Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Last week, we introduced Elyse Walker, a PhD student with Dr. Christopher Gobler in the Gobler Lab at Stony Brook University's School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. Today we're sharing the second half of that two-part interview.
NV: How did you get to where you are today?
Elyse: I have taken an unusual path. I learned about phytoplankton while volunteering at a local marine science center in 8th grade and decided then that I wanted to study them for the rest of my life. I looked up scientific articles, starting with easier-to-read journals like Science and Nature.
When choosing an undergraduate school I looked for marine science programs that supported undergraduate research and had multiple faculty that studied phytoplankton. I started working in a lab as a freshman and worked in 3 different labs at my university, as well as doing 3 summer internships, during my degree. Through working on a variety of questions about phytoplankton in those labs and internships I decided that harmful algal blooms are the best focus for my research right now.
NV: Who is your scientific role model?
Elyse: This is a hard question for me. I have had a lot of role models along the way, but always cherry pick what I like about any individual. I want to emulate how my Ph.D. advisor works with local governments to do monitoring and does interviews for journalists frequently to publish about our research.
I'm inspired by Sonya Dyhrman, who collaborated with Whyville, a youth educational game website, to add in harmful algal blooms to the game. I would love to work with the group at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute who developed the Environmental Sample Processor, which can be deployed long term to detect harmful algae species and/or their toxins in coastal waters in real time.
I have also been encouraged by a few mentors who balance their work and family life extremely well.
NV: What one thing would you change about the culture of science?
Elyse: I wish that the scientific method was more broadly applied in daily life. I think people could improve their understanding of the world around them, and their quality of life, if they understood basic principles and applied them regularly. For example, while doing a regular commute in a temperate climate, I tested the fuel efficiency of using a/c versus open windows at different speeds to help guide my a/c use in the long term. This seems crazy to most people, but the knowledge I gained empirically has saved me a lot of money over the years.
NV: What's the most common misconception about scientists?
Elyse: I haven't really experienced any misconceptions. I am trying to introduce myself as a "scientist" rather than a "graduate student" and the response is usually, "I have never met a scientist before! Tell me about what you do." This offers a great opportunity to tell people about phytoplankton in general, and sometimes harmful algal blooms, too.
NV: What's your next step after you complete your degree?
Elyse: My long term plan is to start a harmful algae monitoring, research, and education program. I want to monitor local marine and freshwater locations for harmful algal blooms and notify the public of their occurrence (through website updates and occasional newsletters). I will simultaneously do research with both natural samples collected during monitoring and laboratory cultures to learn more about the causes and effects of harmful algal blooms. Finally, I hope to design educational displays for aquariums and science centers about local harmful algal blooms and their impact. I'm not sure where or how I will achieve this goal yet, but I have a few years to figure it out.
Thank you to Elyse for giving us her time via email so we could learn more about her and her career.
This is part of the ongoing Profiling New Voices series.