HIMB30 – The Prius of Bacteria

By Jennifer Wong-Ala 

Jennifer Wong-Ala

“Ew, you work with bacteria?! Aren’t you afraid of getting sick?” This is what I usually hear whenever I talk to people who are not familiar with the different types of bacteria. When most people think of bacteria, they think of the harmful germs that get them sick. The “good” bacteria I work with are called HIMB30, from the Gammaproteobacteria class. Gammaproteobacteria are common in the marine environment, and HIMB30’s name comes from the Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology on the east side of ‘Oahu, where it was isolated from.

So why is this bacteria “good”? HIMB30 is not harmful to human health, and serves many functions. Think of HIMB30 as a hybrid car. A hybrid car uses gas to power its engine and has an electric battery that it can recharge. HIMB30 is heterotrophic — meaning it consumes “food,” or organic matter in this case, like the gas you put in a car, but it also has the ability to use light to create extra energy, much like the rechargeable battery. Genes for phototrophy and genes that have the ability to fix CO2 into an energy source were found in HIMB30, which is unusual in this order of bacteria. With my research, I am trying to figure out how HIMB30 uses these genes to acquire its energy.

The gene found in HIMB30 that has the ability to conduct phototrophy is called proteorhodopsin. Proteorhodopsin is related to a pigment found in your eyes called rhodopsin that allows us to see different colors. This protein is able to harvest energy from the sun and it functions as a light-driven proton pump. A proton pump can be thought of as a gate that allows protons to enter the mitochondria. Since the discovery of proteorhodopsin, many bacteria have been found to contain this gene.

Stepping away from lab work for a moment to pose for a photo with Vanessa

Stepping away from lab work for a moment to pose for a photo with Vanessa

It is estimated that in one liter of water, there is about a billion bacteria. Since there are so many bacteria in the ocean, it must be easy to bring them from the ocean to the lab to start growing and experimenting with them right? Well, it is not quite that simple. It is suggested that less than 1% of the microorganisms in nature are able to be cultivated in the lab today. This being said there are even less microorganisms that can be cultivated that contain proteorhodopsin and this makes them difficult to study. This makes HIMB30 extra special, since it has proteorhodopsin and we have it growing in culture in our lab. I have been doing experiments with the cultures in order to learn more about the metabolism of HIMB30.

Many of you may ask, why is this important?  The carbon cycle in the ocean is responsible for the cycling of nutrients. In this cycle, bacteria play a huge part of the marine food web and process more than half of all the flow of carbon-based matter. There are many different types of bacteria in the ocean. Photosynthetic bacteria use sunlight and convert it into energy. Mixotrophs can use sunlight and organic matter for energy, while heterotrophic bacteria attack other organisms. Now where does HIMB30 come into all of this? HIMB30 has characteristics showing that it may be a photolithoautotroph. This means that it can use the energy it gets from light to convert substances such as carbs, fats, and proteins into simple substances. It also uses a form of sulfur and CO2 as a source of carbon for this to occur. But the big question is how would this affect the carbon cycle in the ocean? It is still unknown how some bacteria utilize the proteorhodopsin gene and the effect it can have on the carbon cycle.

Jenn's OSM2014 poster presentation

Jenn’s OSM2014 poster presentation

In February, I presented these exciting research findings at the 2014 Ocean Sciences Meeting held in Honolulu. This was the first conference I attended and let me tell you, it was huge! At first it was overwhelming, but after a while I got the hang of planning out my day. At the end of the week, I was sad that the conference was over. I learned a lot from the vastly different sessions and I met many great people whom I plan on keeping in touch with for years to come. Science has taken me farther than I had ever imagined and I am super excited that this is only the beginning.

Jennifer Wong-Ala is an undergraduate student at Kapi‘olani Community College and is currently conducting research as a Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education (C-MORE) Scholar. She plans on transferring to UH Mānoa in Fall 2015 and earning a BS in Global Environmental Sciences. She is a mentee as part of the SOEST/KCC Maile Mentoring Bridge Program (www.soest.hawaii.edu/maile).

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Adapting Locally to Sea-level Rise

By: Haunani Kane

Wetlands are important to Island communities because they provide food in the form of loʻi (taro patch), and loko iʻa (fishpond), trap sediment that may otherwise enter the ocean, and provide habitat to a number of native and endangered species.  Sea-level rise, however, threatens the integrity of coastal wetlands due to increased erosion, salt-water intrusion and flooding. The greatest challenge for wetland managers/users will be to prioritize management actions at each of the areas that are predicted to be impacted.  To assist in this challenge we worked closely with wetland users to develop two strategies to manage predicted impacts.

Firstly, due to the low gradient of most coastal plain environments, the rate of sea-level rise impact will rapidly accelerate once the height of the sea surface exceeds a critical elevation.  We calculate a local sea-level rise critical elevation (similar to a tipping point) that marks the end of a slow phase of flooding and the onset of rapid flooding.  The outcome of this method provides wetland managers with maps that can be used to create an inventory of resources that may be impacted during the slow and fast phases of flooding.

Secondly, within highly managed coastal areas, vulnerability is related to site the specific goals of coastal stakeholders.  For example in response to sea-level rise a kalo farmer may prioritize management efforts at the loʻi over the nearby pond because the loʻi provides food for his/her ʻohana (family). On the other hand, a federal manager who is tasked with providing habitat for endangered species will focus sea-level rise management efforts on the pond because it is used more frequently by endangered waterbirds.  We worked closely with wetland users to develop a ranking system that models the local vulnerability as a function of 6 input parameters: type of inundation, time of inundation, habitat value, soil type, infrastructure, and coastal erosion.  Through the use of an in person survey each input parameter was ranked based upon the goals and objectives the users of that area.  Areas of the highest cumulative vulnerability were mapped and should be used to prioritize future adaptive management.

Haunani Kane is a graduate student in Geology and Geophysics, working in the Coastal Geology lab of Dr. Chip Fletcher within SOEST. Haunani is from Kailua, O‘ahu, and her research centers on better understanding past and future sea-level rise events to assist coastal risk management. She believes that by tying culture to science we may be able to inspire more young native scientists.

Storm Chasing on O‘ahu!

By: Shannon McElhinney

SMcelhinneyheadShotStorm chasing is a glorified way to describe what my MET628 (Radar Meteorology) class did for three weeks in November.  From October 21nd to November 13th 2013, the Doppler on Wheels (DOW) visited O‘ahu for the very first time.  The DOW is a mobile weather radar, an active remote sensing instrument, which emits radio waves to detect rain and clouds at different ranges.  The permanent radars typically used to monitor weather on O‘ahu are located on Moloka‘i and Kaua‘i, so this was a unique opportunity to look at O‘ahu weather- up close and personal.

Doppler on Wheels (DOW) Radar

Doppler on Wheels (DOW) Radar

The Hawaii Educational Radar Opportunity field project (HERO) was part of a National Science Foundation Educational Deployment of the DOW radar.  It was shipped all the way from Boulder, Colorado to Honolulu Harbor.  When it was finally unloaded from the ship, I drove down to the harbor with my professor and another student.  We were waiting in the hot dusty parking lot that would be its home base for the next few weeks, when it pulled up to the gate.  The giant blue semi-truck did not have a trailer on the back; instead it had an antenna, bigger than me.  It would get a lot of funny looks over the course of the project, as we drove it all around the island.

Each morning the class, as well as some undergraduates and National Weather Service employees, would meet for a forecast briefing.  If there was so much as a chance for mauka or trade showers, we deployed.  This was my first experience with hands-on fieldwork, and sitting in the operator’s chair, surrounded by all of the computers and switches, made everything feel real and exciting.  The DOW is usually chasing tornadoes in the Great Plains (it has been featured in the Discovery Channel’s Storm Chasers series).  Hawai‘i weather seems tame in comparison, but we were blessed with a variety of interesting weather.

The downsides of HERO included the very early mornings, the constant sound of the transmitter, and watching computer screens for hours on end.  There was also the frequent disappointment when a storm cell died or moved out of range.  But I can’t complain. I got my five seconds of fame when Meteorologist Jennifer Robbins interviewed me for a Hawaii News Now segment (I even got a free surfboard locker when my apartment supervisor saw me on TV!)  I had some exciting moments, like trying to launch an uncooperative weather balloon between heavy tropical downpours.  I got to see hundreds of children’s’ faces light up as they explored the DOW at a community outreach event, the SOEST Open House.

The News crew caught our balloon launch on camera

The News crew caught our balloon launch on camera

The real climax of HERO came as the final week was drawing to a close.  A cold front was forecast to pass through the islands, bringing convective and windy weather.  The forecast group noted a cold pool aloft, which meant an even greater chance for instability and thunderstorms.  The only problem was timing.  The timing of the frontal passage could have been any time from Saturday night to Sunday morning.  To be sure we caught it, three consecutive groups were assigned to work through the night.  I was happy to be in the first group because we experienced a lot of pre-frontal action at the Wahiawa site.  Parked on the side of a highway, we were able to see a large band of heavy showers approach from the north, which eventually reached the site.  Later that night there was heavy rain all around the island and even some flooding in town.

This is the main radar display during the big cold front event, showing where the heavy rains are (top) and wind speeds (bottom)

This is the main radar display during the big cold front event, showing where the heavy rains are (top) and wind speeds (bottom)

Most of that night consisted of four graduate students and the technician crammed inside the truck to keep dry.  My favorite moment was when the second team took over at 2 AM.  As I emerged from the truck, after my 8-hour shift, I was surprised to see 15 other students there, huddling under umbrellas and open car trunks.  Nobody had wanted to miss out on the excitement.  So there we stood, 15 meteorology students on the side of a road surrounded by pineapple fields at 2 AM on a Sunday morning… for fun!

Surprisingly we got no inquisitive visits from the police or locals, as we had many times before.  Our deployment sites were often at beach parks, which put us in clear view of the public.  People would approach us in the DOW or during a balloon launch to ask what we were doing.  Most showed great interest and support, although some were suspicious.  One lady even asked us not to scan her because she feared we could see through her clothes!

Weather balloon launch

Weather balloon launch

Weather radars are not a common sight here on O‘ahu, but we hope to change that.  The data allowed for a detailed and never-before-seen view of how rain forms around the islands.  I was able to watch a small trade wind cumulus cloud form and develop all the way to the end of its life cycle, completely captured by the radar.  Most importantly, this project got a bunch of students and meteorologists together to take part in hands-on weather data collection.  Through collaboration and operating the radar, I learned more in three weeks than I could have in a whole semester in the classroom.

SMcelhinneyheadShotFull

Shannon McElhinney is a 2nd year Masters student in the Department of Meteorology at UH Manoa.  Her current research uses models and observations, including airborne Doppler radar, to study the Hurricane boundary layer.  She also enjoys teaching some meteorology fundamentals to MET101 lab students.

Q&A Part 3: You got in! How to survive grad school

Thanks for continuing to read about the “Path to Graduate School.”  Today completes this theme and the last 2 questions of Part 3: “You got in! How to survive grad school!” We hope this has been helpful to all of you!

Question 14: What sort of career planning and/or professional development will I need to be doing while I’m in grad school?

Attending conferences, workshops, and seminars seems to be the key to networking with other professionals:

“Your advisor will be a great resource for this sort of thing. Hopefully they will mentor and counsel you regarding your professional development and career goals while you work towards your degree. You can also take your own initiative by working to attend conferences, publish your work, and attend workshops and seminars that are geared towards proposal writing, teaching, and researching different topics.” – Kendra Lynn 2nd Year PhD Volcanology, Geochemistry and Petrology

“Attending conferences and workshops are a great way to network with people that have similar interests in similar fields. I volunteered to be an organizer for a major international Ocean Sciences conference and it has been great for my professional development. Volunteer to review papers for a journal you appreciate.” – Michelle Jungbluth 1st Year PhD Biological Oceanography

“Mostly building some contact network.” – Saulo Soares 6th Year PhD Physical Oceanography

“Talk to your advisor or chair about what’s important in the field. Networking with people in the field.” – Joy Leilei Shih 5th Year PhD Marine Geology and Geochemistry

“Go to conferences, give talks, do outreach and education, go to workshops” – Astrid Leitner 1st Year PhD Biological Oceanographer

Also, put yourself out there and take opportunities to give talks and apply for fellowships:

“Public speaking/communication skills and writing skills are the areas where grad students seem to need the most improvement. Take classes and go to workshops that will help you improve these skills. Volunteer to give talks. Apply for various awards, fellowships, because these applications will help you communicate the objectives of your research clearly.” – Myriam Telus

“Looking to your future can be terrifying, but you need to plan ahead. Apply for that grant, look into PhD’s early in your masters, and talk with professors about the subjects that really interest you. They might have suggestions about programs or professors with similar interests.” – Sarah Maher 3rd year MS Geology and Geophysics

However, since we’re all busy, target your professional development towards your career goals:

“It’s always good to keep in mind what your goal after grad school is – if you are interested in teaching, get some teaching experience. If it’s communication, practice science communication. If it’s being a professor in an academic institution, network and talk to other professors, set up collaborations, and go to conferences. Tailor your professional development to what sort of activities will give you the skills you need for your career. Grad school is already extremely time consuming, so be choosy about how you spend your time” – Shimi Rii 4th Year PhD Biological Oceanography

Finally, get started early on preparing your resume materials:

“Development of CV, cover letter, and resume materials.
Writing skills, knowledge about best practices for publishing and reviewing manuscripts and writing proposals.
Teaching experience.
Professional meeting presentations, domestic and international (oral and poster presentations)
Leadership and management skills
Improving communication skills to inform diverse and broad audiences.
Involvement in departmental, school-wise, or societal level service.” – Allison Fong 6th Year PhD Biological Oceanography – Microbial Ecology

Question 15: Should I become a Teaching Assistant (T.A.) or a Research Assistant (R.A.)? Is this enough to live off of or should I get a student loan?

First, ask around and get information:

“There are many options to get paid in graduate school, talk to people and investigate” – Alma Carolina Castillo 3rd Year PhD Physical Oceanography

“T.A. and R.A. salaries vary from one department to another. In my situation, both T.A. and R.A. salaries are enough to live comfortably on. I would research the funding provided by the department you want to work for, and then make your decision based on that information.” – Kendra Lynn 2nd Year PhD Volcanology, Geochemistry and Petrology

Here at SOEST, it is definitely enough to live on:

“TA or RA all the way! If you’re responsible with your money and live in a reasonable rent apartment you can live off of it for the entirety of your degree without getting a student loan.” – Sarah Maher 3rd year MS Geology and Geophysics

“Don’t get a loan! You don’t need one! We make enough to live off of and even have fun once in a while 😉 Just live within your means and accept that you’ll be living a life that is rich and fulfilling in many ways, even if you don’t have a lot of spare cash. You won’t be living in a palace with an ocean view, but who wants to be that pretentious, anyway? Sharing a place with roommate(s) makes things a lot cheaper, too. *Caveat: Getting to Hawaii, or back to the mainland, to start school is the exception–you’ll have to hand out a wad of cash for plane tickets, security deposits, etc. before your salary kicks in, and if you don’t have savings or financially supportive family members then a small loan could potentially be necessary.” – Emily First 3rd Year PhD Experimental Petrology

“R.A and T.A should be enough to live off of, unless you have a family to support. Then I don’t really know.” – Saulo Soares 6th Year PhD Physical Oceanography

“Try to live off of a T.A. or R.A. and only get a loan if you have to. Some departments pay better than others.” – Joy Leilei Shih 5th Year PhD Marine Geology and Geochemistry

Some sound advice about T.A. or R.A., if you have a choice:

“The way it is set up here, you can live off either, but TA-ships are time consuming and will probably extend the total time to graduation if you choose to do it for multiple semesters. I recommend applying for fellowships and grants to get your own funding.” – Michelle Jungbluth 1st Year PhD Biological Oceanography

“A T.A. is great for gaining teaching experience and looks good on a C.V. if you want a job that involves teaching (such as being a professor) after you graduate. But it can be a lot of work, taking time away from your research, which is ultimately what you need to complete to graduate. An R.A. could also turn into work away from your own research, but ideally, an R.A. will actually fund your research–that is, the research you’re getting paid to do is also the research that you’re doing for your thesis/dissertation. I have an R.A., and I’ve found it’s enough to live off of and have not needed to get any loans.” – Katie Smith 5th Year PhD Physical Oceanography

Thanks again for your readership and participation.  Any comments or suggestions are always welcome!  

Q&A Part 2: You’ve decided Yes!: How Best to Apply to Graduate School

Thanks for continuing to read about the “Path to Graduate School.” Here are answers to questions 9, 10, and 11 finishing up our second category, “I decided, Yes! How best to apply to grad school.” Next week we will post questions 11 and 12 from the next category “You got in: How to survive graduate school.”

Question 9: Can I get my graduate degree from an institution outside the U.S.?

Flags

 The basic answer here: YES.

“Yes you can. You just have to do the research and figure out what the requirements are for foreign institutions.” – Myriam Telus

 “Most definitely. Europe in particular has many well-funded institutions with good research opportunities.” – anonymous

“Yes. Europe and Australia have good programs, however the U.S. is still, in my opinion, the top.” – Saulo Soares 6th Year PhD Physical Oceanography

“YES” – Astrid Leitner 1st Year PhD Biological Oceanographer

 “Yes.” – Joy Leilei Shih 5th Year PhD Marine Geology and Geochemistry

 Some received their Bachelor’s degree or Master’s degree outside of the US and came to UH from there:

“I got my undergraduate from a Canadian school. It makes transferring during your degree almost impossible, but the degree stands up in other places and international tuition can still be much cheaper than US universities. Make sure the university is still well known outside of the country.” – Sarah Maher 3rd year MS Geology and Geophysics

“I went to England for a Masters and came back to UH for a PhD.  I highly recommend international (if you are willing to pay the $$$) because it is a great experience.” – Samantha Weaver 1st Year PhD Geology and Geophysics

Question 10: How many programs should I apply to?

Basically, do your research on the different programs and apply to as many as you are interested in and would actually go to if you get accepted:

 “As many as you have the patience for and the money for applications for. Don’t settle though! only apply to places where you actually want to go and are interested in the research” – Astrid Leitner 1st Year PhD Biological Oceanographer

 “If you find that 5-6 programs have what you want and people you want to work with, then I would apply to all 6.  If you are only really interested in 3 programs, then apply to 3.

Apply to as many programs that fit your goals and would be realistic options for what you envision your grad school experience to be.” – Allison Fong 6th Year PhD Biological Oceanography – Microbial Ecology

“As many as you are interested in. I only applied to one because I knew I wanted to work in that particular lab.” – Michelle Jungbluth 1st Year PhD Biological Oceanography

“It does not necessarily depend on the program.  It depends more on who you want to work with:  look at the research that the faculty are doing, talk with current students to get their opinion on their adviser…do YOUR research on the program and the adviser.” – Samantha Weaver 1st Year PhD Geology and Geophysics

“As much as you can and want” – Alma Carolina Castillo 3rd Year PhD Physical Oceanography

“3-4. And don’t apply blindly.  Establish a connection with a potential advisor before applying. The applications are reviewed in a committee and if they recognize a name, your application is more likely to be picked out of a crowd.” – Shimi Rii 4th Year PhD Biological Oceanography

“Apply to the top three schools you are interested in.” – Myriam Telus

“I applied to 5 universities for my degree. Applications can get expensive, but it can be worth it to make sure that you have options in the end. Of the 5 I applied for, 3 accepted me and 2 made stipend offers. Make sure the places you apply are ones that you would be willing to live, and that the department seems like a good fit.” – Sarah Maher 3rd year MS Geology and Geophysics

“As many as you want.” – anonymous

“At least 4. You should have a “”top choice”” that is far reaching, two that are reasonably within your experience level, and one that is a “”fall back”” school.” – Kendra Lynn 2nd Year PhD Volcanology, Geochemistry and Petrology

“4 or 5.” – Joy Leilei Shih 5th Year PhD Marine Geology and Geochemistry

“I applied to five:  four that I was very interested in and were tops in my field, and one that was more of a “”back up,”” though there are no guarantees when applying for grad school.  That fifth school lost my application and it never got processed!  Good thing I got in other places.  Better to apply to a handful and try to have meaningful communication with potential advisors than apply to twenty and be just a face in the crowd.” – Emily First 3rd Year PhD Experimental Petrology

“3-4 is a good number (at least). Not sure.” – Saulo Soares 6th Year PhD Physical Oceanography

Question 11: Should I apply for a master’s or doctoral degree program?

Most said that it depends where you see yourself in the future, and it depends how confident you are that a Ph.D. will be necessary for your future:

“Loaded question. This really depends on why you want to go to graduate school and what sort of job you might want to end up in afterwards. Do some research. Talk to some people. If you just want to try, start with a M.S., since Ph.D. is a long commitment.

Check out some of these links:

http://blogs.nature.com/naturejobs/2013/10/17/back-to-school-why-choose-a-phd

http://blogs.nature.com/naturejobs/2013/10/18/the-involuntary-phd” – Shimi Rii 4th Year PhD Biological Oceanography

“If you want to go into academia or if the job you want requires a doctoral degree then, get a doctoral degree. If you are not sure what job you want, but you are sure what field you want to work in, get a masters (you can always switch to a doctoral during your masters if you want). If you are not sure at all, get an internship.” – Myriam Telus

“Depends on the end goal and field. A master’s degree is a good stepping stone if unsure.” – Joy Leilei Shih 5th Year PhD Marine Geology and Geochemistry

“If you know you want to get a doctorate in the end, you can skip the masters and directly apply, though you might have a better chance of getting accepted if you already have a masters.” – Sarah Maher 3rd year MS Geology and Geophysics

“Depends!  I came to Hawaii as a Master’s student and recently decided to switch to a PhD.  At first, I wasn’t sure I could handle the commitment of so much more school, and I thought I would want to be back on the mainland and closer to family after a couple years.  But I love my work and the people in my department, and have realized I’d like to continue in academia– for that, I need a PhD 😉 A lot of my friends have switched from one to the other (and sometimes back again).  Not to say that’s recommended, but if the program offers both degrees, it’s usually negotiable after you start your studies (pending funding, as always).” – Emily First 3rd Year PhD Experimental Petrology

“Up to you.  If you feel like you are ready to commit to 7 years of hard work, living on a graduate student salary, love research and are sure you want to do research for 7 years – PhD.

Anything else – Masters” – Astrid Leitner 1st Year PhD Biological Oceanographer

 A few recommended starting with a Master’s, you can always do a Ph.D. afterwards:

“Start with a M.S. if you’re not sure of what you want to do. Otherwise, both are good.” – Kendra Lynn 2nd Year PhD Volcanology, Geochemistry and Petrology

“M.S.” – anonymous

“I personally think it is valuable to start with a Master’s.  Not only do you potentially get an extra publication or two out of it (I got 3 from my Masters work), but you also may realize what you do want to do and that it may not require a PhD.  A surprising number of students do not complete PhD programs.” – Michelle Jungbluth 1st Year PhD Biological Oceanography

“In my opinion start at the MS level to see if you like the academic research environment. You can always continue, switch universities, or work for a bit afterward.” – anonymous

“Most places start you in a master’s track. Then you can try to advance straight to PhD.  Unless you are sure you want an academic life or you really need a PhD, start with a master’s.” – Saulo Soares 6th Year PhD Physical Oceanography

One person recommended going directly for the Ph.D. without question! You can always take a step back to a Master’s if you decide the Ph.D. is not for you:

“Doctoral and if you dont like change to master” – Alma Carolina Castillo 3rd Year PhD Physical Oceanography

Graduate

Q&A Part 2: You’ve decided Yes!: How Best to Apply to Graduate School

Thanks for continuing to read about the “Path to Graduate School.” Here are answers to questions 6, 7, and 8 for our second category, “I decided, Yes! How best to apply to grad school.” Next week we will post questions 9 and 10 from the same category.

Question 6 – Should I apply to the graduate program at the same place I’m getting my undergraduate degree or go someplace different?

The answers were split, some recommended to definitely go to a DIFFERENT school…

“Different of course!!” – Alma Carolina Castillo 3rd Year PhD Physical Oceanography

“Someplace different – new people new attitudes new research new connections” – Astrid Leitner 1st Year PhD Biological Oceanographer

“There are mixed opinions on this. I am of the school that believes you should NOT go to the same institution. There is a Hawaiian proverb that says, “A’hoe pau ka ‘ike i ka hālau ho’okahi” or “All knowledge is not taught in the same school”. Going to separate institutions allows a student to be exposed to a variety of teaching styles and curriculum, a diversity of cultures and training environments, and engages them to utilize their social networking skills with new people. It might demonstrate to others that references to their knowledge, adeptness, and skill aren’t biased (if they come from both/all institutions). It also challenges students’ personal mettle by taking them away from familiar atmospheres and   inserting them (at least in the beginning) into alien ones, almost requiring them to start over again (while learning to maintain long-term relationships with individuals over new distances). I think this, for scientists in particular, better prepares you for your diverse and eclectic future.” – Christine Waters 3rd Year PhD Geology and Geophysics

“I would definitely recommend applying to different institutions. This is a chance to grow and by staying in one place I don’t think you get as much of a chance to do that.”– Kendra Lynn 2nd Year PhD Volcanology, Geochemistry and Petrology

“In my personal opinion, you should go someplace different. You’ve most likely already been there for 4+ years, it’s nice to get a change of scenery.  Explore a new school, environment, people – diversify! Of course this depends on everyone.  Also, if you have already been working on a project in your undergrad, and want to continue working on it,it might be more prudent to stay in the same program/school.” – Shimi Rii 4th Year PhD Biological Oceanography

“If you can, I would suggest going to a different school for grad school. Going to a different place allows you to expand the number of people you know and worked with. If you can’t go to another school for whatever reason or you really love you undergrad school, then I don’t think there is any problem with staying at the same place for grad school. Just be sure to go to conferences, talk to other people in your field, and even start collaborations with them if possible.” – Myriam Telus

“Yes if you have are interested in the research and have a good connection with a faculty member. No if you think other places will provide you with opportunities more along your research interests.” – anonymous

“I was always told that the more institutions you study at, the better.  That said, if your undergrad institution has a stellar program in your field, you shouldn’t rule it out.  If you do go to grad school at the same place you went to undergrad, consider branching out for a post-doc.” – Emily First 3rd Year PhD Experimental Petrology

“Someplace different, unless the graduate program is very good at your current place or you have personal reasons to do it.” – Saulo Soares 6th Year PhD Physical Oceanogrpahy

…while others said that YOU COULD STAY at the same school for the right reasons:

“If you liked your undergraduate school and the department you’d be applying to, then that’s a good reason to apply to the same school. But there’s also no reason to limit yourself to only looking at the same school. Your needs in grad school will be different than in undergrad. Look for a school that is known for having a strong department for your chosen field, or a specific professor whose work is in line with what you want to do. Even though I loved my undergraduate school, when I decided to go into oceanography, I wanted to find a school with a larger oceanography department.” – Katie Smith 5th Year PhD Physical Oceanography

“There are costs and benefits to either option.  Same place means you already probably have a project in mind and connections to get it done, but it may be worth taking the risk to start in a new lab on a new project to gain insight into a new area of research.  I enjoyed moving to a totally new place (from Wisconsin to Hawaii) and starting totally fresh.” – Michelle Jungbluth 1st Year PhD Biological Oceanography

“If there the department or professor you are working with is well known in the field, it can be worth it to stay. Otherwise I would apply to other programs to get a well rounded education. It can start to look weird if you get all your degrees from the same place.” – Sarah Maher 3rd year MS Geology and Geophysics

In general, go where you find the BEST MATCH for yourself:

“Explore your options.  If you have an academic adviser or faculty mentor that can help you navigate through the pros and cons of different programs, then seek his/her advice.  Go where you find the best match to your interests, skills, and goals.” – Allison Fong 6th Year PhD Biological Oceanography – Microbial Ecology

“You should apply to the best grad school you can get into.  You should apply to a place where you have a potential adviser working on a topic you are interested in.” – Donn Viviani 4th Year PhD Biological Oceanography

“Personal choice.  It is recommended to go somewhere else to get ‘other university’ experience.  I knew I wanted to do a PhD in Hawaii (where I did my undergrad) so I went to England for a Masters.  It was definitely worth it to see how different researches teach and conduct research.” – Samantha Weaver 1st Year PhD Geology and Geophysics

“There is a lot of talk about ‘diversifying’ your degrees and institutions to become a ‘well-rounded’ academic, but ultimately you should apply to and attend programs that will make you happy to be a part of, regardless if you stay in the same place or go someplace different.” – Sara Thomas 3rd Year MS Biological Oceanography

 

Question 7 – What can I do to get into graduate school if my grades aren’t very good?  – What  could improve my chances of getting into graduate school?

Most recommended to get experience in the field you are interested in, for example through an internship or outreach…

“do an internship with the one you want to work with” – Alma Carolina Castillo 3rd Year PhD Physical Oceanography

“Get an internship or work/volunteer in a lab, especially with a professor you are interested in working with. Good GRE scores should help.” – Myriam Telus

“Intern or work for a couple of years in the field you wish to study.” – anonymous

“Best thing is probably getting to know, like doing an internship with the person you are thinking of working (being advised by) under/with.” – Saulo Soares 6th Year PhD Physical Oceanography

“Social success is still very much based on who you know (no matter what field you are in). Make sure you interact with the individuals you would like to work with at the universities of your choice. Apply for internships and fellowships as an undergraduate (and participate in them). Engage in community outreach (in the field you’re choosing to pursue). And though it seems egocentric or narcissistic, don’t be afraid to toot-your-own-horn about any real accomplishments in these areas when you write your personal research statement!” – Christine Waters 3rd Year PhD Geology and Geophysics

or a senior thesis project or other WORK IN A LAB during or after your bachelors:

“Complete a senior thesis or other research related experience. This is often a strong part of a graduate school application.” – Kendra Lynn 2nd Year PhD Volcanology, Geochemistry and Petrology

“Have experience working in a lab.  Having lab or field experience can help a lot.” – Donn Viviani 4th Year PhD Biological Oceanography

“Experience.   I think the fact that I had taken that time off to work and discovered that I did not want to continue on that path was a benefit to my resume.  Also that despite wanting to change, I was still able to get good letters of recommendation from those that I worked with was great.   It is about people and building connections.  If you take the time to get to know the people you want to work with by reading papers or stopping by their office, or talking with them on the phone, the chances that you will be remembered when they are looking at applicants will be much greater, and they may not care as much about that C you got in Chemistry (ahem. me).” – Michelle Jungbluth – 1st Year PhD – Biological Oceanography

“The best thing you can do is get work experience in your field. Any kind of research you did with a professor, volunteer work at schools, or work-study program is worth mentioning in your application!” – Sarah Maher 3rd year MS Geology and Geophysics

Study hard to do well on the GREs:

“Establish a connection with the advisor you want to work with. They can pull massive strings. That being said, study hard to get good GRE scores.  And, maybe taking some extra classes at your undergraduate or at a community college to boost up your grades couldn’t hurt.” – Shimi Rii 4th Year PhD Biological Oceanography

“Do well on the GREs and if the option exists to take a GRE subject test, study hard and aim to do well on that test, too.  Take the general GRE more than once.  Contact potential future advisers/researchers in the programs you are interested in.  Ask about opportunities in their research groups and see if internships are a possibility.  Some fields have post-bacc programs with additional coursework that can demonstrate your understanding of higher level material.  If interested in pursuing research, immerse yourself in an active research group and gain research-related work experience.” – Allison Fong 6th Year PhD Biological Oceanography – Microbial Ecology

And get to know your potential future advisor:

“I had low GREs.  At the same time I came to know the adviser that I wanted to work under.  He knew my work ethic and what I wanted to do, and I knew that he values developing good researchers instead of just using PhDs to do research for him.  Main point: get to know who you want to be your adviser and make sure they know you.” – Samantha Weaver 1st Year PhD Geology and Geophysics

OVERALL take home here:

“Study hard for the GRE.  LOTS of research experience- volunteer for labs, look for internships good letters from professors that know you and will vouch for you” – Astrid Leitner 1st Year PhD Biological Oceanographer

“Good GRE scores, good letters of recommendation, experience showing a dedication to the field.” – Joy Leilei Shih 5th Year PhD Marine Geology and Geochemistry

Question 8 – Is it possible to switch fields? Can I get into a different field than the one I was in for my undergraduate degree?

The answer here was a resounding YES!

“Yes. It is definitely easier to go from a degree like physics, math, or computer sciences into a more specialized field like geophysics. Professors will often look for these students because they have more analytical though processes.” – Sarah Maher 3rd year MS Geology and Geophysics

“Yes, you can switch fields between undergrad and grad school. It’s easiest if the fields are close–for instance, I went from environmental engineering to physical oceanography. If you’re making a dramatic change of fields, the difficulty will be in demonstrating not only that you have the skills for your newly chosen field, but also the interest. People will ask you why you want to do this new field, and it will help to have an answer beyond “”Because it seems cool.”” Did you take one or two classes in undergrad just for fun? Did you get a summer job that gave you a taste? Luckily, most grad programs will accept students who are missing a few of the background courses they expect, as long as you take those classes to catch up in your first year.” – Katie Smith 5th Year PhD Physical Oceanography

“Absolutely!  Many fields are interdisciplinary- entering a different field means you will add to your ‘knowledge tool box’ while bringing new perspectives to those studies.” – Sara Thomas 3rd Year MS Biological Oceanography

“Yes” – Alma Carolina Castillo 3rd Year PhD Physical Oceanography

“Definitely – though, I’m not the one to ask. I went from Geology to a specific field within Geology.” – Kendra Lynn 2nd Year PhD Volcanology, Geochemistry and Petrology

“Definitely.  This was the case for me.   I did work in a lab as a volunteer for a few months before taking the plunge into a new field, but it can be done (I am proof).” – Michelle Jungbluth 1st Year PhD Biological Oceanography

“It’s possible, as long as you took the required undergrad courses. If you are missing 1 or 2 of those requirements (e.g., Calculus), then you can usually just take them in addition to your grad courses. If you are missing several required courses then it might be worth taking those classes before you start grad school.” – Myriam Telus

“My undergraduate degree was not in oceanography.  I had taken the required science courses during undergrad, but I had not majored in a science.” – Donn Viviani 4th Year PhD Biological Oceanography

“I think so but you may have to take lots of additional coursework.” – anonymous

“Yes!  In some cases, post-bacc coursework will be necessary to help you transition and fulfill basic and recommended requirements of a grad program, but changing fields is possible.” – Allison Fong 6th Year PhD Biological Oceanography – Microbial Ecology

“Yes. Just make sure you have most of the background knowledge covered.” – Saulo Soares 6th Year PhD Physical Oceanography

“Yes!” – Samantha Weaver 1st Year PhD Geology and Geophysics

“It is possible to switch fields. My B.S. is in Environmental Science, and I am now pursuing a graduate degree in Geology and Geophysics. It wasn’t difficult at all.” – Christine Waters 3rd Year PhD Geology and Geophysics

“YES” – Astrid Leitner 1st Year PhD Biological Oceanographer

“Yes. I switched from physics to oceanography.” – Joy Leilei Shih 5th Year PhD Marine Geology and Geochemistry

Thanks for reading the answers to questions 6-8 for our second category of questions, “You’ve decided Yes!: How Best to Apply to Graduate School”. We hope you found them useful, and please comment below, we’d love to hear from you. Stay tuned for questions 9-10 next week! 

Questions about Graduate School

As a continuation of our ‘Path to Graduate School’ topic, we are looking to answer the most important questions that the un-initiated may have about graduate school.

Below you will find 15 questions under three broad categories that are often on the minds of post-baccalaureate students while they contemplate their future education.  Please skim the questions, and as a comment please add additional questions that you think are important.  Please comment your additional questions by Friday 11/1/2013, and they will be added to the survey that will be sent out to the SOEST graduate student body for answering.  Their answers will be posted soon thereafter.

Deciding to go to grad school

  1. When do I go to grad school and when do I decide?  Immediately after I receive my bachelor’s degree?  After an internship?  When?
  2. How much does it cost to go to graduate school? How much money will I need to live on?
  3. How long will it take me to complete my graduate degree?
  4. What if I want to go to grad school, but am not sure which field to choose?
  5. How much money will I make after I get out of grad school?

I decided Yes!: how best to apply to grad school

  1. Should I apply to the graduate program at the same place I’m getting my undergraduate degree or go someplace different?
  2. What can I do to get into graduate school if my grades aren’t very good?  – What could improve my chances of getting into  graduate school?
  3. Is it possible to switch fields? Can I get into a different field than the one I was in for my undergraduate degree?
  4. Can I get my graduate degree from an institution outside the U.S.?
  5. How many programs should I apply to?
  6. Should I apply for a master’s or doctoral degree program?

 I got in! How to survive grad school

  1. I got into a graduate program, should I take time off before starting graduate studies?
  2. What are the best tips for surviving grad school?
  3. What sort of career planning/professional development will I need to be doing while I’m in grad school?
  4. Should I do a T.A. or a R.A.? Is this enough to live off of or should I get a student loan?

From garbage sorter to marine bioacoustician

By: Brendan Rideout

Brendan RideoutIt’s hard to pinpoint when my path to grad school began, but one possible beginning is the summer after graduating high school. Going into my final year of high school, I knew I wanted to go to university (I’d known this since I could spell ‘university’) but still hadn’t chosen a major. Theoretical physics, math, engineering, and even the Catholic priesthood were all paths I considered. A mentor suggested I more seriously consider engineering. After some research, the Mechatronics Engineering program at the University of Waterloo (UW) sounded very interesting; this was the first year it was being offered at this school, and the focus on robotics appealed to the little kid inside me who remembered watching Transformers cartoons growing up. Looking back, I’m amazed at how little thought I put into this decision and how, despite this lack of careful planning, things have worked out remarkably well.

I accepted UWs offer in March 2003 and graduated high school in June. That summer I taught violin lessons (along with working at a garbage transfer station, but that’s another story) part time so I could afford to buy a laptop for college. By all outward appearances, my students dad, Scott (not his real name), was a hardworking farmer who lived a few miles up the road and who I’d known for years. However, after getting to know Scott I discovered that in addition to being a beef farmer he was a SONAR system programmer for the navy. I’d heard of the field of underwater acoustics before, having read a steady diet of Tom Clancy novels growing up, but had never thought to wonder if people actually worked as researchers or designers in that field. It sounded like a neat field to work in. I didn’t know it at the time, but that afternoon spent learning a few things about underwater acoustics would have a dramatic influence on the path my life would take.

In September, I started my engineering degree and spent the next 4 2/3 years specializing in pattern recognition and signal analysis. I never forgot that afternoon I’d spent with Scott, though, and whenever possible I took elective courses (such as remote sensing and advanced fluid dynamics) which might one day let me work in underwater acoustics. During this time, I also spent 2 years in co-op work placements in manufacturing, food processing, package sorting system design, MEMS research, ship maintenance planning, and defense contracting. For my senior design project, I was finally able to combine my interest in acoustics with my engineering skills, coupled with my many years of musical experience, and with two other musical classmates in Mechatronics designed and built a software program which generates the sheet music based on the live performance of a guitar or violin. This project would prove to be very important in my eventual acceptance to grad school.

In February 2008, I was two months from finishing my engineering degree and, somewhat mirroring my experience at the end of high school, still didn’t know what I wanted to do after graduation. Most of my classmates were starting full time jobs while others (less than a third, I estimate) were continuing on to grad school. I was exploring both options, but after living on spaghetti sauce for months the thought of an income sounded quite appealing. I had a couple interviews for a computer programming job close to my parents’ place which I was strongly considering taking. To keep my options open, over spring break, when most of my friends either went home or on holiday, I was looking into acoustics graduate schools in the United Kingdom when I stumbled upon the website of the Canadian Acoustical Association, a collection of scientists and engineers (mostly Canadians) working in acoustics-related fields in disciplines as disparate as architecture, medicine, and oceanography. Acting on an impulse, I looked up the backgrounds of the association officers and came across their past president (Dr. Stan Dosso, at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada), and learned that his research interests included underwater acoustics and geophysics. His underwater acoustics research sounded really cool, although I didn’t understand much of it. I contacted Dr. Dosso, sent him my resume & transcript, described my sheet music project to him, and asked him if he was looking for grad students.

The first of several underwater acoustic data collection trips (this one in July 2008) I went on to the Chukchi Sea (northwest of Alaska).  Note the sea ice in the background!

The first of several underwater acoustic data collection trips (this one in July 2008) I went on to the Chukchi Sea (northwest of Alaska). Note the sea ice in the background!

After that first discussion, things fell into place. Dr. Dosso flew me out to Victoria to meet him in person and see the campus. Our meeting went very well, and he got me in contact with an underwater acoustics consulting company (JASCO Applied Sciences) in Victoria who I would work part-time for throughout my MSc degree. JASCO also partially sponsored my MSc research, and to this day I maintain ties to them. I started in the MSc degree program at the University of Victoria in the fall of 2008.

Deploying underwater acoustic recorders in the Chukchi Sea in August 2009.

Deploying underwater acoustic recorders in the Chukchi Sea in August 2009.

In the fall of 2010, as I was nearing the end of my MSc research and was starting to write my thesis, I had much less uncertainty in my career path than at the end of my college days. My job prospects were good, I was more confident in my abilities than I was leaving college, and I enjoyed living in Victoria. In November, I attended my first major scientific conference: the 2010 Acoustical Society of America meeting in Cancun, Mexico. I presented my research into underwater passive acoustic localization and tracking of Pacific walruses, and got some good feedback from the other members of the bioacoustics community. Upon returning to Canada, I got an intriguing email from another grad student who had seen my talk. She was a PhD student at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology (a lab at the University of Hawaii), and had been asked by a professor (Dr. Eva-Marie Nosal) at the University of Hawaii (UH) to keep an eye out for students who might be interested and capable of pursuing a PhD in passive marine mammal acoustics which built upon concepts in electrical engineering. This student suggested I get in touch with Dr. Nosal, as the work I’d presented in Cancun sounded similar to the type of work Dr. Nosal was looking to do. With visions of long sandy beaches and drinks with tiny umbrellas, I contacted Dr. Nosal and a train of emails culminated in an hour-long Skype discussion with me in my lab at the University of Victoria and her in her office in Honolulu. We came to the decision that my abilities, experience, and research interests were a good fit for the project she had funding for, and so in January 2011 we started the process of enrolling me at UH in January 2012 (I still had to write and defend my thesis, and had a prior commitment to work at a NATO acoustics lab for the fall of 2011).

Grad school isn't all work and no play.  In March 2010, two friends and I drove from Vancouver (British Columbia) to Inuvik (Northwest Territories) and got to see the reindeer herd managed north of town.

Grad school isn’t all work and no play. In March 2010, two friends and I drove from Vancouver (British Columbia) to Inuvik (Northwest Territories) and got to see the reindeer herd managed north of town.

The rest largely fell into place. Dr. Nosal and I stayed in touch during 2011 as I tracked down some insidious bugs in my software, finished my research, and spent 3 months working at the NATO lab in Italy (then called NURC). I ended up defending my MSc thesis on January 4th 2012, submitting my final paperwork to the Graduate Studies department on January 6th (including the revisions to my thesis), packed my house up on January 7th (bequeathing my IKEA furniture to my bemused roommates), flew from Victoria to Honolulu on January 8th (never having been to Hawaii before), spent my first month in Hawaii staying with a friend I knew from my time in Italy who, it turned out, was also a grad student at the University of Hawaii, and started at UH on January 9th. Since coming to UH, I’ve finished all the recommended courses for the PhD program in Ocean and Resources Engineering, presented at two international acoustics conferences and a seminar on marine bioacoustics, had my first paper accepted for publication (based on my MSc research), and am continuing to work on ways to leverage my experience in signal analysis and underwater acoustics to gain information on the properties of the ocean using underwater acoustics. I like the work that I do, although some days it can be frustrating. As it turns out, my initial interest in underwater acoustics all those years ago hasn’t been fleeting. However, even if I don’t work in this field for my entire career, attending grad school has been a very rewarding experience for me; grad school has taught me, and is continuing to teach me, how to work and think like a scientist. I’m confident that there are many transferable skills which I am gaining during my time here, and am grateful that I chose to continue my university career after college rather than jump at the first job which came my way.

Brendan Rideout is a PhD student in the Ocean and Resources Engineering department at the University of Hawaii at Manoa where he works as a Research Assistant for Dr. Eva-Marie Nosal.  His current research involves adapting and developing algorithms to estimate ocean waveguide impulse responses using vocalizations created by underwater marine mammals.

How I got into science

By Donn Viviani

Donn Viviani“Aw Mr. V., you ain’t a scientist.”  I was used to a lot of personal criticism from my students.  They had opinions, frequently negative and freely expressed, on the clothes I wore, the food I ate, the car I drove, my breath.  Generally I found this pretty funny- what do preteens know about neckties?  It isn’t as if they fly off the rack at Hot Topic, apparently the apex of fashion for many of my students.  Somehow, though, the fact that my students didn’t see me as a scientist bothered me far more than their opinion that riding the city bus to my job made me a loser.

“I am a scientist and a teacher,” I told them.

“No, you’re a teacher Mr. V., not a scientist” another student replied.

I pointed out that I had worked as a lab technician in a molecular biology lab and my contributions had been acknowledged in a published paper.  They still didn’t agree, so I gave them all detention (well, I considered it).

A few weeks later I was chaperoning a group of my students through the Getty Center Museum, looking at an exhibit that included sketches and specimens of plants, ferns, and insects prepared by early European explorers.  I should have been thinking about state content standards and how to use the exhibit and field trip to plan exciting hands-on science lessons for my classes. Instead, I was wondering about ecological interactions between these organisms in their environments. Daydreaming about making field observations and conducting experiments to test these ideas.

The truth was that while I enjoyed teaching and liked my students, I was tired of enforcing dress codes I didn’t care about and prepping my students for weeks of standardized tests.  I was sick of riding the bus halfway across the city to the classes I needed to maintain my emergency teaching credential.  I was downright resentful of the instructor whose class often consisted solely of asking us if we had questions or issues from the past week. If he received no interesting answers, he would say ”well, you have to be here for three hours to get credit for today”, and lock the door and read the newspaper.

So I didn’t go back to teaching the next year.  I worked part time and took a few more science classes at my undergraduate institution.  In one of those, I geeked out by looking at bugs on beach wrack and spiders on riverbanks.   The next semester, I found myself an apprenticeship program at Friday Harbor in Washington State, where I went out to sea, and measured the oxygen content in Puget Sound.  Oxygen is one of those things we cannot live without, like water, and love, and coffee. Because it is invisible and freely available in air, I hadn’t thought much about oxygen before that.  Once I started measuring it, however, I was hooked by the way that biology, physics, and chemistry combine to control how much oxygen is in seawater.  I started looking for a graduate program where I could further study dissolved oxygen in the ocean.

Since this is posted on a graduate student blog, I obviously was accepted to graduate school!  I earned my master’s degree looking at how photosynthesis and respiration change in different parts of the Pacific Ocean (by looking at changes in dissolved oxygen), and wrote a paper on my work.  I’m now working on my doctorate.  Since coming to graduate school, I’ve spent nearly a year at sea.  I‘ve seen the Southern Cross and the Perseid meteor shower from the darkened deck of a ship.  I’ve crossed the Great Pacific Plastic Patch, the Equator, and (nearly) through the track of a hurricane.  I’ve learned much about the ocean; more importantly I’ve learned that there is so much we still don’t know.  Most importantly, I think, I’ve truly become a scientist.

Donn Viviani is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Oceanography at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.  His current research involves looking at how open ocean primary production (via photosynthesis) is partitioned between particulate and dissolved pools. He has spent 329 days at sea doing scientific research.

Path to Graduate School

By Christine A. Waters

Christine A. WatersMy path to graduate school was a mountain, and I was the stone. While many students view this challenge from the perspective of Sisyphus, perpetually rolling their boulders UP the mountain, the momentum with which I left my undergraduate institution flung me over a cliff and off of a ledge. “A rolling stone collects no moss,” is an ancient proverb credited to Publius Syrus, then, of Italy. He was, in fact, a former slave, who by his charisma, wit, and intelligence won his freedom and education. (Today, we refer to the people who create these laconic messages as aphorists.) I’d like to think this particular aphorism encourages me to “keep the ball rolling.” My reasoning for this metaphor, with the mountain and the stone, will become clearer throughout this article, but for undergraduates, uncertain about your future, but/and considering graduate school, I suggest these actions:

TAKE RISKS: Attempt to get research positions or internships during your undergrad. I was an Environmental Hydroscience major at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). During my last two years there, I participated in four Research Experiences for Undergrads (REUs), two consecutive years at my home institution and two summers away from home. When I applied for my first REU, I wanted to get away from El Chuco for a while and to try something new. I didn’t have a defined idea of what I expected, and I didn’t know how to accomplish this, but I did know that I wanted to “gain experience as an undergrad in environmental science”. (This was a good Google Search phrase!) And, because I have never been wicked charming or Stephen Hawking intelligent, any time I’ve applied, beginning with the first REU, I’ve tactically increased my odds by applying for more than one at a time (hint hint). Here is how risk taking, smartly, has boiled down for me:

I participated in four research studies in two years but was rejected for six! Few “successful” people are strangers to rejection. It’s okay. Take risks. Those experiences paid off.

Picture by Joe Petri, fitness and success coach (joepetri.com)

Picture by Joe Petri, fitness and success coach (joepetri.com)

EXPERIMENT: My first undergraduate research experience was at the Sevilleta Long Term Ecological Research facility, in Socorro, New Mexico. While at the Sev (as it is known), I learned many skills that are useful to my graduate research now (collecting water samples, conducting measurements with a multiparameter probe, plotting data in ArcGIS and SigmaPlot Elements software), but the REU also required us to work with other students on their projects while tenured. So, in addition to being exposed to those things particular to the craft of my own choice (geochemistry), I also pulled all-nighters with biologists and learned to “sex” kangaroo rats, for example. (I know you’re giggling now, but to “sex” a kangaroo rat is a familiar way of saying that I learned to identify its gender.) I followed pogo ants in the desert, got peed on by desert turtles in a turtle mobility study, aided in a prairie dog reintroduction program, and facilitated in setting up insect traps at burn plots to see how controlled burns affect wildlife diversity at the refuge. I was introduced to many topics, learned many new things, and made friends and acquaintances that I maintain to this day. When writing about this research to the National Science Foundation (NSF), I talk about the American Geophysical Union (AGU) poster that resulted from my own research and the master’s thesis my samples supported. But when I think about this particular experience, what I remember most are these people and the days and nights I spent working on these other projects. I also hallmark this experience as where I began to want to be a scientist. The exposure I received was just enough for me to finally settle into a discipline. Sometimes, it’s hard to commit to formal wear without trying a few dresses on first.

How to sex kangaroo rats. As a side, the night this picture was taken, the film crew for “My One and Only” (starring Kevin Bacon and Renée Zellweger) were filming on the road in front of our study site. ;)

How to sex kangaroo rats. As a side, the night this picture was taken, the film crew for “My One and Only” (starring Kevin Bacon and Renée Zellweger) were filming on the road in front of our study site. 😉

WORK HARD AND INVEST IN YOUR SUCCESS: My subsequent REUs resulted in much reward, and this is where my metaphor of a boulder rolling downhill (as opposed to me forever pushing one uphill) makes the most sense. I don’t want to bore readers with a previous research essay, but you’re welcome to search me out to ask more about each one of these experiences! In the NSF Pathways to Geosciences Program at UTEP (that I participated in for the two years between summer REUs), I had the opportunity to share my research at the local colloquiums and assist in almost monthly outreach with the local K-12 students. (I love interacting with the kiddie scientists!) I presented at the Students for the Advancement of Chicanos and Native Americans Research Expo. This hard work acted as a gateway through which I was better armed to apply for REUs the summer following my Sevilleta summer. I submit apps to REUs again and ended up going to work for Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) as a Summer Student Fellow. There, I was given a travel award to attend the AGU Fall Meeting 2009, to present my results as first author in a poster. Later, I presented a second poster as first author at the Goldschmidt Conference 2010 in Knoxville, TN. The demand for products, given my full-time undergraduate status, my two part-time jobs, and preparation for conferences left me in this frame of mind like a “ball was rolling”… but it was good stress and it was rolling in the direction of success. Graduate school by my last year only seemed like a natural investment – something that would continue to expand my mind, continue to fuel my ability to meet with individuals who piqued my curiosity about the world we live in, that facilitated my travel to new places, and that harnessed my energy for something productive, creative, and helpful.

With my poster at Goldschmidt… Ms. Joan Lederman of The Soft Earth in Woods Hole, MA, included samples my advisor (Dr. Bernhard Peucker-Ehrenbrink) and I had given to her in her book, “Gaia’s Glazes: Mysteries of Melting Sea Mud Revealed”. I am pointing to a picture of one of the sample baggies on which I had written “Snowball Earth Samples for Ms. Lederman”.

With my poster at Goldschmidt… Ms. Joan Lederman of The Soft Earth in Woods Hole, MA, included samples my advisor (Dr. Bernhard Peucker-Ehrenbrink) and I had given to her in her book, “Gaia’s Glazes: Mysteries of Melting Sea Mud Revealed”. I am pointing to a picture of one of the sample baggies on which I had written “Snowball Earth Samples for Ms. Lederman”.

COMMIT TO HELPING OTHERS ON YOUR JOURNEY: This might be lumped in with, “build a support network,” though there is more to it than that. I’m going to throw to the air that “committing to helping others” is even more important than simply having a support network, but I’m not going to make an argument. You’ve read my article. I’ll leave you with this: Writing this has been cathartic, for me, in that my path to graduate school was rather unplanned. I wanted to vent about it, but after creating this for you, I find that I, inadvertently, did a good job of preparing myself. What I suggest to undergrads thinking about grad school is to utilize the knowledge I’ve presented here to your advantage. Continue to arm yourself with expertise. Continue to build your professional networks. Empower Yourself, consciously, and through it all, do it with humor, care, and a whole lot of patience! Much Aloha, and break a leg!

For more information about:

WHOI Summer Student Fellowship: https://www.whoi.edu/page.do?pid=36375

Sevilleta REU: http://sev.lternet.edu/REU

To find other NSF REUs: http://www.nsf.gov/crssprgm/reu/reu_search.cfm

Christine A. Waters is a veteran of the United States Army and a third-year graduate student in the Marine Geology section of the Geology and Geophysics Department. She is working with, advisor, Dr. Henrieta Dulaiova, on submarine groundwater discharges off the Kona Coast of Hawaii.

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. 

Gambling on Oceanography in Hawaii: The Risk Was Worth The Reward

By Sean Jungbluth

Sean Jungbluth

To describe my path to graduate school, I begin when I first really began entertaining the idea of attending graduate school, which was in my fifth year of university-level work at University of Wisconsin at Madison. I extended my stay in college so that I could pursue Bacteriology as a second major in addition to the general Biology major that I already had obtained. I had sampled a wide variety of classroom and/or research laboratory experiences spanning many biological disciplines during my time as an undergraduate, but ultimately, I really enjoyed the hands-on work performing molecular microbiology based experiments; this sort of lab work really called to me. Inspired by top-quality professors, I knew that I wanted to perform some type of microbial genetics based research for a career.

I interviewed for several jobs within the Biochemistry and Zoology departments after graduation, but ultimately my diversity of experiences allowed me to find a job at a biotechnology business in the Madison-area where they make products for molecular biology. I really enjoyed my time working at this company and continued to expand my knowledge and technique base; however, my desire to continue my education was something that prevented me from getting too comfortable being a staff scientist at a biotechnology firm. I was working there for a few months before talking with a college friend, who happened to be moving to Hawaii. I was asked if I, and my girlfriend – now wife – wanted to take a chance and move out there with him. Not fully content with our employment situations and ready to take a big risk, we decided to take a chance and move to the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

I began looking seriously into graduate programs offered in Hawaii as soon as we made the decision to move there, and quickly decided to apply to the University of Hawaii at Manoa for graduate school. I had done my research and knew that this school had a high-rated Oceanography program, so I decided to take a big chance and apply because, like many people, I find the ocean to be an exciting frontier of exploration. I was able to narrow down a list of professors that I would enjoy working for quite quickly and did my best to contact them in hopes of identifying potential opportunities. Perhaps some of that networking paid off because when applications were reviewed, surprisingly, I was offered a graduate assistant position studying the microbial life at the bottom of the ocean. This still amazes me; I still feel like one of the luckiest people in the world to be picked to do this sort of work, so I cherish every minute of it.

Sean Jungbluth is a PhD student in the Department of Oceanography at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. His research utilizes deep-sea submersibles and molecular tools to look into the nature and diversity of microbial life living within the deep subseafloor. Besides science, he also enjoys current events, scuba diving, surfing, reading, Frisbee, and laughing.

What was your path to graduate school?

Response by John Casey

I’ve been asked this question on occasion in less formal situations and have always drawn a blank, my eyes glaze over and I rattle off some long-winded recount of a series of disparate events that I suppose led me to graduate school, inevitably leaving the person who asked the question uninterested. There was no moment of clarity, no profound advice from superiors, no obscure accident that drew me to graduate school. I was, however, blessed by a contiguous series of exceptional mentors who, for some reason, took a particular interest in my progress from early education through university and later as a technician. With some exceptions, aptitude and merit is a fairly level playing field in the applicant pool for graduate education, that is, if you are considering further study you likely meet the eligibility criteria and credentials for application. Rather it would seem that motivation and confidence are more essential attributes, and for me those attributes grew from experience working with and for my mentor and supervisor Dr. Michael Lomas as an REU fellow and technician at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences. I worked for several years for Mike and was fortunate to participate in various capacities in many research projects with many collaborators from our small field, observe the work-life (im)balance of many of my superiors, and was exposed to the rote and practical aspects vital to growing and maintaining a small research group. With that experience I suppose I was less surprised by the challenges that face all early career scientists, and which dissuade and disenfranchise many. I have few words of wisdom to encourage the prospective earth sciences applicant, but if you take anything from this blog entry it ought to be that there is no substitute for experience: find opportunities to engage with a mentor, work or volunteer in a lab, and if possible apply with your own funding. Oh and keep in mind, basic research will be a short-lived privilege for many, so enjoy it humbly!

Casey_Waimea

John Casey, surfing Waimea Bay

John is a 3rd year Ph.D. candidate at UH Manoa studying central carbon metabolism and the photorespiratory pathway in marine picocyanobacteria. He is broadly interested in the role of marine microbes in mediating elemental cycles and organic matter transformations in the oligotrophic gyres. (https://sites.google.com/site/cmorecasey/)

The One With The Peanut Butter M&M’s

By Shimi Rii

Shimi RiiIn May, I embarked on HOT-252, (possibly) my last HOT cruise for my Ph.D. project.  I say ‘possibly’ because you never know what your committee may spring on you at the last minute. Inside, however, I felt a bit giddy but already nostalgic – there were many adventures that sprung out of these trips to our most frequently visited station in the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre (NPSG).

Leaving Honolulu harbor

Leaving Honolulu Harbor for a business-as-usual HOT cruise.

I have now completed a 2-year collection of monthly DNA/RNA and primary production samples within the Hawaii Ocean Time-series (HOT) program.  The HOT program is now on its 25th year of physical and biogeochemical measurements at Station ALOHA (22° 45’ N, 158° W), an ocean station representative of the NPSG, one of the largest ecosystems on Earth.  For the last 2 years, I had a duffel bag packed with acid-stained garb that was re-washed after every cruise, a mini toiletry set, my yoga mat, and my ukulele, all neatly set aside and ready to go each month.  On May 20, I folded my clean clothes full of pukas (‘holes’ in Hawaiian) and stowed away the empty duffel, hoping not to jinx myself.

Station ALOHA, site of the Hawaii Ocean Time-series, located at 22° 45’ N, 158° W.

Station ALOHA, site of the Hawaii Ocean Time-series, located at 22° 45’ N, 158° W.

I’m looking forward to the benefits of lab life: carpal tunnel syndrome on my pipetting hand, the ability to tell which centrifuge is on by its particular drone, being able to catch up on All Songs Considered podcasts.  But I will definitely miss the monthly trips to Station ALOHA – especially the ping-pong match of playful insults I’ve grown accustomed to throwing at my shipmates, playing Dominion until the wee hours when we should be sleeping, and the constant fight against motion- or food- or microscope-induced seasickness.

In truth, my shipmates have become my sea-going family.  Each HOT cruise is marked by a random exciting event that distinguishes one from another, much like a Friends episode: “The One With All The Fish” or “The One With the Mysterious Smell (you know who you are).”  We worked like a well-oiled machine, understanding each other’s looks, knowing when a Trichodesmium bloom would occur, and enjoying moments of camaraderie at 1 a.m.

A cruise that will forever remain warm and fuzzy in my heart is HOT-242, my first birthday cruise. Though I’ve sailed on research ships for over 10 years, I somehow managed to stay land-rooted on my birthdays.  I woke up to a bouquet of balloons on my stateroom door with a gift bag full of candy and a card signed by everyone on board.  It was just another birthday, but I felt special. This year, I wasn’t going to have Facebook greetings from high school classmates that I never talk to anymore.  Never mind that I had to wake up at 3 a.m. for my CTD cast; I was with my Station ALOHA ‘ohana (family) and it was going to be an awesome birthday at sea.

Balloons from the Station ALOHA ‘ohana on stateroom door.

Balloons from the Station ALOHA ‘ohana on stateroom door.

Science on my birthday cruise was nothing out of the ordinary, with every hour being accounted for and occurring like clockwork, as per usual on a HOT cruise.  The only thing different was an assignment to track down a rogue seaglider that was deployed a week prior.  This seaglider, an autonomous profiling instrument designed to give us real-time environmental data, decided to ignore all assigned depths and commands and it fell on our crew to bring the rebel home.  Unfortunately, this resulted in a spontaneous jaunt to Kaua‘i across the 72-mile-long Ka‘ie‘ie Waho Channel.

The rogue seaglider that went off track during HOT-242.

The rogue seaglider that went off track during HOT-242.

I had been feeling great for the first 4 days of the cruise, and by the time the ship started its channel transit, I was done with my work and watching movies in the lounge with a bag of peanut butter M&M’s.  Unexpectedly, that familiar, slightly acidic taste had developed in my mouth.  “You doing alright? Ready for your birthday cake?” My colleague teased, noticing my fear-filled wide eyes.  “Are you sweating?” He kept on. I glared and waved him away weakly, overcome with sudden shivering. The M&M’s were now sloshing around in my stomach, much like the water around the boat.  It was dinner time, and the smell of sautéed shrimp, normally my favorite, didn’t help. I took deep breaths and closed my eyes, determined to make it to my birthday at sea celebration.

Finally in the mess hall, I closed my eyes to concentrate as my ‘ohana sang “Happy Birthday” and presented me with my cake.  I can do this, I told myself. This day can still be awesome. I managed a smile and stood up to cut the cake, when the room blurred and started spinning.

Gulp. “Fernando, cut this,” I blurted out, shoved the knife in his hand, and ran to the nearest head (bathroom on a ship).

Thanks to HOT-242, it will be a long time before I can eat peanut butter M&M’s again.

Sara Lee birthday cake that I never got to taste.

Sara Lee birthday cake that I never got to taste.

Shimi Rii is a 5th-year Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Oceanography at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.  Her current research looks at the diversity of tiny eukaryotic phytoplankton and their role in carbon cycling in the North and South Pacific Subtropical Gyres.  She enjoys creating things, relaying the awesome-ness of microbes to high school students, and practicing science writing. 

Chasing Plankton

By Michelle J. Jungbluth

JungbluthM

October 23, 2011.  The day started out sunny, warm, pretty much a normal day on Oahu.  Little did I know that it was going to be my own personal ‘D-day’, the next day would be the beginning of a very busy 14 days.  I was having a great night grilling at a friend’s house in St. Louis Heights.  After taking a step out of the house to get some fresh air, I looked mauka into the sky, and noticed the clouds looked darker than usual over the windward side.  “It’s going to happen tonight…” I said, more to myself than anyone around me.  Sure enough, a couple of hours later I went home, hopped on the internet and checked the rainfall. They had already received over an inch of rain in Kaneohe, with no sign of letting up.

I had been preparing for months: e-mailing undergraduate clubs looking for any bodies willing to be ‘on call’ for helping with sampling, assembling all the supplies I would need, checking the forecasts, and generally keeping my wits about me waiting for the day to come.  Greater than 2 inches of rain in 24 hours, that was my trigger.  No less.  I started my “rain watch” in late August, after that any hint or mention of rainfall made my ears perk up, and I immediately checked the forecast.  But one of the first things I learned is that it actually can be difficult to predict severe weather on the islands more than a few days out, unless it’s a monster of a storm.

Waterfalls pouring from the Koolau mountains on the Windward side of Oahu on a particularly rainy day (photo credit: Michelle Uchida)

Waterfalls pouring from the Koolau mountains on the Windward side of Oahu on a particularly rainy day (photo credit: Michelle Uchida)

You might be wondering why I am chasing a storm. Well, I am interested in the response of the plankton community to storm events and how these storms influence the marine food web around the Hawaiian Islands.  We know that the influx of nutrients causes rapid changes in the plankton communities within short time scales, and I specifically want to know what is happening to different species of copepod nauplii (youngest life stages of copepods, the most abundant metazoan in marine ecosystems all over the world)  after these storms, as compared to calm non-storm periods.  This requires sophisticated DNA-based methods, which will be the topic of a future blog article and (hopefully) a few journal articles.

Sunny vs Showers. Contrasting conditions in the bay lead to very interesting plankton dynamics, there are mountains behind that grey haze of clouds.

Sunny vs Showers. Contrasting conditions in the bay lead to very interesting plankton dynamics, there are mountains behind that grey haze of clouds.

Once I arrived home on the night of the storm chase, I sent a flurry of e-mails: to my list of available volunteers to start assigning days to people and get the first couple of days covered, to reserve a boat  for all 14 days at HIMB, and finally, the e-mail to my advisors, subject line: “Storm chase-now!” with obvious contents.

The 14 days of sampling was a whirlwind of activity.  I drove all my supplies from UH Manoa across the Koolau Mountains to HIMB, took the shuttle boat across to Coconut Island, loaded my supplies onto the boat, drove it to my GPS-located sampling location in the center of the South Bay, collected all my samples, measured the water quality, left my supplies on HIMB (I am ever so grateful to someone who will remain anonymous, thank you for sharing your space), and drove my samples back to campus for processing, which was another hour of work.   Then rinse and repeat the same procedure for 13 more days.

Michelle deploying the plankton net

Michelle deploying the plankton net

 The dynamics of the bay tend to change rapidly, and we could see that in the clarity of my plankton samples as well as the water quality measurements.  One day the chlorophyll levels were low and stratified, the next day they were high and seemingly well-mixed.  “Oh look, the freshwater lens is coming, I better collect my zooplankton before it gets here!” to avoid clogging my fine-mesh plankton net.  Each day was an adventure.

Size-fractionated plankton samples collected in Kaneohe Bay

Size-fractionated plankton samples collected in Kaneohe Bay

Each day also presented unique challenges. One day an unmanned sailboat slowly drifted past my boat while I was anchored, and we called it in so that someone could tow it back to its origin before it drifted into the unsuspecting reef.  Another day we rescued a fellow boater whose engine failed and left them stranded not far from HIMB.  On a breezy Sunday, we were anchored at the field site, and then out of nowhere a sailing race began in the exact region of the bay we were sampling from!  I don’t think the sailors were thrilled about it but hey, there was little I could do, I had been sampling there for the past 2 years doing my time-series.  And then there were the days we got stuck in the pouring rain… I rushed to collect my samples while my wonderful volunteer intermittently bailed the boat to keep us from sinking.  However, most days were average, gorgeous Hawaiian days, and sampling could not have gone more smoothly.  Those days always remind me how lucky I am to study biological oceanography at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.   I am finally processing those samples for my PhD work and getting some really exciting data, which is a nice addition to having stories about storm chasing.

Michelle Jungbluth is a student in the Biological 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. 

Aquatic Soldiering – The Norm

By Christine A. Waters

Christine A. WatersI told myself I wouldn’t have to do this anymore. Whaaaat am I doing here?” As the sun beat down on us mercilessly, I played through memories: the incisive friction of Kevlar antennas and tie-downs tearing from my grip in the Chihuahuan Desert under gusts of wind, the swelling cramps in my neck and lower back from carrying 40 lb rucksacks full of gear through twelve miles of coniferous forest in Georgia, and the sweltering heat of Nuclear/Biological/Chemical contamination suit and mask training during monsoon season in Korea. The discomfort of my sunburn was magnified by those memories. Oh, shade! Oh, sundown! 

Christine sporting the SOEST Geology Club cap in dark blue and pumping up the “Little, Little Bad,” our monstrously fierce, inflatable research vessel with lightning-speed 2-horsepower engine.

Christine sporting the SOEST Geology Club cap in dark blue and pumping up the “Little, Little Bad,” our monstrously fierce, inflatable research vessel with lightning-speed 2-horsepower engine.

Our ten-foot inflatable raft wafted up-and-down in the gentle, rolling waves of Kiholo Bay, off the west side of the Island of Hawaii. We were trolling along the shore, surveying waters along the coastline for radon. “Radon?” you say. “Affirmative, radon – the very same one that causes lung cancer when breathed.” Radon is enriched in groundwater from our islands, relative to the ocean (that is), and so we look for it and measure it and use its concentrations at sites (along with salinity, temperature, nutrient and chlorophyll-a concentrations) to tell us where and how groundwater is affecting the coastal zone. In areas like Kiholo Bay, this frying pan where I was currently baking, groundwater is the primary conveyor of nutrients and contaminants to the ocean. So, we survey nature’s bug juice.

  A Hawaiian green sea turtle glides up to the raft and checks us out for a minute. (“Us” are a group of three: two undergraduates and me, a grad team chief, Jane-of-all-trades.) What makes the water do? Well, that’s what I imagine the turtle thinks in passing. This type of thinking helps me get the job done. Soon, we are finished – but not with the day. It is just lunchtime. As I throw on a coverall to protect the few remaining bits of my hide that aren’t lobster pink, we hastily get the raft ready for a new operation. Today’s special for lunch will be: wet crackers, salty cheese with bits of sand, some grapes (who doesn’t like grapes?), and don’t forget to drink water! Our dining facility is the raft, as we’re motoring out to the location of our first radium sample, past the reef, in the middle of the bay. Radium analyses, I will explain in a bit. For now, soldier, we are collecting water samples, and this is a need-to-know kind of job!

Green turtle, Kiholo Bay

Green turtle, Kiholo Bay

“Don’t look at my butt!” my undergrad (unofficial rank = specialist) yells, as she leans over the side of the raft to begin filling our 20 L cubitainer with water. (This is almost always the comment that is made by the poor battle buddy grabbing the sample.) And as we try to hold the raft in position with the oars, the afternoon’s typically choppy tide is beginning to fight with us. Oh no, you don’t! Beat your face, Water! The ocean does not assume the front-leaning position. I am not pleased.

Nonetheless, we are successful! Sample obtained and water quality parameters (salinity, temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen) recorded, we return to the shore to dump it into… a trash can. Ah, science is glamorous! Since there is so little radium in the ocean, we need to collect large volumes of it for measurement. We collect ~60 L of sample.
Radium is a radioactive, daughter product of thorium. Thorium likes to attach itself to particles, is very immobile, and is relatively deplete in ocean waters compared to those originating from land. Thus, little radium is measured on the ocean surface relative to the amount of radium we measure in rivers, lakes (or other bodies with shallow sediments), and groundwater. Radium attaches to particles in freshwater. Where freshwater meets saltwater, it begins to be replaced by chloride from the saltwater, and so it falls off of particles (and into the ocean water). This new supply (compared to the low ocean concentration) is what we’re actively looking for in the waters we sample.

Because radium is radioactive, it decays. So, we can use the radium that lives for the shortest time period to constrain how long the water we’ve sampled has been in nearshore waters and how much mixing with ocean water is taking place. This will be important for identifying things like: how long do groundwater-supplied nutrients stay in an area or how long does contamination persist in recreational waters, et cetera. In the lightest of sense, someday, soldiers in survival training will be forced to tread water in their ACUs in this stuff, and we want to make sure we know what quality of water they’re sucking up – but also how many and how well the phytoplankton (at the bottom of the food chain) are growing around them in the eight hours they’re doggie-paddling.

Trashcans lined up on the basalt, pebble beach, waiting for 60 L water samples for radium filtration at Kiholo Bay in Hawaii. On the shore, you can see the “Little, Little Bad”… just chillin’. Photo by Joseph Kennedy, 2010.

Trashcans lined up on the basalt, pebble beach, waiting for 60 L water samples for radium filtration at Kiholo Bay in Hawaii. On the shore, you can see the “Little, Little Bad”… just chillin’. Photo by Joseph Kennedy, 2010.

Trashcans lined up on the basalt, pebble beach, waiting for 60 L water samples for radium filtration at Kiholo Bay in Hawaii. On the shore, you can see the “Little, Little Bad”… just chillin’. Photo by Joseph Kennedy, 2010.

After eight radium trash cans are filled and filtered (Oh yes, there’s filtering!), we’re ready to roll-out for the day. The sun is setting, and the sky is a beautiful orange, pink, purple, and grey. Hurray! The white tern that is often at Kiholo Bay in the evening eyeballs us from his rock. It’s okay, tern. We’ll see you tomorrow! And tomorrow, I’ll wear long sleeves and sunscreen to the battle. With all the talking that goes on in my head, I wonder at the evidence we’ll discover in this place for groundwater’s impact on the nearshore environment and the coastal ecosystem. On top of this, I wish I could give the world a better answer for why I’m still here. But the truth is, given all my training and history, I really just enjoy this dialogue that’s happening. 😉

Christine A. Waters is a veteran of the United States Army and a third-year graduate student in the Marine Geology section of the Geology and Geophysics Department. She is working with, advisor, Dr. Henrieta Dulaiova, on submarine groundwater discharges off the Kona Coast of Hawaii.

Breaking ice in Antarctica… to discover what lies beneath

by Jaclyn Mueller

Mueller headshot

In March of 2012, I had the opportunity to take part in Antarctic research for the second time in my life. As a graduate student at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, I study RNA viruses that predominantly infect phytoplankton, with a focus on communities in the Antarctic. When I heard that some help was needed on an upcoming Antarctic research cruise, I couldn’t wait to get back down to one of the coldest, windiest, most desolate and absolutely beautiful places on earth. The 40-day expedition took place on the Nathaniel B. Palmer, a research vessel and icebreaker. The cruise was part of a large, multidisciplinary study called LARISSA: Larsen Ice Shelf System, Antarctica, which is a National Science Foundation initiative funded to investigate the ecosystem impacts of a catastrophic loss of ice that took place in 2002, when a 3200 sqkm piece of ice disintegrated from the Larsen B ice shelf into the Southern Ocean on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula. We had a number of scientists on board, ranging from physical oceanographers, glaciologists, and geologists, to biogeochemists, marine benthic ecologists, phytoplankton specialists, microbiologists, and virologists!

The Nathaniel B. Palmer breaking through ice in Antarctica

The Nathaniel B. Palmer breaking through ice in Antarctica

As we departed Punta Arenas, Chile, the Straights of Magellan were quite choppy from the high winds and stormy weather in the area. Many people were immediately ill and turning to Dramamine and saltine crackers for comfort. Surprisingly, as we exited the straights and made our way into the Drake Passage, the seas became incredibly calm. The Drake Passage is the stretch of water where the Pacific Ocean and Atlantic Ocean come together and the Antarctic Circumpolar Current rips through the narrow passage between the southern tip of Chile and the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. It’s notoriously one of the roughest crossings in the world. When the waters are abnormally calm, the passage has been referred to as the “Drake Lake,” and we were lucky enough to experience it!

On our transit through the Admiralty Sound, the weather was absolutely gorgeous and the scenery utterly breathtaking. I truly cannot put into words how beautiful and unique the world is down there. We saw numerous whales, seals, birds, and penguins with enormous ice capped mountains erected on either side of the Sound. Everyone’s spirits were high, with the sun shining and clear blue skies for miles. After the sun went down, a new beauty took over. It was impossible to capture the calm, serenity of the night with my small point and shoot camera. But imagine pitch-black darkness for miles in the distance, with the moonlight casting shadows over an endless sea of icebergs, growlers, and bergy bits. The stars were incredible. You could literally see the entire Milky Way from the top of the ice tower on the ship! At night, the captain, mates, and ice pilot used radar and spotlights to look for icebergs. It was really pretty amazing to watch. Though this vessel was built to break ice, we still had to avoid the giant icebergs and any “fast ice,” or really thick, sturdy ice.

 Clear blue skies on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula

Clear blue skies on the eastern side of the Antarctic Peninsula

Most of our sampling in the Antarctic was dependent upon sea ice conditions. We spent a lot of time breaking ice and attempting to get to stations on our planned cruise track, but often had to make on-the-fly decisions to change location. When ice conditions were really bad, the ice prevailed! If conditions worsened at night, we had to wait until sunrise for easier navigation to determine our next plan of attack. If we were unable to make a large enough hole to maintain the ability to maneuver the ship, the ice was capable of closing in on us with great enough pressure to legitimately squeeze us in! (Don’t worry; the captain wouldn’t let this happen.)

 Adelie penguins on an iceberg

Adelie penguins on an iceberg

Breaking through the ice provided a very different experience for me, as far as cruising conditions go. Usually I get used to the constant rocking of the vessel with the rolling motion of the ocean, but in the ice, conditions are often very stable whilst on station. However, when we were moving through the ice, crushing along growlers, and pushing aside ice floes, it often sounded and felt much like an earthquake. The ship would often get stuck up on an ice floe and tilt sideways, slowly and dramatically, and then crash back down to position as it collided into another one. Working at sea requires us to tie everything down, as we often run into rough seas and everything slides across decks and floors, off of counters and tables, or tips over and onto the floor. While on station, we tend to forget these things; so once we start moving again, everything goes flying!

 A minke whale and crabeater seals following in the ship’s wake

A minke whale and crabeater seals following in the ship’s wake

On the cruise, I assisted with sampling for the Smith Lab, a Benthic Ecology lab at UH that studies organisms that live within and on the seafloor. I worked the night shift from midnight to noon. Scientists usually break up the work on oceanographic cruises into two 12-hours shifts to allow for constant operations around the clock. When it costs over $100,000 a day to operate a research vessel of this size, we can’t afford any breaks! Since I was working as an assistant to one group as well as collecting samples for myself, I had my work cut out for me. If my samples came up at noon, I had to process them fully before I could get to bed, and was still expected to be back and ready for action at midnight! It’s a good thing that ship had a fancy coffee maker and an in-house barista, ready to make me mocha lattes every morning!

 Image of the seafloor showing brittle stars and Scotoplanes (sesea pigs (a species of sea cucumber). Photo credit: Craig Smith

Image of the seafloor showing brittle stars and Scotoplanes (sesea pigs (a species of sea cucumber). Photo credit: Craig Smith

The benthic (seafloor) sampling began with a camera survey of the seabed to determine whether or not the sediment was soft enough for Megacore sampling. The Megacore is a piece of equipment with 12 plastic cylinders that penetrates the seafloor to collect cores of sediment ~20-40 cm deep. When the equipment came back on deck, below freezing temperatures made it very difficult for scientists to retrieve the cores as they were often frozen in place. We then sectioned the sediments by pushing the core up through the plastic cylinder with a piston extruder to slice off 1 cm sections; which were then analyzed for chemical composition, and abundance and diversity of organisms, both large and microscopic. This whole procedure took about 2 hours for deployment and retrieval of the Megacorer, and anywhere from 3-24 hours of processing of the cores.

Megacore sampling on deck

Megacore sampling on deck

The Blake Trawl was one of the more exciting operations, though processing of the sample was very time-consuming and tiring. We basically dragged a net along the seafloor which collected a bunch of sediment and rocks, and any organisms greater than ~2 cm in it’s path. After hauling the large glob of sediments, rocks, and organisms on deck, we dumped it onto a sorting table to hose away the mud and reveal the interesting creatures! The Blake Trawl sorting photo shows scientists hosing away the sediments during one of our night shift trawls. This was the very beginning of the process where we stopped to take a photo… by the end we were covered in frozen mud and water spray from head to toe! It was so cold outside that the water literally froze to our Mustang suits (orange float coats/pants, required for on deck operations), and formed icicles along the edges of the sorting table. As we uncovered the organisms, we sorted them into buckets of filtered seawater, and saved them for identification and food web analyses.

Mueller_trawl

Paulo Sumida, Buzz Scott, Jaclyn Mueller, Caroline Lavoie, and Laura Grange sorting the organisms from a Blake Trawl. Photo credit: Amber Lancaster

We unfortunately did not make it to all of the intended stations due to difficult ice conditions throughout the cruise. However, we were still able to collect a large number of samples from the Larsen A embayment for all of the scientists. We hope to put our samples from the water column and sediments into the context of climate change effects in this region, and determine the impact of large ice shelf losses on the ecosystems below. Continuing to monitor and explore these regions is crucial to understanding the implications of global warming in such a delicate, unique environment.

Jackie Mueller is a PhD student in the Oceanography Department studying marine RNA viral diversity and dynamics. She is using cultivation independent techniques to characterize the composition and structure of the RNA viral community along the Antarctic Peninsula.

Creatures Lurking in the Darkness

By Anela Choy

In clear waters to the far north-west of Hawaiʻi’s main islands is a series of submerged and partially submerged remnants of once volcanic islands and drowned coral reefs.  These land masses and the 139,797 square-miles of the surrounding Pacific Ocean comprise the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, our nation’s largest conservation area and one of the largest conserved areas of marine environment globally.  Of the Marine National Monument, the vast majority of this protected area consists of deep, offshore waters that are also the least explored.

In the summer of 2009 the good ship Hiʻialakai carried a crew of scientists throughout the Monument on a month-long journey to conduct a variety of scientific and cultural explorations.  The Drazen laboratory in the Department of Oceanography at UH Mānoa is also known informally as the Deep Sea Fish Ecology Lab and thus, our participation was focused on using baited deep-sea traps to describe the vastly unknown cast of fishy deep-sea characters.  John Yeh, who designed and built the trap, and I repeatedly threw the trap off the back of the ship at various depths (mostly in very deep waters thousands of feet below the sunlit surface) and at various locations within the Monument.  In addition to comparing the Monument’s deep-sea scavenger community to others’ around the world, we wanted to see how this community varied in both the horizontal and vertical dimensions of the Monument.

The creatures lurking in the darkness were a surprise not only to science but especially to my eyes and mind.  Bright red Heterocarpus shrimps with antennae as long as pencils, slinking and shiny eels with smooth grey skin, ugly deep-sea fish known as rattails with their eyes and stomachs blown-up…these guys were enough to give any normal person nightmares.  Most disturbing (and perhaps most fascinating!) was the giant hagfish (Eptatretus carlhubbsi) that came up in one particularly slimy haul.  We won’t talk numbers and sizes, but know that it was as big as any respectably scary boa constrictor or python.  The hagfish had a face only a mother could love, with multiple fleshy barbels dangling from a large slimy hole (i.e., nostril).  There were no real eyes to look into, only primordial eye spots that held no sign of emotion or previous life.  What stuck with me most (yes, pun intended) was the heinous amount of icky, sticky slime and mucous that oozed out of the collection of glands running along the length of its chubby, slithering body.

photo by A. Choy

photo by A. Choy

John and I spent hours burning through an entire roll of paper towels to clean the continually oozing sticky stuff from the hagfish and everything it touched, including us.  When the spineless fish was as clean as we could get it, we snapped an array of pictures as if it was a celebrity.  That month in the Monument left me awe-inspired and entertained, truly driving home the reality of Earth’s deep-sea environment being less explored than the surface of our moon.

photo by A. Choy

photo by A. Choy