Meet Emily: Unlikely SWMS Member and Aspiring Optometrist

Written by Lauren Salisbury, Senior Marine Biology Major at URI

Meet Emily McDermith, a rising URI sophomore, SWMS member, and aspiring optometrist. Although she seems like an unlikely member of the Society for Women in Marine Science, McDermith has proven to be one of the most involved and committed members.

Growing up in Maine, she spent her summers on the islands of Portland. There, she says she “developed an appreciation and fascination for marine life”. Although she is a Cell and Molecular Biology major on the Microbiology track, McDermith still fulfills her passion for the ocean other ways.

Emily McDermith presenting her poster at the NSF EPSCoR Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship Symposium
Emily McDermith presenting her poster at the NSF EPSCoR Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship Symposium

Emily was introduced to marine science during the second semester of her freshman year when she began working in Dr. Bethany Jenkins’ microbiology lab. Here, Emily saw an opportunity to further explore the issues that affect the ocean. This led her to apply for the NSF EPSCoR Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF), which she was awarded. This summer, Emily worked with URI SWMS co-president, Alexa Sterling, and Dr. Bethany Jenkins investigating a possible mutualism between Antarctic phytoplankton and bacteria in low-iron marine environments. She presented a poster of her findings at the 2017 SURF conference.

Emily enjoyed her summer fellowship and said “Having the opportunity to solely focus on research this summer I’m amazed at how much I’ve learned. Being able to solve problems that arose and design my own experiments has taught me to think like a scientist. I’ve learned the importance collaborating with lab mates, especially when obstacles cropped up, and time management in the lab.”

McDermith plans to continue to conduct research and says it has given her a unique perspective that has made her courses more interesting and meaningful. Emily advises other students to pursue research experiences outside of their major. McDermith states that “Being exposed to marine science has made me a more well-rounded scientist.” This balanced approach to her career goals will surely benefit Emily throughout her undergraduate career.

Even though Emily enjoys undergraduate research in marine science, her post-graduate aspirations are quite different.

“I hope to go onto optometry school.“ says McDermith, “Optometry is a career that I can use science to solve problems in order to help others. It’s more than just prescribing glasses and contacts; it’s a chance to give clarity.” When asked what advice she has for those wishing to switch disciplines, Emily had this to say; “Don’t be afraid to explore all of your passions and areas of interest. Exploring marine microbiology has made me a more versatile scientist and has allowed me to bring a different perspective to my major.”

This semester, Emily is looking forward meeting with the clubs she participates and getting back into her bacteria research. You can meet Emily at the 2017 November SWMS Symposium.