From a pre-Veterinarian, to Animal Behaviorist, to Adoptions Counselor, to Biological Oceanographer…

JungbluthMBy Michelle Jungbluth

I found out recently that my 12 year old self knew where I would end up.

In going through some old boxes and folders from elementary school, I found my time capsule from 6th grade with the following question:  Where will you be in 10 years?  My answer, ‘Marine Biologist’ (cue my jaw to drop as I read this, because I didn’t remember writing it).  Little did I know at the time, that I would in fact find my way to fulfilling that dream, only a few years and many side-tracked voyages later.

To make a long story short, I grew up in Wisconsin.  For college I attended the University of Wisconsin Madison and completed a bachelor’s degree in Biology, with a focus on terrestrial animal science (land-locked state, seemed like a logical decision).  During the beginning of this undergraduate career I wanted to be a Veterinarian, but realized that it wasn’t the right path for me.  So I moved towards animal behavior, and spent 2.5 years working with primates at the a primate research center in Madison.  While it was an exciting job (I have lots of stories…), I did not feel comfortable with future career opportunities, and knew that I would have to find something else.

Pumpkin day at the primate center was always exciting.

Pumpkin day at the primate center was always exciting.

In the spring of 2008, my boyfriend of 3.5 years (now husband), Sean Jungbluth (see his article from 2 weeks ago here), got accepted to school here at UH Manoa, and asked if I would move to Hawaii with him.   After a bit of deliberation, we packed up our things, bought our one-way tickets, and started our lives in Hawaii.  For my first two years I worked at the Hawaiian Humane Society as an Adoptions Counselor.

At a local pet store trying to find a home for this adorable little chihuahua mix.

At a local pet store trying to find a home for this adorable little chihuahua mix.

Wanting to continue my education, I started volunteering in a lab where I learned DNA extraction, PCR, and sequencing.  I had always been interested in genetic techniques but never needed to learn them with my prior animal behavior focus, and quickly fell in love with the ocean and molecular biology of copepods.  Luckily, the lab I was working in had an opening for a graduate assistant position working on a project studying copepods in Kaneohe Bay, and I excitedly accepted the opportunity.

Me in front of the RV Atlantis, a Woods Hole ship where I got to spend 2.5 weeks helping my husband collect samples for his research

Me in front of the RV Atlantis, a Woods Hole ship where I got to spend 2.5 weeks helping my husband collect samples for his research

This convoluted journey to become a biological oceanographer involved a lot of round-about paths, a lot of difficult decisions, and perhaps a little bit of luck.  In the end, I am happy about how I got here, where I am now, and where I may be going in both the near and distant future.

Michelle Jungbluth is a student in the Oceanography department at UH Manoa characterizing the response of plankton communities to storm events in Kaneohe Bay. She is specifically looking at the response by copepod nauplii, the youngest (and more abundant) life stages of copepods, using a DNA-based method called quantitative real-time PCR to study their role in the marine food web. 

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