Success Stories from the Department of Coastal Sciences at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory

Kevin Grant

Kevin Grant, Coastal Sciences, Gulf Coast Research Laboratory
Kevin Grant, former GCRL Summer Field Program student

Kevin Grant attended GCRL's Summer Field Program in 1995 and attributes that experience with launching him on a career in marine sciences. Kevin was raised in Appleton, Wisconsin and earned a B.S. in Biology from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 1996.
He earned a Master of Marine Affairs degree from the University of Washington's School of Marine Affairs in 2004.

Kevin met his wife in the Peace Corps in 2000. They were married in 2006 and have two wonderful daughters, ages two and five. Kevin says, "Being from Wisconsin, I'm a life-long fan of the Green Bay Packers, and I'm raising my daughters as proper cheeseheads." The family has a pure-bred mutt that Kevin rescued from the pound in 2003.

This spring, the Grant family is setting up small organic raised beds for veggies in their back yard in Port Angeles, Washington. As the girls get older, they're being introduced to the wonders of the Pacific Northwest: hiking in temperate rain forests, skiing/snowshoeing in the Cascade and Olympic mountains, fishing and exploring tide pools.

First impressions of GCRL?
Coming from Wisconsin, my first impression of GCRL was “Wow this place is hot and humid!”  After that, I started to notice all that GCRL had to offer students.  The ability to provide learning in a small, intimate classroom atmosphere is great, with the amenities to reinforce that learning in the field (multiple research vessels, labs, subject matter experts, and extensive arrays of sampling equipment) was invaluable.  Also, there were the alligators. They don’t have alligators in Wisconsin.

Single most significant influence during your college years?
I can honestly say that the single most significant professional influence during my college years was the summer I spent at GCRL.  I don’t remember all of the facts that were on my exams that summer, but I remember the excitement.  I remember the fun.  I remember getting out in the field and just knowing that I wanted to do this type of thing for the rest of my life. I learned a great deal, through both classroom and field experiences, that helped me later in my career.  I also made a lot of friends.  As it turns out, a number of the people I met that summer are now professional colleagues that I keep in touch with almost 20 years later!

What advice would you give other students?
Pursue your career path.  If you know what you want, go after it.  If you are unsure of your career path but have some ideas, then try them out.  See if field work is for you.  See if marine science is your calling.  Get out and give it a try. The worst case scenario is that you get college credit while having a blast and narrowing the focus of your career interests.

Also, take advantage of the connections you can make in a tight-knit group like the Summer Field Program.  One of my classes took a field trip to the NOAA labs and offices in Pascagoula.  Two years later, I was a Research Assistant on NOAA ship working with the Pascagoula Lab on a pilot study to develop survey methodology and a sampling strategy for assessment of coastal shark populations in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico and Eastern seaboard (all because I kept in contact with a NOAA scientist I met on that field trip).  A few years later, a friend I met at GCRL notified me of an opportunity with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.  I loved that job. I don’t want to sound cliché, but “who you know” certainly helps, and GCRL is a great place to make life-long personal and professional connections.

Where are you now and how does the position utilize the education you received GCRL?
I am currently the Deputy Sanctuary Superintendent for Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary in Washington state.  After graduation, I went into the Peace Corps.  Upon my return, I got a job as a Fisheries Biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission conducting fisheries assessments (at the suggestion of a GCRL peer). After two and a half years of fisheries fieldwork I still loved the hands-on research. However, my focus had shifted towards marine policy so I went back to school and earned a Master of Marine Affairs degree from the University of Washington’s School of Marine Affairs.

I then spent a year as a John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellow, along with two people I met at GCRL. One as a Fellow like me; the other was working for the Knauss Fellowship and is now the Acting Deputy Director of Sea Grant.  My Fellowship was spent with NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries in Silver Spring, Maryland.  After gaining invaluable experience at headquarters, I transferred to Hawai’i and spent two and a half years working as a Policy Specialist with the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument.  I then moved to American Samoa to serve as the Deputy Sanctuary Superintendent for Fagatele Bay National Marine Sanctuary (now the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa).  From there I transferred to my current position with Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.

I took a number of steps in my career to get to where I am today.  The first step was GCRL.  It solidified my desire to work in the marine sciences.  It was there that I made the connections that have helped and continue to help me professionally. It helped provide the foundation so that I can understand the science to better inform policy decisions. GCRL was basically the first domino falling in my career.  I can’t say how my professional path would be different had I not attended GCRL, but I’m really glad I participated in the Summer Field Program.

Dream job? Why?
I’m in my dream job.  National marine sanctuaries are special areas set aside for long-term protection and conservation and are part of our nation’s legacy to future generations. Working for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries allows me to keep abreast of cutting edge research that is directly applicable to emerging marine resource management issues, e.g., ocean acidification.    

National marine sanctuaries serve as natural classrooms because they contain deep ocean habitats of resplendent marine life, kelp forests, coral reefs, whale migration corridors, deep-sea canyons, historically significant shipwrecks, and underwater archaeological sites. The mission of ONMS is to identify, protect, conserve, and enhance the natural and maritime heritage resources, values, and qualities of the National Marine Sanctuary System for this and future generations throughout the nation.

Nikola M. Garber

Nikola M. Garber, Coastal Sciences, Gulf Coast Research Laboratory
Dr. Nikola Garber

Nikola Garber first attended the University of Southern Mississippi at GCRL during the summer of 1993 in the Summer Field Program. She received her B.S. in biology from Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio, and went on to receive her M.S. in Marine Science/Molecular Biology and her Ph.D. in International Development from USM. Nikola's dissertation researched NOAA’s response to Hurricane Mitch and formulated a plan for reconstruction planning in NOAA.

In 1999, Dr. Garber received the Dean John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship while working as a legislative fellow for Senator Ron Wyden. She joined NOAA Sea Grant in 2000 as the Sea Grant Knauss Fellowship manager. Since that time, she spent a year on detail to NOAA leadership representing NOAA Research in the Program Coordination Office and five years as the Assistant Director for Administration at Sea Grant before assuming her current position in the National Sea Grant College Program.

First impressions of GCRL?
Great, friendly, caring, and knowledge people - a feeling that I was immediately part of the GCRL family!  My first trip to GCRL was with Bowling Green State University over spring break in 1993 to collect specimens for BGSU's inland marine lab.  The first casino had just been built.  Cindy Stong, our teacher, narrated the drive along the coast including the changes in just one year as we made our way from Gulfport to the Lab.  Then we were off on the R/V Tommy Monroe, and I'll always remember William Ladnier teaching me how to shuck oysters on the back deck, while Capt. Pat Ladnier taught me to cook squid, as we prepared our evening meal.  Of course, the stories each evening as we all recounted our day of sampling only heightened my desire to return to GCRL quickly! 

Single most significant influence during your college years?
Jim Franks!  Cindy Stong encouraged me to attend GCRL in the summer of 1993 after my freshman year, and for that I'm grateful.  As fate would have it, Jim was giving an evening seminar on everything known about cobia!  Now I needed to write a report for my ichthyology class, this fish sounded like the perfect topic, and Jim was friendly.  So after negotiations with my teacher to change my topic ("Only if Jim agrees," was his response.) and a discussion with Jim to allow me to access his literature and everything stored in his brain, I had my paper topic.  More importantly, I gained a lifelong friend, mentor, fish sampler, and research companion!  Jim has taught me not only how great it is to analyze the stomachs of many different fish, process and count the rings on otoliths, and how to collect samples (from the docks of Mississippi and Florida to Bimini), but also how to prepare for hurricanes and make the most of any opportunity presented. Thank you, Jim!

What advice would you give other students?
Take any opportunity you can to learn, volunteer to help other students with their research, and no matter what is happening (your research isn't working, your adviser is not helpful...), always meet each new day with a smile and renewed enthusiasm.

Where are you now and how does the position utilize the education you received GCRL?
I'm the Acting Deputy Director for the National Sea Grant College Program which is headquartered in the Washington, DC area. We have 33 Sea Grant programs, serving all the coastal states and territories with the mission to enhance the practical use and conservation of coastal, marine, and Great Lakes resources in order to create a sustainable economy and environment.  We carry out this mission through research, extension, and education activities.  My education at GCRL taught me the basics on which I have been able to build.  I understand the applied research the Sea Grant network funds.  As well, by sampling at many fishing rodeos with Jim, I had my first real opportunity to practice extending scientific knowledge to the public through education and extension.  

Dream job? Why?
That would be a place in which I can assist people, who are appreciative, in topics for which I am passionate.  At the moment, that's NOAA Sea Grant!

 

Chad Hanson

Chad Hanson with a small gag grouper he caught and released on the Florida coast near his home.

Chad Hanson attended the Summer Field Program at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory during the summers of 1995 and 1996. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire with a B.S. in Biology. In 2004 he earned an M.S. in Biological Oceanography from Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida.

Chad grew up in Altoona, Wisconsin and is married to Della Parker-Hanson, a fellow GCRL Summer Field Program alumni. Della homeschools the couple’s two children (aged two and nine) after working in toxicology and marine biology for the State of Florida for nearly 10 years. Chad notes that he has been lucky enough to stay at his current home in Crawfordville, Florida while earning his M.S. and through his last three career moves.

Today, Chad is a science and policy analyst with The Pew Charitable Trusts in Crawfordville, Florida, where he applies his education and experience to fisheries-related issues. The Pew Charitable Trusts is an independent nonprofit organization – the sole beneficiary of seven individual trusts established between 1948 and 1979 by the children of Sun Oil Company founder Joseph N. Pew and his wife, Mary Anderson Pew.  Current projects seek to strengthen environmental and energy policies, protect our oceans and wilderness, improve health through investments in childhood nutrition, increase food and drug safety, provide increased information to consumers about financial products, and help cities and states invest in programs that provide the strongest returns. 

First impressions of GCRL?
Upon first arriving early in the summer of 1995, I was struck by not just the great location on the coast and the quaint setting, but also by the nearly unbearable heat and humidity, being a northern Midwesterner. The classes themselves offered a great mixture of hands-on field (i.e., on the water) experience, science, and book learning in a fairly casual setting. Not only did I get a great academic education, but also an education in life in general that formed the first seed of my adult and professional life.

Single most significant influence during your college years?
Attending the summer session 1995 at GCRL was probably the single most influential ‘event’ that has had long-lasting effects, in about three or four individual early forks in the road. At GCRL, not only did I get great hands-on experience in marine science, but formed lifelong bonds and friendships, including that with my wife who I met that summer at GCRL. Some of these bonds are not just friendship but also professional where I now interact with several GCRL alumni in my current position. When I look back on life at the choices made at each intersection to evaluate how things have gone and where they could have gone differently, attending the summer of 1995 in GCRL was one of a handful of very important decisions I made. I am grateful and appreciative of the experience, education, and life lessons. It was a gateway to my career and adult life.

What advice would you give other students?
Never underestimate how valuable real, hands-on, educational experiences can be, particularly in intimate settings where strong and long-lasting relationships can be formed with people of similar interest and perhaps minds. But don’t take the strict education part too seriously to miss out on the other important experiences that come with the mixture. Life is a balancing act, and places like GCRL offer a chance to manage this balance while also offering new sets of opportunities.

Where are you now and how does the position utilize the education you received GCRL?
I have been a science and policy analyst for the environmental initiative program within the Pew Charitable Trusts for five years now. I analyze data and science and work with fishermen and stakeholders, including scientists and managers, to improve fisheries management and advocate for long-term sustainability in the Southeast U.S. and the Gulf of Mexico in particular. Though I travel a significant amount of time, I work out of my home office near Tallahassee. This job in some ways completes several circles started when I attended GCRL almost two decades ago. (Wow!) I received my first hands-on experience and knowledge working with fish, on boats and with several sampling methods and gear, which served as the foundation for my early career in fisheries biology, management, and now, advocacy. This foundation starts with just knowing the fish in the Gulf of Mexico and their biology, life history, and ecology. I later used this foundation to collect fisheries data for the State of Florida through field monitoring from boats and sampling fishermen’s catch. Following completion of my M.S. degree, I landed a job in the division of the State that set policy and regulations for Florida’s coastal fisheries. This circle of experience was leveraged to capture my current position in the NGO private sector. I have also maintained and re-established several relationships with numerous folks that I initially encountered at GCRL in the summer of 1995.

Dream job? Why?
The job itself is as close to my “dream job” as I have come to so far. Despite the numerous challenges, including extensive travel schedule away from my family and a sometimes slow process for making necessary changes in fisheries management, this job offers much satisfaction and many opportunities. I am able to use my fisheries knowledge and experience, combined with my involvement in local community and environmental issues, to advocate for healthy and sustainable fish populations and fishing communities. In other words, I get paid to do what I know and what I love to do. So, from that standpoint, this is my dream job. However, my real dream job is a professional (i.e., well-paid, not just on the bar circuit) musician and drummer, which is perhaps still simmering on the backburner. But that’s for a future story.

Kris White

Kris White sorting rubble gathered during a dive on Miyako Island, Okinawa, Japan
Kris White searches for amphipods in coral rubble gathered during a dive at Miyako Island, Okinawa, Japan.

Kris White graduated from USM with her Ph.D. in Marine Science in 2010. Her dissertation was “Development of representative species-level molecular markers and morphological character analysis of leucothoid amphipods (Crustacea: Amphipoda).” Dr. Richard Heard was her major professor. Earlier, she earned her B. S. in Biology/Marine Science at the University of Tampa and her M. S. in Oceanography at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale. Kris is from Chicago and now lives in Okinawa, Japan with her husband Nate and their baby daughter Ella.

What did you think of GCRL when you first started?
I thought GCRL was a great place to do research and I was happy to be surrounded by so many friendly people.

What is your favorite thing about the South?
Fishing! I loved catching and eating fresh flounder all the time.

What advice would you give other students?
Utilize all of the resources that GCRL has to offer and go fishing!

Where are you now and how does the position utilize the education you received GCRL?
I am an Assistant Professor at the University of Maryland University College, Asia in Okinawa, Japan. I teach biology, marine biology, and environmental science classes, which are based on my education as a scientist.  Prior to this position, I was a postdoctoral fellow at The University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa, where I conducted marine research and described 24 new species of leucothoid amphipods. 

Leucothoid amphipods are small shrimp-like crustaceans that live in colonies inside marine sponges, sea squirts, and scallops. When I was working on my masters, a professor who is now my mentor, asked if I would be interested in working with him on his research with leucothoid amphipods.  I gave it a try and the rest is history!

What are your plans for the future?
I plan to continue teaching and conducting research on amphipods.

 

David Drumm

Brent and Jana Thoma
David Drumm on board the fishing vessel Sea Storm, conducting a bottom trawl survey for NOAA near the Aleutian Islands in the Gulf of Alaska.

David Drumm graduated from USM with a Ph.D. in Coastal Sciences in 2010. His research was on the systematics and population genetics of tanaidacean crustaceans. He earned his B.S. in biology at Gannon University in Erie, Pennsylvania and his M.S. in Marine Biology at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale. David was originally interested in pursuing veterinary medicine. But after a class in Invertebrate Zoology and a marine biology class trip to San Salvador in the Bahamas he changed his plans to marine sciences. He was amazed at the diversity of life in the ocean and wanted to learn more.

David grew up in a small town in northwestern Pennsylvania, and has lived in South Florida, Philadelphia, and Alaska. He currently resides in Seattle, where he enjoys pizza, Chinese food, and 80s hair metal music.

What did you think of GCRL when you first started?
My situation was unusual in that I came to the GCRL a week before Hurricane Katrina. That was my introduction to the Gulf Coast. Great timing! It was amazing to see everybody come together to help out in any way they could in that trying time. Although, it is sad that sometimes it takes a natural disaster for that to happen. You really can’t beat the location of GCRL - beach front property on the Mississippi Sound. Not only does it create an environment conducive to field work, it can also be very peaceful and relaxing. Whenever I was having a rough day in the lab or just needed a break, it was nice to walk down to the pier and take my mind off things and appreciate the beauty of the Sound. And the small size of the lab is advantageous in that it creates fewer distractions and more intimacy and provides greater access to faculty members than a big lab would. 

What is your favorite thing about the South?
I know that food is the cliché thing to say, but I really do miss the deep fried pickles at Aunt Jenny’s, y’all. I also miss the southern hospitality; there are some genuinely nice folk in the South. Getting together for a crawfish boil was always fun. And considering the small population of Ocean Springs, I was really surprised how great the entertainment could be. You want to hear some live country music? No problem, check out the Stage Coach. Is rock music your thing? Check out the Government Street Grocery or Lynchburg Landing. The guitar player in the band GRS Experience can shred! Go to the Shed to hear some blues and eat some great barbecue food. I really appreciate the laid back mentality of the South. (Wow, I just realized I'm name dropping all over the place in this paragraph.)

What advice would you give other students?
Follow your muse. Pick a research topic you really enjoy and are passionate about. Once you know what you want to do, delve into the literature and learn everything you can about it. Don’t lose focus; roll up your sleeves and get to work! Expect to run into stumbling blocks. We all experience them and that’s just the way research goes sometimes, so don’t get discouraged. The world of scientific research can be very competitive and cut-throat and you might even experience people trying to derail you. Do not fret; that can actually be a blessing in that it drives you in new directions. This quote from E. O. Wilson is great advice: “You are capable of more than you know. Choose a goal that seems right for you and strive to be the best, however hard the path. Aim high. Behave honorably. Prepare to be alone at times, and to endure failure. Persist! The world needs all you can give.”

Where are you now and how does the position utilize the education you received GCRL?
I am currently finishing up a postdoctoral position at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center at NOAA in Seattle. I produced an annotated checklist of all the marine invertebrates of Alaska which will serve as a foundation for future species-specific research as updated species lists are necessary to reflect the current state of biodiversity knowledge and are thus essential for conservation planning and management. I also went on bottom trawl survey cruises where the primary focus was to assess, describe, and monitor the distribution, abundance, and biological condition of the groundfish and invertebrate stocks. I am also conducting genetic work on shrimps. The tools and techniques I acquired at GCRL have not only helped me to define interesting research questions, they have greatly aided me as I try to answer those questions.

What are your plans for the future?
My goal is to land a research position doing what I love to do - advancing knowledge about biodiversity.

 

Brent and Jana Thoma

Brent and Jana Thoma
Brent and Jana Thoma

Brent and Jana Thoma both received their M.S. degrees in Coastal Sciences from USM in 2006. Brent’s thesis was "Gammarusmucronatus species complex in the northern Gulf of Mexico: ecophonotypic plasticity or distinct species?" Jana’s was "Review of the Epicaridea (Isopoda) of the South Atlantic Bight, with descriptions of two new species." Dr. Richard Heard was the major professor for them both.

Brent is from Boonville, a small town in central Missouri just outside Columbia. His family has lived in that area for more than 150 years. He graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a B.A. in Biology. Jana’s family moved around the southern states, finally settling in Conyers, Georgia, near Atlanta, just before she started high school. She received her B.S. in Biology and Chemistry from Berry College in Rome, Georgia.

They met at GCRL during a summer field program and were married about a year and half later. More than a decade has passed and their growing family now includes a little girl or, as they call her, their “ecto-parasite, F1, or the greatest experiment we have ever ran.” Being enthusiastic scientists, their research extends into other aspects of their lives. Their hobbies - SCUBA diving, nature photography, and drawing - are skills integral to their research.  Even their vacations often involve traveling to scientific meetings or field sites.

What did you think of GCRL when you first started?  
Jana: I was in awe of the biological diversity at and around GCRL. GCRL’s location and its resources are ideally suited to study organisms in a wide variety of habitats from freshwater to offshore, saline waters.

Brent: To be honest, I was both excited and intimidated.  Although I had dreamed of being a marine scientist since I was a child, I was just a boy from central Missouri with no real background in marine biology. I arrived a day early and realized that all the students I met in the dorms had already been at GCRL for at least five weeks, some were there for the second or even third summer. To say that I felt intimidated was an understatement. All that was replaced by excitement in the first hour of the first class. We had no more finished introductions and read the syllabus before we were headed out into the field armed with nets, shovels, and buckets. I was hooked!

What is your favorite thing about the South?
Jana: Being from the South, it's a toss-up between the environment and the people that inhabit the area. Both are uniquely diverse.

Brent: For me, it’s a toss-up between the food and the people. In many ways the food, with its rich flavors, is very much reflective of the great people it represents.

What advice would you give other students?
Jana: Take advantage of each and every opportunity afforded to you. At GCRL, you can receive personal attention from many faculty members and, if you wish, you could help out with several projects that will gain you a range of experience from bench top to field work.

Brent: My advice is simple - “Go for it.” The opportunities I have had because of my choice to take Marine Invertebrate Zoology at GCRL are amazing. That course led to a variety of research experiences (not to mention meeting my wife) and set my life on a course I never thought possible growing up in central Missouri.  I have enjoyed snorkeling in Belize and Hawaii and SCUBA diving throughout Florida and the Gulf of Mexico.  I have been on research cruises where we have seen killer whales, whale sharks, huge pods of dolphins, and the list goes on.  Had I not been willing to go for it and take that course, I have no idea where I would be in life but I am sure I wouldn’t be who or where I am.

Where are you now and how does the position utilize the education you received GCRL?
Brent: We are both at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette working in the field of phylogenetic systematics. I work with crabs, shrimps, and lobsters and Jana works with deep-sea sea fans. After finishing my doctorate in 2012, I'm now a post-doctoral researcher in the Laboratory for Crustacean Research where I work on a variety of projects focused on marine invertebrates.  I regularly draw upon the lessons I learned at GCRL both as a student and a researcher. I attribute much of the success I have had to my time at GCRL.

Jana: I am wrapping up my doctorate in evolutionary biology this semester and am planning to take one of the final steps on September 6 when I defend my work. The classroom and field experience at GCRL helped to form the broad range of knowledge that I now use in my research and education. 

What are your plans for the future?
Brent: Since we met, we have been working towards establishing our own research program that builds on what we learned at GCRL and will allow us to share our love of marine invertebrates and the natural world with others.

Jana: At present, we are applying for academic positions at universities around the globe.
Despite the time that has passed, GCRL will always hold a special place in our hearts. That is where we met and it is where we became aware of the world of marine biology. We will always call GCRL "home."

 

Jay Dieterich

Jay Dieterich
Jay Dieterich

Jay Dieterich came to USM in 2007 and graduated with an M.S. in Coastal Sciences in 2010.  His thesis is titled “A Spatially Explicit Bioenergetics Model of Habitat Suitability for Striped Bass, Moronesaxatilis, in the Biloxi Bay Estuary and Tributaries, Mississippi.”  Dr. Richard Fulford was his major professor.

Jay is from Glassboro, New Jersey, and spent his summers fishing and going to the beach in Stone Harbor, on the Jersey shore. His interest in coastal science and a career in fisheries began during those summers. Jay started his advanced education by earning an undergraduate degree from The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in Pomoma, New Jersey in 2002.  After graduating from Stockton, he worked as a fisheries technician with New Jersey's Division of Fish and Wildlife in their striped bass monitoring program for about a year and a half.  He later took a position in environmental consulting for about three years. Jay's work focused on the effects of electric generating plants on aquatic resources in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. 

However, it was Jay's work on striped bass that caught the attention of Dr. Fulford at GCRL and led him to studying and working here. After completing his M.S., Jay remained at GCRL as a technician for an additional year before moving to Baton Rouge in 2011 to begin a Ph.D. program at Louisiana State University in the Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences.

What did you think of GCRL when you first started?  
When I first started in 2007 we were nearing the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and I was taken aback by the damage that was still evident on the GCRL campus and surrounding area.  However, none of that deterred me from wanting to come and work at GCRL.  I loved how accessible everybody was, both on a personal level and a professional level.  That kind of atmosphere can make the hard days seem a lot easier.

What is your favorite thing about the South?
I really enjoy the food, especially po-boys, king cake during Mardi Gras season, and all the seafood.  I like the winters down south a lot more than the cold and snow of the northeast, too.  Summers down south are another issue, but I would choose the heat in summer and mild winters over snow any day.

What advice would you give other students?
Students should be open-minded. Your research will be praised and critiqued, whether it is by committee members or journal reviewers.  As a student, you do not have to agree with all the comments, but you should be open to explore new thoughts and ideas and be able to defend decisions eloquently.  I would also suggest that students be patient and persistent in their research.  If a graduate degree was easy, everyone would do it. Overcoming a challenge is a reassuring feeling.

Where are you now and how does the position utilize the education you received GCRL?
I am currently entering my third year in the Ph.D. program in the Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences at Louisiana State University.  My dissertation is titled “Evaluation of Stock Assessments of Spotted Sea Trout, Cynoscion Nebulosus, in Louisiana Using Models of Life History Processes.”  This research is almost a direct extension of my M.S. work at GCRL.  Instead of using bioenergetics and other ecological processes to evaluate habitat, this research goes further, looking at those same ecological processes and habitat availability. I will examine those effects on recruitment, growth, and mortality as a method to understand the overall population dynamics of spotted sea trout and apply the results to stock assessment models. The understanding of the various dynamic ecological processes along the coast during the many hours I spent in the field and classroom at GCRL is extremely valuable to my research.

What are your plans for the future?
My short term plan is to complete my coursework, take my qualifying exams within the next year, and graduate in 2016. After graduation, I would like to find a post-doc position in which I can continue to learn and apply ecological models to fisheries-related questions.  My career goal is to work at the state or federal level as a fisheries manager.

 

Zach Olsen

Zach Olsen at work in the field near Corpus Christi, Texas.
Zach Olsen at work in the field near Corpus Christi, Texas.

Zach Olsen graduated from USM with his M.S. in Coastal Sciences in 2012. His thesis was titled “Determining the trophic role of Gulf menhaden using carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes”, and his committee included his advisor, Rich Fulford, Kevin Dillon, and Monty Graham. Zach studied at GCRL from June 2010 to June 2012.  Zach is from Maryland did his undergraduate work at Malone University in Canton, Ohio, where he majored in biology with a minor in chemistry.  He currently works as the upper Laguna Madre ecosystem biologist for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's Coastal Fisheries Division in Corpus Christi, Texas.

What did you think of GCRL when you first started?
I was impressed that GCRL plays multiple roles, not only as a graduate campus for USM but also an active research laboratory working in multiple fields of marine sciences and as an outreach center educating the public on the local marine environment. I think this is largely why I chose to complete my graduate degree there. 

What is your favorite thing about the South?
I’d have to say the food is my favorite.  You really just can’t beat gumbo, poboys, and locally caught fried fish.

What advice would you give to other students?
I would tell other students to take advantage of the multiple opportunities they have at GCRL to gain experience while they are in still in school.  Whether it is helping out another student with field collections, getting involved with the American Fisheries Society (AFS) or volunteering to help organize a scientific conference, experience is incredibly important when it comes time to find a job.     

Where are you now and how does the position utilize the education you received at GCRL?
I am currently working as the upper Laguna Madre ecosystem biologist for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department's Coastal Fisheries Division in Corpus Christi, Texas.  I spend about half my time in the field collecting data for our long-term Marine Resource and Harvest Monitoring Programs and the other half aiding with data analysis, presentation, and report writing.  I utilize many of the collection techniques I learned at GCRL, such as gill netting and bag seining, and I also use data analysis and writing skills learned through a variety of courses at GCRL. 

What are your plans for the future?
I get to work with and learn from a great group of scientists down here at Texas Parks and Wildlife, so I have no plans of leaving in the near future.     


Jennifer McKinney

Jennifer McKinney aboard the RV Oregon II in the Gulf of Mexico
Jennifer prepares to join Dr. Eric Hoffmayer in tagging the 40-foot whale shark just behind the dive boat.
Click for a larger view.

Jennifer McKinney's early passion for whale sharks has persisted through a graduate degree and two professional positions. Jennifer learned about whale sharks while earning an M.S. in Coastal Studies and writing a thesis on spatial analysis of feeding aggregations of whale sharks in the northern Gulf of Mexico using anecdotal sighting data. After graduating in 2010, Jennifer participated in whale shark research as a fisheries technician in GCRL's Center for Fisheries Research & Development. In 2012, she accepted a position as a Biologist III with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, where her current work includes whale sharks and other pelagic species.

Jennifer earned her B.A. at Whittier College in 2004 as a member of the Whittier Scholars Program. Her interest in whale sharks began after she swam with the huge animals in Utila, Honduras and entered her photographs into a global photo-id database. After reading about Dr. Eric Hoffmayer’s work on whale sharks in the northern Gulf of Mexico, she set her sights on GCRL, but had to wait several years for an opening in the Shark Lab. When it came, she promptly loaded her car with her belongings and drove 30 hours from California to set foot in Mississippi for the first time.

Jennifer grew up in the southern California town of Brea.  Her favorite being in the whole world is her black lab named Turtle, who used to sleep under her desk at GCRL as a puppy. (Note: dogs are not allowed on campus.) Another interesting fact: she can fall asleep almost anywhere.  Jennifer is also a certified yoga teacher.

What did you think of GCRL when you first started?
Coming to GCRL was a dream come true for me. After lots of researching, I had determined that Dr. Hoffmayer was one of the only scientists at a U.S. University actively studying whale sharks, and the only one studying whale sharks in U.S. waters. Needless to say, I was elated when I finally joined the Shark Lab. GCRL is a beautiful campus filled with kind and generous people. It instantly felt like home.
           
What is your favorite thing about the South?
To quote my father, I “always find a reason to celebrate.” I love the South because there is always some kind of celebration, from parades to crawfish boils, live music, mullet tosses, chicken drops, and shuffleboard tournaments. I tend to be drawn to the festivities that are completely unlike anything you’d find where I grew up in California. I am always having a blast whether at work or off!

What advice would you give other students?
Take some time for introspection to get clear on what you really want out of life and are passionate about. Don’t worry about what other people or society expects of you. Listen to your heart and follow your passion with determination.

Jennifer McKinney aboard the RV Oregon II in the Gulf of Mexico
Jennifer aboard NOAA's RV Oregon II. Is she having an "anywhere nap" or doing yoga?

Where are you now and how does the position utilize the education you received GCRL?
Currently, I am a Biologist III with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. My projects involve using telemetry techniques to study highly migratory species in the northern Gulf of Mexico, such as yellowfin tuna, “toothy” sharks, and of course, whale sharks. In addition to the fun boat-work side of the project, I am still using the GIS and spatial analysis tools that I learned during my master’s work at GCRL.

I am also grateful for the many, many times my committee ripped apart my prospectus and thesis, forcing me to revise multiple drafts of the documents. Although, I may have complained at the time, my writing skills improved greatly as a result.

What are your plans for the future?
I like to say that I am just following the whale sharks. My curiosity for these magnificent creatures has guided me thus far, and continues to do so. Due to their life cycle, what we can learn in a year or two is so minor, just little snippets of information. Therefore, I hope and believe this will be a lifelong study for me and hopefully my work will help to “connect the dots” about the biology and ecology of whale sharks.

Bradley Ennis

Bradley Ennis graduated from USM with his M.S. in Coastal Science in 2012Bradley Ennis graduated with his M.S. in Coastal Science in 2012. His thesis was titled “Nekton Habitat Use Patterns Along an Intertidal Gradient in Micro-Tidal Salt Marshes.” Dr. Mark Peterson was his major professor. Brad is now an Environmental Specialist at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission research laboratory in Tampa, Florida. He earned his undergraduate degree in Biology at the University of Florida in 2010. Growing up in Orlando, Florida, Brad developed an interest in outdoor activities such as scuba diving, fishing, and camping as well as photography and computers. He loves being on the coast, whether he is working on a boat or just relaxing on the beach.

What did you think of GCRL when you first started?
When I began working at GCRL, I first noticed the differences between a small satellite campus and a large university, such as the University of Florida where I received my undergraduate degree. As a small campus, GCRL offers the opportunity to work closely with professors and obtain valuable experience in various specialized areas. I also noticed that the student community was very welcoming and provided a lot of advice and guidance throughout my transition.

What is your favorite thing about the South?
The warm climate in the south is conducive to many outdoor research and recreational activities including boating, diving, kayaking, and fishing. I also enjoy the great variety of seafood available throughout the Gulf Coast.

What advice would you give other students?
Keep pressing on. Even the most carefully planned project will encounter setbacks and it is important to accept these problems as challenges to overcome. Develop good relationships with your advisor and your peers because they will be valuable sources of advice and support. Also, expanding your qualifications through course work, field work, and other opportunities will make you more competitive in the job market.

Where are you now and how does the position utilize the education you received at GCRL?
Currently, I have an environmental specialist position at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission research laboratory in Tampa, Florida. I am primarily using my training in ArcGIS to assist in managing a database pertaining to geo-referencing research surveys as well as fish and invertebrate collections.

What are your plans for the future?
I hope to further apply my experience with ArcGIS applications and sampling techniques to projects pertaining to aquatic resource management and conservation. I also hope to continue being involved in research projects and publications.

May 2013

Rachel Brewton

Rachel BrewtonRachel graduated from Texas A&M University - Corpus Christi with a B.S. in Environmental Science and a concentration in Marine and Coastal Resource Management. She worked in the Fisheries Ecology Lab under the guidance of Dr. Greg Stunz, and completed an undergraduate research project examining the potential for intertidal oyster reefs to function as essential fish habitat. She came to GCRL immediately after graduation in May 2010. Rachel completed her M.S. under the guidance of Dr. Joe Griffitt in August 2012. Her project focused on examining effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on spotted seatrout (Cynoscion nebulosus) using laboratory exposures and field collections.

Rachel considers both Del Rio and Austin, Texas her hometowns. It was in Austin 12 years ago that she adopted a pair of dogs on the roadside; Lola and Bella have been her faithful companions ever since. Rachel likes to run, fish, SCUBA dive, and just generally spend as much time as possible outdoors being active.

Rachel is currently working as a research associate at Auburn University’s Marine Fish Lab in Fairhope, Alabama. She plans to pursue a Ph. D.

What did you think of GCRL when you first started?
One of the first things I noticed about GCRL is how accessible everyone is. The relaxed atmosphere of the lab makes you feel like you are able to walk into anyone’s office if you have questions or need their particular expertise. The academic environment really breeds interdisciplinary collaborations, which is a great thing. The location of the Lab is also quite beautiful.

What is your favorite thing about the South?
Do you have a few hours for me to answer this one? First of all, the attitude of the people who make the northern Gulf coast their home can’t be beat. And I mean that literally, you cannot beat the southern hospitality out of them. They can take on a hurricane or an oil spill, and then offer you a glass of sweet tea with a smile. Aside from that you have fried green tomatoes, crawfish, Mardi Gras, white sand beaches, casinos, New Orleans, national forests, bayous, deserted barrier islands… It’s a long list!

What advice would you give other students?
Your graduate school experience is what you make of it. You can either enjoy or suffer through every minute of it. It’s your choice, although most people tend to do a little of both. Your peers in graduate school may well be your peers throughout your career, so take some time to know them and their work. Take every opportunity you get to go to meetings, learn new skills, or help another project out. Science is highly collaborative. You can’t do it alone, so make some buddies to take along on your journey with you! The journey of graduate school will lead into your career, which for most scientists is a large part of their life. Oh, make sure you have a plan early on for how you are going to get out. While graduate school is a fun adventure, it shouldn’t last forever, and you won’t get anywhere if you don’t choose a direction and an end point.

Where are you now and how does the position utilize the education you received GCRL?
I am a Research Associate at Auburn University’s Marine Fish Lab in Fairhope, Alabama. In my current position, I am using many skills that I obtained during my time at GCRL. The project I am working on is a nice marriage of the laboratory skills I learned in Joe Griffitt’s lab with the field research skills I honed while working on projects in the Quantitative Fisheries Lab. I also frequently reach out to the contacts I made at GCRL when I need guidance or inspiration.

What are your plans for the future?
I am currently trying to finish up all of the publications and projects I started at GCRL. More long-term, I have decided that I really enjoy working in research, and I am finding that I want to be able to pursue my own research questions and ideas. I intend to remain with Auburn for a few more years, and then probably pursue a Ph.D. However I am open to accepting another position as a research associate if something interesting crosses my path. I’m also attempting to finally finish a novel I foolishly started at the beginning of my graduate career.

Melissa Cook

Melissa CookMelissa graduated from GCRL in 2007 with a Ph.D. in Fisheries Ecology and Management. Her dissertation was titled "Population Dynamics, Structure and Per-Recruit Analyses of Yellowedge Grouper, Epinephelus Flavolimbatus, From The Northern Gulf Of Mexico." Dr. Bruce Comyns was her adviser. Melissa now works as a Research Fishery Biologist for the NOAA Fisheries Service in Pascagoula, Mississippi.

Born and raised in Northampton, Pennsylvania, Melissa  attended college at East Carolina University receiving her B.S. in Biology in 1996. After graduation, Melissa moved to Mississippi to accept a job with NOAA. She continued her work at NOAA and entered the graduate program at GCRL, working towards her Ph.D.

Melissa and husband, Scott, live in Ocean Springs with their daughters, Carly and Kinsey.   

What did you think of GCRL when you started?
 I liked the atmosphere and small class size.  The staff and students were very friendly and you really received a lot of individual attention.

What is your favorite thing about the South?
The food and no snow!  I grew up in Pennsylvania and really don't like cold weather.  I also love the water and beaches.  

What advice would you give other students?
Stay focused and keep on track.  Grad school is fun but you don't want to make a career out of it.  It is very easy to get sidetracked and stray off course.    

Where are you now and how does the position utilize the education you received GCRL?
 I am a Research Fishery Biologist for NOAA Fisheries Service in Pascagoula.  I also serve as the Mississippi State Coordinator of the Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network. http://www.sefsc.noaa.gov/species/turtles/strandings.htm Completing my Ph.D. at GCRL gave me the knowledge, experience and organizational skills necessary to manage several fishery related research projects.  

What are your plans for the future?
 I have been with NOAA Fisheries since 1997 and plan to continue my career as a federal employee.    I will continue to serve as Stranding Coordinator and hopefully expand the current sea turtle research conducted by the NOAA Fisheries, Mississippi Lab.  I hope to one day establish in-water sea turtle monitoring in Mississippi and surrounding waters.


Sam Clardy

Sam Clardy, Coordinator of Educational Programs at GCRL's Marine Education Center.Sam graduated in December 2013 with an M.S. in Coastal Sciences under the guidance of Dr. Mark Peterson, his major professor and advisor. Sam is the Coordinator of Educational Programs at GCRL's Marine Education Center (MEC). He came to the MEC in 2004 as a Research Associate and served as a marine educator, Regional Coordinator for the Hurricane Bowl, and coordinator of the Summer Field Program before assuming responsibility for all MEC education programs.

What did you think of GCRL when you first started?
One of the first things I noticed when I started at GCRL was that the location of the campus was amazing.  To be able to take field trips within walking distance from your classroom was a great experience.  I was also surprised by the small class size and the great student/instructor interaction.  Instructors get to know their students really well and are readily available to answer questions.  It was a really great learning experience in a setting that was very conducive to learning.

What is your favorite thing about the South?
I really like the warm weather, great fishing, and fresh seafood.  The accessibility of the barrier islands is also a real treat. Horn Island is such a special place. 

What advice would you give other students? 
Be prepared to work hard and to work independently at times.  I recommend getting your prospectus completed and approved early in the process.  This will benefit you throughout your graduate work and will help you keep on task.

Where are you now and how does the position utilize the education you received GCRL? 
I’m the Coordinator of Educational Programs at the GCRL Marine Education Center.  The original MEC building was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, and we now planning our new facility at Cedar Point.  We are striving to build in an environmentally responsible manner and we hope to be a leading example on how to build in a coastal setting.  We will hold ourselves to this standard by conducting baseline monitoring of the site's flora, fauna, and water quality.  We'll continue monitoring throughout construction and post construction to assess our success in minimizing the impact on the surrounding environment.  The education that I received at GCRL will very helpful with the site monitoring plan and with new research opportunities where we hope to engage high school students, community college students, and citizens in the research process.

What are your plans for the future? 
I plan to continue to work at the MEC where we strive to fulfill our mission of connecting people to coastal science and the research being conducted at GCRL.


Mike Lowe

Mike recently defended his dissertation “Community metrics and trophic dynamics in tidal creeks in an anthropogenically fragmented, coastal landscape”, completing the work for his Ph.D. He will be graduating in May with his Ph.D. in Coastal Sciences, with an emphasis in Fisheries Ecology.

Mike recently defended his dissertation “Community metrics and trophic dynamics in tidal creeks in an anthropogenically fragmented, coastal landscape.”  He will graduate in May with his Ph.D. in Coastal Sciences, with an emphasis in Fisheries Ecology.  Mike's advisor and major professor is Dr. Mark Peterson.

Mike Lowe grew up in Indiana and B.S. in Marine Fisheries at Texas A&M University and his M.S. in Fisheries at Auburn University. Mike is an avid outdoorsman and enjoys quality time with his dogs.

What did you think of GCRL when you first started?  
My first impression was that GCRL was a small lab.  In the end, however, I think that had more to do with being detached from the main campus.  The Lab certainly has a lot going for it and has grown in the time that I have been here.

What is your favorite thing about the South?
Southern hospitality, cheese grits, and the Gulf of Mexico, in that order.  But if I had to choose just one it would be the Gulf of Mexico.  It really is a great place to work! Warm waters, diverse habitats, and great fishing. What more could you ask for?

What advice would you give other students?
Avoid complacency.  This is supposed to be difficult, otherwise everyone would be successful at the graduate level.  There is something very satisfying about finishing your degree and knowing that you put everything you could into your thesis or dissertation work.

Where are you now and how does the position utilize the education you received GCRL?
I am a Postdoctoral Scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute in Massachusetts.  I am working with NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center on the spatial and population ecology of krill, myctophids (lantern fish), and their predators (sharks, fish, and marine mammals) in the northeast Atlantic ecosystem.  This project builds on skills I learned at GCRL, specifically spatial analysis and quantitative fish ecology.

What are your plans for the future?
Ultimately, I would like to obtain a faculty position at a coastal university that allows me to continue to work on various fisheries-related issues in the marine environment.  Though I would consider a federal research position, I have come to appreciate the diversity of research interests that you get in a university and I would welcome the challenge of teaching courses and developing graduate students.


Corey Russo

Corey Russo Corey Russo is from Santa Clara, California, where he graduated cum laude with University Honors and a B.S. in Biological Sciences/Environmental Science in May 2009. He also obtained a minor in Religion from California Lutheran University. In 2011 he came to GCRL as a graduate research assistant and began work on a Ph.D. in the department of Marine Microbiology. Dr. Jay Grimes is his advisor. Now, Corey is on a yearlong internship working with Dr. Karen Nelson, the President of the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) in Rockville, Maryland. He is engaged in a viromics project to collect clinical/environmental samples, isolate viral particles and viral nucleic acid, generate viral amplicon, and sequence complete viral genomes.  The end product be viruses already identified within the collected samples. Many novel viruses will be also be recovered, sequenced, and identified.

What did you think of GCRL when you started?  
When I began at GCRL I was extremely pleased with the campus's proximity to the Gulf of Mexico and the city of Ocean Springs.  I was also happy with the particular lab that I entered into. As an incoming graduate student I was able to observe graduate students at nearly every phase of the graduate study spectrum. This offered constructive insight into the approach and development of my own graduate program.

What is your favorite thing about the South?
The move from California to Mississippi was not as shocking as one might expect. Born and raised in California, I was accustomed to a fast-paced life, and Mississippi offered a slower pace of everyday living. The slower pace translates into southern hospitality; it immediately became my favorite characteristic and value of the South. After traveling throughout the South, I am happy to report that southern hospitality is at its finest in Mississippi.

What advice would you give other students?
Embarking on the mid-way point of my graduate career I would be happy to share insight and advice with incoming students as they transition into the graduate level. In a condensed version, though, I would advise the incoming graduate student not to be afraid to take chances in research. Graduate school is the platform to gather knowledge, attempt research, make mistakes in research, learn from those mistakes, and make appropriate adjustments until good research is accomplished. Graduate school is the place to learn and fine tune an individual’s craft. Thus, the learning and specializing opportunities inherently associated with a graduate program should be fully and respectfully taken advantage of.

Where are you now and how does the position utilize the education you received GCRL?
I am currently working as a researcher at the J. Craig Venter Institute. For me, GCRL facilitated the development of out-of-the-box thinking, experimental design, and good laboratory practices, which allowed me to enter the JCVI as a competent researcher. Furthermore, under the guidance and preparation of Dr. Jay Grimes, I have successfully established several collaborations with outside labs, allowing me to take on additional projects and expand my personal research in a more comprehensive and holistic sense.

What are your plans for the future?
I like to organize my future in three categories of goals: immediate, intermediate and long term. In my second year of graduate school, my immediate goal is to accomplish the hypotheses and corresponding research I have constructed in accordance with being a Ph.D. student. I anticipate the research portion of my program to be finalized by the summer of 2013. My intermediate goal is to translate gathered research data in a sensible fashion, complete my comprehensive exams and thesis defense, and then graduate with my Ph.D. I anticipate accomplishing my intermediate goal by the spring of 2015. My long term goal is to secure a postdoc or job as a microbiologist. I wouldn’t want to limit my future to a specific job title at this point; therefore I will rely on experience, contacts developed and personal accomplishments to dictate the specific route of my future.  On a personal note, the graduation of my fiancée, Krista Gaude, from the Physician Assistant graduate program at the University of South Alabama will coincide with my graduation in the spring of 2015. I am optimistic and eager to approach the doors that will open for two graduates in two respectable graduate programs come spring of 2015. 


Kelly Lucas

Kelly Lucas, Gulf Coast Research LaboratoryOriginally from Lucedale, Mississippi, Kelly graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology from Mississippi State University and a Master of Business Administration from The University of Alabama Birmingham.  After working several years in sales and marketing in Birmingham and San Francisco, Kelly returned to south Mississippi. While doing property mapping work, Kelly met Bill Hawkins, former director of GCRL. The Gulf Coast Geospatial Center had recently been formed at the Gulf Coast Research Lab and Dr. Hawkins invited her to tour the center and discuss what it had to offer. Kelly enrolled in Coastal Sciences in the fall of 2004 and became a graduate research assistant for Dr. Gregory Carter. She received a NASA Graduate Student Research Fellowship in 2005, 2006, and 2007, and in January of 2008, was selected to be the University of Southern Mississippi’s Science Fellow. Kelly worked in the Office of Senator Thad Cochran on ocean and atmosphere science issues.

In 2008, Kelly completed her Ph. D. in Remote Sensing under the guidance of Dr. William Hawkins, then Director of the GCRL as well as Department of Coastal Sciences Chair. In 2011, after working as a post-doc for two years, she accepted the position of Deputy Director of the Gulf Coast Geospatial Center.   

What did you think of GCRL when you first started?

I thought the campus was beautiful and the people were friendly. Coming from the business world and having spent the last several years in a business suit, the casual atmosphere was inviting. Everyone really seemed to enjoy their jobs and their research.

What is your favorite thing about the South?

The weather is fabulous. The people are friendly. The food is terrific. You just can’t find a better place to be than along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico.

What advice would you give other students?

Students should get outside their area of research and learn what other research is going on at the Lab. It is great from a networking standpoint as well as possibly finding a way in which you can combine research ideas.

Where are you now and how does the position utilize the education you received at GCRL?

Currently, I am the Deputy Director of The University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Geospatial Center located at Stennis Space Center. We were founded in 2002 and originally located at the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory. I utilize the education I received at GCRL on a daily basis. I enjoy work because there is always something new to learn every day. 


Kim Griffitt

Kim Griffitt, Gulf Coast Research LaboratoryKim completed her M.S. in Marine Microbiology under the guidance of Dr. Jay Grimes, Professor of Marine Microbiology, in August 2012. She is originally from eastern North Carolina, where her family still resides. She attended the University of North Carolina Wilmington where she first met her husband Joe Griffitt, an assistant professor of toxicology at GCRL. After Kim graduated with a B.S. in Biology, the couple moved to South Carolina where Kim worked in the state public health lab while Joe completed graduate school. The next stop was Gainesville, Florida, where Kim conducted drug testing on racing animals for The University of Florida and Joe worked on his post-doc until taking a position at GCRL.

What did you think of GCRL when you first started?

I loved the campus because I love the water. It’s right there when you need a little break from work at the Lab and just want to sit and look. I was excited to start work in the micro lab, and looked forward to doing research instead of regulatory and clinical work. I was also really excited to get outside the lab environment and do some field work.

What is your favorite thing about the South?

My favorite thing about Ocean Springs has to be the proximity to the water. I grew up spending my summers at Atlantic Beach in North Carolina and then went to undergraduate school at The University of North Carolina Wilmington (a.k.a. “UNC by the Sea”). GCRL provided my first taste of the Gulf of Mexico. 

What advice would you give other students?

Work hard, care about your research because if you don’t no one else will, and get done as quickly as you can without sacrificing good work. Graduate school is a stressful place, but it is meant to be in order to train you to be a well equipped scientist when you earn your degree. Being a PI’s wife I also can attest that the PIs who are hard on you and demand that you work hard and produce good science do so because they care about making sure you get the training you need to be successful.

Where are you now and how does the position utilize the education you received GCRL?

I’m now a Molecular Genetics Technologist for the Department of Defense Medical Genetics Diagnostics lab at Keesler AFB in Biloxi. I learned a lot of molecular techniques at GCRL and I now use those skills daily.

What are your plans for the future? 

Oh, who knows?  I’m enjoying getting back into clinical work, though I do miss research. Long term, I’d be happy managing a lab in either side, as long as I don’t have to worry about grants ending.


Nicholas Noriea – From Louisiana to Montana

Nick Noriea, Gulf Coast Research LaboratoryNick was born and raised in New Orleans, where he developed a deep appreciation for the Gulf Coast and it’s unique beauty. After attending middle and high school on the north shore of Lake Pontchatrain, Nick returned to New Orleans to attend classes at the University of New Orleans. Nick developed a passion for scientific research in the fields of genetics and microbiology while working part-time in the UNO microbiology laboratory.

He graduated in 2007 with a B.S. in biology and a minor in chemistry.

Wishing to advance scientific development on the Gulf Coast, Nick interviewed for the USM graduate program in August 2007 and accepted a position to work under Dr. Jay Grimes in GCRL's Marine Microbiology Laboratory. Nick graduated with his doctorate in May 2012 and is currently studying bacterial pathogenesis in a postdoctoral position at the National Institute of Health.

What did you think of GCRL when you first started?

Touring the GCRL and meeting many of the faculty, I really enjoyed the strong focus on research, especially research with regional relevance. I found the location of the laboratory was amazing for investigations of estuarine environments on the Gulf Coast while conducting my own research in graduate school.

What is your favorite thing about the South?

I would have to say my favorite thing about the South are the Gulf coast natural habitats. The diversity of the coastline, from the bayous and estuaries to the beautiful white sand beaches, is accessible from the GCRL campus and a short one- to three-hour drive covers the entire coastline. I will admit a close second favorite thing is the food. I think the South has the best seafood in the world. And having traveled quite a bit around the U.S., I have not found any place that comes close to New Orleans cuisine.

What advice would you give other students?

I would tell students to not get complacent and to constantly develop themselves as an independent researcher. Becoming self-sufficient with research projects and learning to understand, break down, and solve problems independently are skills that have become invaluable to me. If you do get stuck never be afraid to ask for help. Colleagues are wonderful resources and can give a fresh perspective. Stay relevant in your field: make sure you attend conferences - regional or otherwise. Meeting people in your field of research is the main way to gain potential collaborators, friends, and future employers. Outside of research advice, just try to enjoy yourself. I know it’s clichéd to say that time passes so quickly in graduate school, but it’s the truth.

Where are you now and how does the position utilize the education you received GCRL?

I am currently in a postdoctoral position at the National Institute of Health’s Rocky Mountain Laboratories. My research focuses on bacterial pathogenesis. Specifically I study Rickettsial pathogenesis. One of the main projects I have started is developing a robust directed mutagenesis system in Rickettsia. While there was a shift coming from an environmental microbiology graduate background to a molecular pathogenesis lab, I have utilized countless skills that I developed from GCRL. My entire microbiology foundation was learned in graduate school while working with human pathogens in a BSL2 lab. I was trained to design and conduct research experiments while responsibly ordering and maintaining reagents and tools necessary for those projects. In all, I felt that the GCRL prepared me very well not only for conducting research but for life after graduate school.

What are your plans for the future?

After my postdoc is completed I would like to move back to the South. I have a strong interest in promoting scientific advancement on the Gulf Coast and will be looking for research positions in academia or in government that could help further that goal.


Idrissa Boube – From Niger to New Orleans

Idrissa Boube, Gulf Coast Research LaboratoryIdrissa came to the U.S. in 2000 to join his brother at the University of South Alabama in Mobile. He moved from Africa, where he was in his second year of medical school at the University of Tizi-Ouzo in Algeria. Although Idrissa could speak multiple languages, English was not one of them. After completing an intensive 18-month English study program, he was accepted into a “bridge” program for about six months and then became an undergraduate. Idrissa graduated in 2007 with a Bachelors degree in Biomedical Science. In July 2008, he interviewed with Dr. Brouwer at GCRL and came to work here in a tech position. He was later accepted into the graduate program at USM under Dr. Joe Griffitt. Idrissa completed his degree in May, 2011.

What did you think of the lab when you first started?

I felt very at home with the nerdy science types.

What is your favorite thing about the South?

The warm people! People are more receptive. You can have a conversation with someone you’ve never met. I really like that.

What do you feel is one of the biggest misconceptions people have about you?

The misconception about people from Africa is that we all grew up in a hut surrounded by wildlife. I hear it all the time!

What advice would you give other students?

Choose your major wisely. The work is hard and you must truly like what you are doing. And be prepared for anything!

What are your plans for the future?

I plan to complete my Ph.D. in Molecular Biology/Toxicology. (Idrissa's degree is Master in coastal sciences with emphasis in molecular biology and ecotoxicology. His thesis title was "Identification of transcriptonic pathways involved in taura syndrome virus resistance in litopenaeus vannamei.") I have accepted a new position as environmental scientist with the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management (BOEM).