~

Want more interviews? We will post interviews with a new feature Woman Scientist every week. In the mean time, you can read from more inspirational women here.

 

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Kathy Barker: Scientist, Writer, Activist

When I was a new scientist starting work in the lab I purchased the book At the Bench, by Kathy Barker. It became a well-read manual I referred to when questions arose about living and working in the laboratory. As I gained experience over the years, moving into more responsibility overseeing high school and undergraduate interns,  I bestowed upon them this same book for reference and peace of mind.

I had no idea that nearly a decade later I would have the chance to get to know the author.

We met at an event co-hosted by the Association for Women in Science (AWIS) and Hutch United at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.  There was to be a discussion on Social Media and Activism in Science with distinguished panelists :

  • Kathy Barker, PhD –Scientist, Author, ScientistsAsCitizens.org, @ScienceActivist
  • Jennifer Davison –Program Manager, Urban@UW, @JenEDavison
  • Sharona Gordon, PhD –Professor, UW Department of Physiology & Biophysics, @ProfSharona

As a young scientist active on social media, I wanted to hear the opinions of more advanced researchers and the voice they use online. (If you want to know my opinions, read this post.)

Kathy was the first person I met before entering the building. It was dark and raining, as per usual in Seattle, and we were both lost. Together we ventured in to what we thought was the correct building and as the house lights illuminated our faces I saw she had a streak of red dyed hair.  As someone who sometimes worries about whether or not I’ll be taken seriously with my turquoise dyed hair, I was glad to see another scientist rocking the look.

Kathy has a PhD in microbiology and spent time as an assistant professor in the Laboratory of Cell Physiology and Immunology at Rockefeller. She currently consults and writes on science management and communicating science to society. She has authored two books At the Bench and At the Helm.

Kathy gladly agreed to participate in an interview to share with us her diverse set of experiences and gained wisdom:

What is your earliest memory of being hooked by science?

Volcanoes, animals, rockets, and infectious disease. There was scant information around in those pre-web days, but I devoured all the books in our little library.

What did you study during undergrad? Did you know what you wanted to study before beginning?

I was an English major for 2 years of college, with no interest in science. After dropping out for a few years to travel and work, I returned to college and got hooked by a tour in a basic biology class of a scanning electron microscope and a view of an insect eye. I ended up doing a double major in English and Biology.

What was your first science-related job?

Breeding mice as an undergraduate. I should have thought more carefully about animal use at that time, for it troubled me for the 4-5 years before I realized I should just say no to animal work.

How did you decide to go for a higher degree?

Entropy.

Did you have any preconceived notions about science, or scientists, and did that change once you explored your career in science?

Not knowing any scientists until I was in my 20’s meant I had a cartoon image of what a scientist was, and didn’t realize the absolute power I had to make much more informed and better choices. No one can tell you how to be a scientist. You get to be an activist, or take time off, or have no kids or a zillion kids (I had 3), or do “descriptive” science, etc etc.

Has your work allowed you to travel? If so, where have you gone and what were you doing there?

Yes. The writing turned into giving workshops on running labs, and I traveled all over the country. It is great fun, and I meet wonderful people.

Could you expand more on your experiences working in different sectors?

After my postdoc, I was an assistant professor for a few years. I found it interesting that many of the problems encountered by people in the labs were communication problems, and were common to all. I wanted to write about it, and contacted a publisher. He thought it was a good idea, and I left the lab about 6 months later to write.

Writing was hard at first. It took me a while to build up colleagues, and expertise, and until I had a finished product, my ego took a hit. I hadn’t realized how that title ‘scientist’ gives you a sort of pass in life, as people assume you are doing something valuable….even when it isn’t true.

I’m currently hooked up with a group of public health academics, and together we are writing a book on the primary prevention of war. Three of my lives came together here: the scientist, the writer, and the antiwar/antimilitarism activist. It feels good!

Have you experienced any big compromises or struggles making a career in the sciences?

Compromises or struggles…I can’t quite come up with anything. Not everything went well, but that is probably because I wasn’t as thoughtful about my scientific life as I should have been, not about the field I was working in, or about my future.

What keeps you motivated when you’re feeling the drudgery? What keeps science FUN for you?

Even making buffers in a lab was fun for me- I loved everything about the lab, every single day. I never felt drudgery…except with writing. I wouldn’t say it is fun every day, but I am very happy.

Was there any one person that inspired you?

Not really. The big sister of the girl next door and a microscope, and I thought both she and the microscope were absolutely cool.

What are some inspirational materials you’ve used along the way?

Natalie Angier’s “In Search of the Oncogene” is one of the best books about how lab science is done.

What are some key points you wish you knew or that you remind yourself of during your science career journey?

I was too independent- I wish I had had a mentor. Even having a role model would have meant I was thinking about the strengths and weaknesses I had. It meant I would have known when I needed help.

What is your big dream?

I would love to be part of a movement that convinces scientists to think about war and nonviolence, and to choose their careers and paths with consideration of the effects of their work for all of society.

~~~

Thank you so much, Kathy, for sharing your career journey!

Make sure to follow Kathy’s newsletters and feed on Twitter.

 

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Want more interviews? We will post interviews with a new feature Woman Scientist every week, and in the meantime you can read from more inspiring women here.

 

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Jaclyn Friedlander: marine conservationist and author of Friends with Fins

Jaclyn Friedlander is a marine and environmental conservationist and creator of Friends with Fins.

I first met Jaclyn at the 2nd Annual Citizen Science Symposium in Long Beach California while we were both perusing the poster session.  This was a short day-long conference but after a quick chat we exchanged emails to continue talking–that’s networking in action!

The next week Jaclyn shared with me her engaging YouTube channel and a couple of weeks later, we met over coffee in Los Angeles to continue the conversation in real time. Jaclyn showed me the fun children’s books she has published, two of which include illustrations done by a 14 year old and the third illustrated by an animator who has worked with DreamworksTV.

Jaclyn created Friends with Fins because she saw a need for ocean specific educational content.

“Our mission is to provide educational materials in the form of books, videos, and live presentations to school aged children with a strong focus on promoting ocean conservation, STEM and keeping all children, especially young women interested in science.” ~Jaclyn

Friends with Fins started as a short animated film that runs at some aquariums and the series grew into a whole marine science children’s brand. Now there are three picture books in the Friends with Fins series, over 80 ocean and conservation related YouTube Videos and Jaclyn speaks at schools, aquariums and conferences across the country!

I knew I had to ask her to do an interview for the readers of Woman Scientist.

Let’s hear more from Jaclyn about her career journey:

What is your earliest memory of being hooked by science?

I’ve loved marine science and ocean animals since first grade. The guppy in our classroom had babies and had to be separated from her babies so she didn’t eat them. For some reason 6-year-old me found that fascinating and the rest is history!

How did you get in to ocean conservation outreach?

I started volunteering at an aquarium running the touch tanks and then I became a beach clean up captain. Both of these positions taught me so much and made me realize I needed to do something ocean and conservation related.

What is your big dream?

The goals for the brand are to move the YouTube videos to educational Saturday morning television, and create a 90-minute stage play.  Both are in development. We’ve already started shooting the first few episodes of the show thanks to some generous sponsors and we are currently looking for more corporate sponsors and individual donors.

Has your work allowed you to travel?

Friends with Fins has opened many travel doors and vice-a-versa.  I’ve had the opportunity to travel to speak with school children all over the country.  Whenever I’m in a city near water, I always find myself making a video at a rescue center or an aquarium or out with a scientist doing field research. I’m an avid scuba diver so underwater videos are a big part of my travel journey. One highlight from last year was a trip to Sylvester and Albany Georgia to speak to a school district and also to speak at an aquarium.  I ended up doing a whole feature piece for a video on the Flint RiverQuarium. They had me do their fish feeding dive show while I was there and it was incredible.

Come along on the journey in this video:

 

What keeps you motivated when you’re feeling the drudgery?

Meeting and inspiring new children keeps me motivated.  Every school visit is different and exciting.  Knowing that teachers are using my videos in classrooms all over also keeps me going.

What are some inspirational materials you’ve used along the way?

As a scuba diver, I love Dive Training Magazine.  My bookshelves are filled with ocean science books and I listen to a lot of entrepreneur podcasts.  I also read a lot of business books.

How can others collaborate?

With all of the budget cutting at schools, many of the author visits that I do are sponsored by generous parents or local businesses.  If you want to sponsor an author visit/marine science assembly for a school near you check out this video to see what we offer and get in touch:

If you have ocean related topics you want to see videos about, let me know and if I can I will cover the topic! Please send ideas to info@friendswithfins.com and visit www.friendswithfins.com.

 

I hope this interview inspired you to think about how you can reach the younger generations. Whether its going out yourself or partnering with others who have passion to share knowledge.

~~

Thank you Jaclyn!

Do you like the posts on Woman Scientist? Share them with your friends!

Want more interviews? We post interviews with a new feature Woman Scientist every week. In the meantime, read from more inspirational women here.

 

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Scientists: Stay Quiet or Speak Up?

Scientists should not be ‘advocates’ or ‘activists’.

I’ve heard this argument over and over in the last couple of years, and more strongly since the elections and recent organization of the March for Science scheduled for April 22, 2017.

The discussion first came to my awareness back in January 2015, when I attended an Association for Women in Science (AWIS) panel called “Social Media and Activism in Science”.  The general feeling was that if you wanted to speak up, be careful about what you say. I was particularly inspired by Kathy Barker, author of At the Bench and At the Helm. She is an advocate for scientists being advocates.

During my 2016 summer graduate ethics course, we discussed that scientists, if they advocate or speak outside their scientific field, should make sure they explicitly state they are wearing different hats and sharing their opinions as “informed citizens”.

The conversation came up again in October during a panel at the inaugural celebration of California Leatherback Day hosted by NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center. One speaker adamantly stated that  scientists should not be advocates in any way to which one audience member publicly disagreed bringing up the point that scientists are the most informed and should be able to speak about what they know.

Then again, as tensions continued to stir amongst the scientific community with the new presidential administration disregard for science  (TimeThe Washington Post, The New York TimesThe GuardianScientific American, Snopes), scientists banded together to organize a march much like the Women’s March on Washington.

“The mischaracterization of science as a partisan issue, which has given policymakers permission to reject overwhelming evidence, is a critical and urgent matter. It is time for people who support scientific research and evidence-based policies to take a public stand and be counted.” ~March for Science 

I watched as my science friends circulated news of the march over Facebook.  Some shared confidently, others apprehensively. The reactions ranged, airing a plethora of concerns: from “A march will mischaracterize science”, “It will make science a political protest”, “A march will undermine [scientists] credibility”, to “Its a great thing”, “Shows solidarity”, “This will encourage the scientific community to publicly rally together”, “Science cannot be silenced”. Robert Young of the New York Times even wrote a widely circulated piece on why the march is a bad idea voicing his concerns and alternate suggestions for what scientists can do in the community.  In a Science article, Jeffrey Mervis shared Some Unsolicited Advice to the science march planners.

The whole time, I kept wondering: Why not? Why shouldn’t scientists speak up? And more importantly, I thought: WHO wants us to be silent? Our colleagues, the public, policy makers?

As a young researcher, with no credibility yet gained, figuring out how best to proceed on this facet of my career is a high priority for me.

In my reading of the freely available document On Being a Scientist: A Guide to Responsible Conduct in Research, I hadn’t come across any mention to keep quiet. On the contrary, the guide addresses this issue in the section titled, The Researcher in Society (see page 48; for copyright reasons I cannot reprint any text without charge, and since I’m a poor grad student, I’ll just paraphrase.).  Scientists have a responsibility to share their knowledge with society. Researchers CAN assume different roles in public discussions and provide expert opinion and advice; they have a right to express their views and to work for social change. The guide even acknowledges the concern that colleagues and members of the public may perceive scientists-gone-advocate as a biased individual, but this perception should not come at the expense of objectivity in the scientist’s work.

In my opinion, scientists have devoted their lives to studying certain issues in their field. Their ideas are scrutinized by peer-review and the scientific collective. As professionals and the most “informed citizens” on the issue, aren’t they the best group of people TO be speaking up about what they know?

This might also strike a chord with me personally because I am a naturally shy person. Speaking up has been something I’ve worked on since the awkward stage of middle school.  It’s also reminiscent of the time when I was learning to speak French and we were told the French are very particular about their language and do not like it butchered. The first time I ever traveled to France I was so paranoid I would mess up the accent that I didn’t speak for the first couple of days. Then I realized, many travelers were visiting France doing their best to communicate, botching the language left and right, and guess what? No one died, no one got beat up, people were talking! So I started talking too.  I had fun interacting with Francophones, and I got better at it over time. As an adult, the idea of “someone” now saying I should be quiet on certain issues, to not ruffle feathers, for fear of being misinterpreted, actually feels like a threat to my own growth as a communicative human. The more we take opportunitites to practice sharing our ideas with a general audience, the better we will get at it over time.

Going back to the issue of scientists being ‘advocates’ if they speak up, I finally gained clarity on where I stand on the matter after hearing speakers at two public events:

On February 18th 2017, the Union of Concerned Scientists held a panel at the AAAS – The American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting titled Defending Science and Scientific Integrity in the Age of Trump. The general consensus was that we should come together, stand up and speak up.

And most recently, I attended a very insightful public lecture by Naomi Oreskes on March 14th, 2017. The Scripps Institution of Oceanography Master of Advanced Studies in Climate Science and Policy (MAS-CSP) program  invited her to speak on “The Scientist as a Sentinel”.

Dr. Oreskes speaking at TED (Image credit: TED)

Naomi Oreskes is a historian of science, a Professor of the History of Science and Affiliated Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University. She is also well known for co-authoring Merchants of Doubt,  a book that was required reading during our summer course.

I was excited to hear in person her elaboration of the invitation teaser:

“Scientists are often reluctant to speak in public on contested issues, for fear that this will “politicize” their science and have a negative impact on their credibility. During the lecture, Dr. Oreskes will examine these concerns by exploring historical examples of scientists who have spoken up on scientific issues of broad importance, including nuclear weaponry, ozone depletion, and climate change.”

The talk was solidifying for me. The biggest take-away I jotted down addressed the following:

“Scientists will lose credibility. If we speak up we’ll be viewed as activists or advocates.” 

She reminded us that this is not a modern issue.

Scientists throughout history have dealt with their work being silenced and the need to speak out. Traditional thought has held that ‘facts speak for themselves’. If scientists just put the facts out there, all will be good.

But the catch is, they don’t. #AlternativeFacts

As a historian, Dr. Oreskes looked at many individuals who were well respected in science, and who became strong public figures.  In no historical cases did speaking out undermine their credibility, and no nobel prizes were revoked. In fact, she deduced that scientists weren’t targets because they spoke out. They became targets because of the great implications of the work they were doing (theory of evolution, nuclear weaponry, ozone hole depletion, atmospheric CO2, etc.), which then drew them to speak publicly exactly because their work was being attacked.

Instead of two extremes: keeping quiet, or being so outspoken you get arrested, she argued for a Responsible Scientists Ideal, urging that we as knowledgable professionals have an obligation to speak up and advocate for specific policies that control matters which threaten human health and life on this planet.

And while we cannot specifically answer questions outside of our field of expertise, we can forge collaborations with experts who are able to address policy, economic, and social questions.  She encouraged us that it is OK to do some extra homework and look into what experts of those fields are saying; to offer some potential solutions to our human-caused problems. If we come across situations where facts are totally disregarded, like with the denial of climate change, we can flip the argument and instead talk about values. About losing freedoms, fairness, accountability, realism, leadership in advanced technology, and good ole hard work.

I want to echo what Naomi shared with us:

The facts don’t speak for themselves. Someone has to speak up for them…and that is us, [the scientific community].

I would love to know what discussions you’ve had about this topic and how you’ve approached the argument ‘To speak, or not to speak’.

Update: On April 11, 2017, Nature released an article in support of the March for Science. Read that article here.

 

 

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Seeing the world in 360 degrees – Nikon KeyMission360

A friend lent me his Nikon KeyMission360 camera, so I thought I’d test it out on a recreation dive at La Jolla Shores, San Diego, California. Unfortunately with the underwater lenses the black band cuts the frame. Maybe one of these days the viz will clear and I can get better footage! The plan is to figure out how to use a camera like this so I can film us working underwater during a scientific dive!

Beach entry at La Jolla Shores

Surface swim

Exploring the canyon

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Exploring the Okavango Delta – Part 3

Last year I went to Africa in June. Their dry season. When all the green fades away and only shades of beige and golden hues remain. I was co-leading groups of undergraduate students who were eager to learn wildlife tracking and skills in collecting observational data on the Big Cats of Kruger National Park. Over the course of a month, we saw 101 lion, 33 leopard, and 7 cheetah, among a plethora of other fantastic african wildlife. I felt I had nearly seen it all.

This year, visiting Africa during the December wet season, proved to be equally spectacular but in a different way. The bush had become thick with green Mopani leaves and grasses extending all lengths. This cover allowed animals to better hide but despite the density of green, I was still impressed with the amount of wildlife we saw. Lions, leopards, elephants, and hippo. We did not go home feeling any sort of lack.

Early one morning, we sat with two female lionesses.  “Lions are lazy,” the guide said to us. “They lie around all day sleeping and only hunt when they have to.”

It sure seemed that way to us. Female lions are a pride’s primary hunters. They often work together to take down prey such as zebra, antelopes, and wildebeest. These lazy lionesses sure didn’t seem to be planning for any such activities that day.

Most of the time we saw lions, we either saw two brothers, two sisters, or a male and a female mating. The average size of a lion pride consists of five or six females, their cubs, and one or two males living in a family unit.  Extremely large prides are not typical, although last year, we did count a group of 29 individuals living together in Kruger National Park.

Lions are the only cats to live in social groups, and all of a pride’s lionesses are related. Female cubs typically stay with the group as they age, but young males eventually leave and establish their own prides by taking over a group headed by another male.

The story of one particular male roaming the area near Savuti had a sad beginning. Mr. Lion and his brother were a team. But one day, Mr. Lion met a Ms. Lion and the two went off to enjoy each other’s company. As a typical mating cycle lasts about three days, with the mating ritual taking place almost every 20 minutes, up to 40 times daily, the two would be busy for quite some time. Brother lion was left to wander by himself.Alone and unguarded, Brother lion ended up getting into some trouble. A band of  three other brother lions roaming the area challenged him to a fight. Without the help of his brother, he was no match for the three males and unfortunately did not survive the attack.

Mr. Lion had no idea this was happening. However, once the days had passed, and Ms. Lion’s interest wained, Mr. Lion went looking for him.

Nowhere to be found.

He called, and called. Through the night and day.

The guides suspect he eventually figured out his brother wasn’t going to come back. Without him, Mr. Lion wasn’t able to effectively hunt. They watched him slowly lose weight as time went on, and renamed him Mr. Skinny.

Each time we saw him, he barely moved. In the heat of the sun, you’d suspect he had died. Every now and then, though, he would stir, roll around, and clean himself off.  Then one evening, just before dusk, we saw Mr. Skinny in a rather peppy mood. We weren’t sure what was going on at first, but then we saw. Ms. Lion had returned. At first, she seemed rather annoyed he had started to follow her. She ran ahead, and he continued to slowly trot behind.

It became clear he was too weak to catch up with her. Exhaustion took over, and he lay down to catch a break. Surely Ms. Lion would be on her way?

Nope! She came back to him, rubbed her face against his, encouraging him to stand up and continue after her.  We watched as she played a flirtatious game of catch-me-if-you-can far into the sunset, past the hour of visibility to capture any of it on camera.

The guides were optimistic that Mr. Skinny could recover. Although, with the band of three brothers still roaming around and a flirtatious female visiting them all, his chances would be slim unless he stayed well hidden from the other males.

Each day our schedule was full of adventure, food, and relaxation.

Morning started with the 5:00 a.m. wake up call. At 5:30 a.m. we piled into the car for our first game drive of the day. At 9:30 a.m. we would find a nice place in the field to stop and have coffee and biscuits before continuing our drive.

By 11:00 a.m., we returned back to camp for breakfast with the staff and a lively recap of the morning’s sightings.

“The bar is open if anyone wants something to drink,” the host Sally announced!

“Join me in some champagne,” Eva, the German/South African would chime. Why the heck not?! We were on vacation, after all, and we had the best seats in the house!

After breakfast, we had a break in the day. Siesta time until 4:00 p.m. A perfect span of time to relax, journal, and nap. I don’t know if it was the heat of the day, or the fact we woke at 5:00 a.m., but a nap always happened.

Temperatures during December never got too cold, hovering between 60-80*F throughout the day. In June, nights would drop to 46*F and rise to 97*F by midday, so packing layers was crucial, however this time around, I never used my gloves nor hat.

At 4:00 p.m., we sauntered out to the main lodge where we sipped tea and nibbled on delicious snacks. All of the food prepared at Wilderness Safari camps was incredible.

At 4:30 p.m., we again piled into the car to begin our afternoon game drive. Every day we stopped at sunset to enjoy “Sundowners”, really just an excuse to drink and enjoy the colors of light playing off the landscape.

Tops offers Sarita a glass of Africa wine.

Eva holds a dung beetle to the light.

Unless an epic sighting kept us out late, we returned to the camp by 7:30 p.m. each night. A full course dinner and wine pairings began at 8:00 p.m. and we sat with the whole group, guests and staff.  Wine and conversation flowed as we recounted the day’s events and stories of our lives back home.  It truly felt like we were eating with family.

 

***

This story ends here! If you’d like to keep reading, be sure to subscribe to the newsletter and get immediate updates delivered to your inbox. For stories earlier in the trip, read part 1 and part 2.

As always, please share Woman Scientist with anyone you think may feel inspired!

Thanks for reading.

***

All photos taken by Allison Lee and Cynthia Cusick. Information obtained through personal conversation with Wilderness Safari guides.

 

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Exploring the Okavango Delta Botswana – Savuti Part 2

“Knock, knock, knock…”

“Helloooo…”

“Good morniiiiing….”

…It’s dark…

I sleepily open my eyes to the 5a.m. wake up call.

“Good morning!”

“We are awake. Thank you!”

In thirty minutes the sun would rise, which gave us just enough time to roll out of bed, throw on clothes, grab our bags, and slug back a cup of coffee and light breakfast before heading into the vehicle for our morning game drive.

In the wilderness, if you want to have the best opportunity for animal sightings, you wake up when the animals wake up .  And sunrise is actually one of my favorite times of the day.  It always feels like you are in on a secret the rest of the world doesn’t yet know about.

Elephant and a saddle-billed stork

Four of us piled into the rover eager to start exploring: Our guide and driver, Tops, a lovely German/South African woman named Eva, and my mom and I.

There is never a real agenda when you are on safari. You go where the animal signs lead you.

Tops began the morning meandering along the main roads, keeping an opportunistic eye out for fresh animal tracks.

Even when we didn’t see big game, there were plenty of other animals and birds to keep us occupied. Botswana has 75 larger mammal species and 593 bird species have been recorded. Because of the Delta’s dynamic watery woodlands, amphibians are also abundant.

Helmeted Guinea fowl

Coppery tailed coucal

Lilac breasted roller. My favorite.

White faced whistling ducks

Marabou stork

leopard tortoise

african bullfrog carcass

Southern carmine bee eater

Another lilac breasted roller

Sable antelope

Kudu

They joke that warthogs are part of Africa’s “Ugly Five”.  A play on the sought after “Big Five” game animals: African lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, African leopard, and rhinoceros. I found the warthogs to be endearing and my favorite site was them trotting off into the bush with their tails held high. A signal to other hogs to say, “Follow me if you want to live!”

Warthogs typically live in family groups of a female and her young. Female warthogs only have four teats, so litter sizes are usually confined to four young. Each piglet has its own teat and suckles exclusively from it.  After about 4 months, the young switch to receiving most of their nourishment from grazing.

Mama warthog and piglets

Baby impala

side striped jackal

Blue Wildebeest

Pair of jackals

A playful zebra

   Giraffes are probably one of my favorite animals. They’re so tall and slow. If you’ve ever seen a giraffe running, you know what I mean. They’re operating on a different timeline and for good reason. They have some of the longest nerves around. The sciatic nerve, which runs down each of its legs, is several yards long, so responding to a stimuli actually takes longer. 

Wilderness Safari’s Savuti Camp is located in the Linyanti concession. This 125,000 hectare area is rich with mopane woodland, floodplains, and riparian forests. The year round water source from the Savute Channel attracts wildlife including herds of elephant that can reach very high densities in the drier winter months (July/August).

“Never trust a hippo,” they say.

Here, you really get to appreciate the full circle of life. From the living, to the dead, as well as the breakdown process of decay. Everyone is hard at work surviving.

Tops holds up a Cape Buffalo skull. This was a female which you can tell by looking at the helmeted cap on the head. Males have larger more fused plates which help them in combat.

Tops explains to us the importance of elephant dung in the ecosystem.

Dung beetles ready for action.

Skin of an elephant. This one probably died naturally. Signs of poaching involve removal of the tusks and Botswana has a shoot-to-kill policy against anyone suspected of doing so.

One sign that decay is close by, is that of the Scavenger of Death. The Vulture.

Vultures are not known to kill their own prey. Instead, they wait near the scene of the crime for their chance to gorge. If you’re out driving and spot vultures circling on the horizon, there is a sure chance you’ll find something exciting if you get close.

Perhaps a lion has just made a kill? Or a pair of cheetahs has finished feasting on a zebra?

One day, we saw vultures circling around a tree, so we decided to investigate.

As we got closer to the tree, we noticed many of the vultures were sitting in its branches staring at the pond below.

Then, we saw it.

A dead hippo in the water!

Trying to get a better view, we decided to circle around the pond. Attempting to cross a water way in the rainy season is always a risk.  Depending on the soil type, the ground can turn into sticky mud within minutes. 

Our effort to get closer immediately failed. The mud pulled us in. 

Tops revved the engine trying to force the Land Rover free. We didn’t budge. The mud was too slippery and grabbed us, pulling us in further.

There was no escape.

That’s when we knew we were really seriously stuck. At first, I tried to play calm. Stuck? Its part of the Safari experience! … right?! 

Then my mind started working. Vultures. Dead hippo just lying there. Nowhere to go.

I couldn’t help think the lions would be there soon.  We were goners.

Tops radioed for help but we were more than an hour outside of camp.

As we waited, he cheerily offered us all coffee and biscuits. Coffee? Biscuits?? How can we eat right now?! WE MIGHT DIE!

“But Allison, if this is your last meal, you might as well enjoy it!” Eva said as she crawled to the back of the rover and lit up a cigarette.

“Mom? Are you scared?” I asked.

“No! We are fine,” she smiled. Calm. Too calm, I thought. A sure sign of denial regarding the imminent doom we were facing.

 I felt a mix of high anxiety and thrilling adventure while my mind played thoughts of lion attack. I also knew I could trust our guide, Tops. He grew up here. Surely getting stuck has happened before.  Right!?

Tops distracted us with jokes and stories while we waited. 

And waited.

The team, enjoying our last meal.

Finally, after an hour, our help arrived!

Pahlana and ST showed up with another vehicle and long tow straps.

After several attempts, a shovel, and lots of wood jammed under the tires, they eventually pulled us out and my nerves subsided.

We circled around to get a better look at said hippo.  That’s when we discovered it’s face had been chewed off, the entire body was bloated ready to explode, and we had luckily gotten stuck upwind from the wretched stench.

An adventure to remember for sure! 

I definitely slept well that night.

This post ends here. To keep reading, click here for part 3.

***

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Stay tuned for more stories of my adventures in Botswana and Zimbabwe….

If you missed the beginning of this journey, click here to start from the beginning.

*****

All information obtained through personal conversation with Wilderness Safari guides.

Photos by Allison Lee and Cynthia Cusick.

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