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.

SWMS Career Explorations: Teaching intensive institutions

In this blog post, URI SWMS member Tejashree Modak shares her recent experience visiting Bridgewater State University and learning about teaching intensive institutions.

If teaching is your passion and especially if you are thinking of it as a career option, a question you should ask yourself is: What type of teaching am I passionate about? I realized it more than ever before when I visited Bridgewater State University this past March.

It all started when I got an email about the workshop ‘Teaching in Teaching Intensive Institutions’ organized at UMass Boston. I signed up since I was interested in teaching and wanted to make use of the resources it offered. At the workshop we met a variety of professionals from different institutions, in different phases of their career from new faculty to deans, the whole spread! At the workshop, I met a lot of people from Bridgewater State University (BSU).  Dr. Martina Arndt, Professor in the BSU Physics Department shared her story of how she got to her current position in one of the sessions. That got me thinking that I really don’t know what being a professor in a teaching intensive institution entails! Teaching intensive positions have a higher teaching load than research based universities but research is also a part of the expectations from tenure track positions. However, the important difference is that often student participation in research is undergraduate only. I have always been a student in a research university so I know very little about this part of the world.  I got in touch with BSU to see if I could visit to get a feel of their institution. The Dean of Bartlett College of Science and Mathematics, Dr. Kristen Porter-Utley, hosted URI students that shared my curiosity for a full day at BSU!

Rhody Rams Visit Bridgewater Bears

Six graduate students from different departments at URI spent morning to afternoon at BSU on March 31, 2017. BSU is located in Bridgewater, MA with a large beautiful campus. We checked in at the Dean’s office at 9:00am. We were given class schedules of courses taught in our field if we wanted to sit in a lecture.  I got a revision of meiosis taught by Dr. Jeff Bowen to a class of very well attentive students. I was blown away by how engaged the students were and asked such good questions! After the lecture we were led to a conference room and Dr. Porter-Utley along with Dr. Bowen and a new faculty in geology, Dr. Christine Brandon talked about BSU, their experiences and career at BSU. Dean Porter-Utley also gave us a gist about the hiring process, course load and overall responsibilities of a professor at BSU. She encouraged applicants to thoroughly research the institution before applying for open positions and to let that research show through the application. She pointed out that this tells the hiring committee you spent time and tailored your application for the position. She said, “The worst mistake you can make is to show up for an interview without knowing enough about the institution you are applying to.” She says it is very evident and reflects badly on your candidacy for the job. Make a note everyone! Dr. Brandon is a new faculty and Dr. Bowen has been at BSU for several years so we got to hear from two people at very different stages of their career, about their role and experiences at BSU.

Next we split up into our fields of interest and met with faculty that teach in our field. I was in the biology group and met with Dr. Merideth Krevosky, Dr. Kenneth Adams and Dr. Joseph Seggio. Apart from sharing their journey and experiences at BSU, they also gave us some very good advice and shared helpful resources for grants and career decisions. One important advice was that when you apply to undergraduate institutions it is very important to tailor your research questions such that the experiments can be conducted by undergraduate students, be done with smaller grants and shared resources.  This is quite a different thought process than what we are used to in graduate programs at URI. Start practicing your research statements if this is your career choice!

We got so wrapped up into the discussion we didn’t even realize it was time for lunch! We all walked to the fancy BSU dining hall and enjoyed a delicious buffet over more conversation with Dr. Arndt, Dr. Krevosky and Dr. Brandon.  We got many pointers and really good advice from all of them. Unanimously all of them pointed out that building and maintaining collaborations with other research institutions was critical for their research. Many of these collaborations started in graduate school. So as graduate students it is important for us to start building that network sooner than later!

Undergraduate Research Opportunities

The day was wrapped up by a tour of the Dana Mohler-Faria Science and Mathematics Center. Dr. Krevosky gave me a tour of the classrooms and research labs. The research space was immaculate and shared between faculty members where undergraduate students perform experiments. They also write research and travel grants with their professors. Early scientists in the making for sure! It was very cool to see entire research run by undergrads! I wrote my first publication as an undergrad so it felt even more heartwarming to see enthusiastic students finding time from courses to work in the lab!

Thank You, Bridgewater

Each person I met had a different story of how they reached their current position. Some landed there by chance, some had always planned to teach in teaching intensive institution and some tested out the research universities and then came to BSU. But one thing was very evident in all of them: they love what they are doing right now! They love being a part of BSU.  That sends a clear message: you are not limited to academic positions in research universities if you want to stay in academics after your PhD.

All in all it was a very resourceful and enlightening experience to visit BSU. It gave us all the tools to think about teaching as a career option and whether a career at a teaching intensive institution is a viable one for us. I along with everyone who attended the event would like to sincerely thank BSU for the gracious and warm invitation to URI graduate students and for such a thoughtfully organized event! Along with everything else, I found several women role models who are so good at their jobs and provide inspiration to other women who want to pursue a career in science!!

Tejashree Modak, URI PhD Candidate in Cell and Molecular Biology

New SWMS chapter makes a splash at University of Rhode Island

Introducing the new URI SWMS chapter!
Introducing the new URI SWMS chapter!

Inspiration Hits at SWMS Annual Symposium

University of Rhode Island (URI) PhD students, Alexa Sterling and Jillian Freese, felt empowered by the vast network of women they met at the 2015 and 2016 SWMS Symposia.

“I heard candid stories from women who broke boundaries in marine science about the sometimes circuitous paths they took from graduate school to their current position,” says Freese, co-president of SWMS at URI. While women in marine science are more abundant than ever at the student and trainee level, lead scientist and professor roles are still overwhelmingly male-dominated.

“I wanted to help build the sort of supportive community I saw at the SWMS symposium here at URI,” says Freese. It didn’t take long for Sterling and Freese to mobilize an ambitious group of women in marine science in their own community.

At the first SWMS meeting held last December at URI, more than 20 women (including graduate students, undergraduates, faculty and staff) shared their ideas and enthusiasm for the future of SWMS. “We are really excited for the momentum the group has picked up so quickly,” says Sterling, co-president of SWMS at URI.

As of today, the group has already established several committees focused on what members are most passionate about: mentoring, outreach, professional development, and science communication.

Not wasting any time, SWMS planned several professional development workshops and outreach events at URI. This month, SWMS will host a panel of five women across government, academia, and science communication career paths to discuss their experience and insights. The outreach committee has designed hands-on activities for the local SMILE (Science and Math Investigative Learning Experiences) Forth Grade Ecology Field Day in April. In hopes to foster an interest in marine science, SWMS will lead activities including bird stomach dissections and plankton identification.

Unique Opportunity for Undergraduate Engagement

In March, SWMS kicked off its undergraduate-graduate mentoring program to foster supportive relationships among members. “I am so grateful for the graduate students who helped me when I was younger – this is our way of paying it forward,” says Sterling.

Both graduate students and undergraduates are looking forward to the social events and professional development opportunities promoted by the mentoring relationship. “At URI, we have the opportunity to actively include undergraduates in this organization,” says Freese. “We hope these mentoring relationships will encourage undergraduates to stay in science.”

Karla Haiat, an undergraduate double majoring in Marine Biology and Ocean Engineering, was thrilled to hear that SWMS was forming at URI. “SWMS has provided an open and safe environment where learning, networking and support between members is encouraged,” says Haiat. “As an undergraduate, there is nothing more valuable than having the support and friendship of more experienced scientists and peers that can understand the challenges of this field.”

URI Faculty Show Support for Women in STEM

Sterling and Freese acknowledge that URI faculty members, Dr. Bethany Jenkins, Dr. Jacqueline Webb, and Dr. David Smith, have played an integral role in the formation of SWMS at URI.

Through her work with RI Girl Scouts, Dr. Jenkins, Professor of Cell and Molecular Biology and Oceanography, has provided a unique platform for SWMS at URI to get involved in more outreach and communication with the broader community. Dr. Jenkins was one of three female URI professors to receive Antarctic cruise funding this season, and is regularly involved in outreach programs engaging young girls in science.

Dr. Webb, Marine Biology Program Coordinator and the George and Barbara Young Chair in Biology, is a mentor for numerous undergraduates in the Marine Biology program at URI. Naturally, Dr. Webb became an advocate for women to stay in scientific fields and she recently led a workshop for SWMS members on creating professional CV’s.

Associate Dean of the Graduate School of Oceanography (GSO) at URI, Dr. David Smith, has not only helped jump start SWMS at URI, but has spoken on panels at the annual SWMS Symposia. Dr. Smith recently spoke to the chapter about the process of applying to graduate school. As a representative of the GSO, Dr. Smith has been key in motivating connectivity between the URI campus and GSO campus.

Faculty and student involvement in SWMS has fostered meaningful connections not only between URI’s main campus and Graduate School of Oceanography at the Narragansett Bay campus, but also throughout the wider community. “With a large group of marine science researchers, I felt that SWMS would allow us to focus on professional development and increase our opportunities for collaboration and public outreach,” says Freese.

Anyone involved in or interested in marine science is welcome to join SWMS – man or woman. Stay tuned for more exciting events coming up this semester at URI and profiles of our members in the near future.

Melissa Hoffman, Master’s Student in Biology & Environmental Science