I am a research assistant at Cascadia Research Collective, a non-profit organization conducting research on marine mammal populations off the US West Coast and Hawaiian Islands. I was recently awarded the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship and will be joining the Whale Habitat, Ecology & Telemetry (WHET) Lab led by Dr. Daniel Palacios at the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University starting Fall 2021.
I’m broadly interested in applied ecological research and conservation, but have a particular interest in the population and movement ecology of marine mammals. Through my current and future research, I aim to use quantitative techniques to better understand the processes that drive animal movements through several lenses (environmental, social, behavioral) and at several scales (individual to population), to effectively inform management decisions.
My work at Cascadia primarily consists of analyzing telemetry data for research initiatives on Hawaiian odontocetes, although I’m involved in a number of different studies concerning odontocete stock structure and management in Hawai‘i. Thus far my research has entertained a variety of conservation themes, including ecotoxicology, fisheries bycatch, mid-frequency sonar exposure-response, and species-habitat modeling.
BS Fisheries & Wildlife (Water Sciences), 2019
Michigan State University
Minor in Marine Ecosystem Management, 2019
Michigan State University
In 2015, Ferguson et al. coordinated an effort to define biologically important areas (BIA) for cetacean stocks in US waters, using a …
False killer whales are long-lived apex predators, making them more susceptible to bioaccumulation of persistent organic pollutants. …
Informing the conservation status of rare and elusive species is a common management challenge. Pygmy killer whales are a small, …
Hawaiian waters are home to a population of false killer whales that primarily occupy insular regions of the islands. Following a …
Estimating individual received levels (RL) of sound during mid-frequency sonar activities requires knowledge of the location of the …
For all aspiring ecologists, biologists, marine mammal enthusiasts…etc.
As a whale biologist born and raised in the Midwest, I can assure you that, although this field can be challenging to navigate, it certainly is not impossible. Persistence is key. My strongest advice to most students is to focus on gaining transferable skills and qualities. Things like working with data, coding (it really isn’t so bad), quantitative skills, writing, and being able to work independently and as part of a team. Think about what is going to make you valuable to an employer or attractive to a potential adviser. Being a whale enthusiast means you’ll love your job, but not necessarily be good at your job. I would also recommend visiting my boss’ (Robin Baird) page on “Advice for people interested in a career studying marine mammals”.
The way you go about obtaining transferable skills doesn’t necessarily need to be directly associated with your strongest interests either. For example: although the models I learned in my population analysis and management course were applied to terrestrial and fish populations, I was able to directly transfer my knowledge and experience with those analyses to my personal interest in marine mammals. The models are the same; the ecology/biology is what is different.
If you don’t have much work or research experience in the ecology realm, seek out opportunities (they won’t always come to you!) Look into different research labs at your school or others and see if there’s some projects that interest you. Be curious, and don’t be shy. Contact the PI of that lab and see if there’s an opportunity to volunteer or learn more about their research (these can often lead to employment or even independent research projects). Explore the literature (Google Scholar, Web of Science, etc.) relating to your personal interests and see who authors papers, where they’re from, what they do, etc. Be reliable, self-motivated, and curious, and make good connections with those you work for so they can write good reference letters for you in the future.
Other than volunteering, a great way to gain experience is through technician jobs that many students take during summer months between school years. These are an excellent way to grow into yourself, both professionally and personally; they are opportunities to meet new people and learn new things. Stepping out of your comfort zone can do great things for you. Not to mention the really cool jobs! There are several places (job boards, list-servs) to look for these kinds of positions, but here are a few notable ones:
I also recently went through the process of applying for graduate school and meeting with potential PI’s to work with, so I’ve started compiling some resources that may be helpful for anyone going through this process:
As for learning how to code in R (which you can and should do), there are tons of free resources online. That’s one of the many benefits of open source programs - try it out yourself before paying for any courses. Keep in mind that just like learning any other language, it takes consistent practice. It will be frustrating, and you’ll need to get good at Googling (you’ll almost always find the answer to your coding struggles on Google).
And here is a working list of various free R resources:
Intro to R, data science
And here are links to some books that I (as well as many others) have found to be very helpful!