Six Questions with SWMS – Meghan Donohue

Six Questions with SWMS is a series of interviews with women across marine science with a wide range of career paths, degrees, and experiences. 


Meghan Donohue (image credit: WHOI)

What is your current job, and how did you end up there?

I am a Senior Engineering Assistant at WHOI for the Mooring Operations and Engineering Group.  After I graduated with a degree in Marine Science Physics and a USCG Mate’s license so I could work as crew on research vessels, I ended up working for Scripps Institution of Oceanography as a Restech.  A restech is basically a shipboard technician who manages the deck, the equipment, the shipboard labs, the shipboard computer programs, and is the logistics coordinator.  While I was doing that, I was feeling out what I wanted to specialize in.  I really liked doing mooring work, so I made connections with the head of the Mooring Group at WHOI and I became lucky when a job opening came up in this group.

What is your favorite thing about marine science, or your research field more specifically?

My favorite thing is going out to sea and doing field research.  There is nothing greater than being on the back deck of a ship working with a team of people all focused on achieving the same thing… using the tools of the trade to acquire data for the scientists to better understand and increase the knowledge of the world regarding our oceans and planet.

What is your greatest professional/educational accomplishment?

My greatest educational accomplishment is realizing you don’t need a master’s degree or a PhD to do what you love.  It took me many many years to figure that out since I was trained as an undergrad to continue my oceanographic education and expected to pursue a PhD.  The knowledge that I have now is not taught in any master’s or PhD program, which is a shame because there needs to be a greater focus on the technology of oceanography.

My greatest professional accomplishment has been working with undergrads, grad students, and post-docs from around the world, teaching them how to acquire data and the realities of working in oceanography and providing them with whatever resources they may need.  Seeing them get inspired and watching them grow after I have worked with them is amazing.

What are your goals for the next six years?

My goals are always evolving and currently I haven’t figured out what my new work goals are.  Everything for me right now is focused on figuring out how to manage being a seagoing mother with very young children.  A feat on its own when you are shoreside and an incredible logistics and emotional challenge for the parents and children when you are seagoing.

Megan Donohue, wearing a hat
Megan Donohue (image credit: WHOI)

What advice would you give the six-years-ago version of yourself?

I guess I’m still following the same advice: tough it out and focus on what you enjoy the most… There are always s**t parts to every job and to every company.

Our theme for our 4th annual fall symposium was “Swimming in Confidence: Declaring your Scientific Authority.” How do you increase your self-confidence?

Self Confidence is tricky.  After being in the business for 20 years (eek, I’m old), you learn that self-confidence will ebb and flow.  It is okay for it to fluctuate.  Sometimes little things will give you a huge boost and sometimes something minor will knock you down for a while.  Try to stay focused on your goals and when you’re feeling low take a step back and try looking at your career/life from a different perspective.  Think about how far you have come from when you first started in the field.

Remember: you don’t have to be perfect at what you do.  It is okay to have a shaky/quivering voice when you are speaking in front of a group, it is okay to be embarrassed in front of co-workers… Don’t compare yourself to others, you don’t know their whole story even if they are your work BFF. Everyone has a unique skill set with some overlapping qualities, just always be you and you will thrive!

Six Questions with SWMS – Sonia Ahrabi-Nejad

“Six Questions with SWMS” is a series of interviews with women across marine science with a wide range of career paths, degrees, and experiences. 

Sonia Ahrabi-Nejad

What is your current job, and how did you end up there?

I work as a School and Youth Programs Educator at Audubon Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans, Louisiana. With School Programs I lead and help develop lessons for visiting school groups coming on field trips to the aquarium. These lessons cover a range of topics from frogs, to rainforests, to shark dissections. With different schools visiting each day, I have a new experience each time. I also train and supervise the youth volunteers that come to the aquarium on the weekends. Over the summer, I led a month-long training for a group of 20 middle schoolers to teach them about the aquarium as well as how to talk about climate change and its impact on ocean habitats. During the school year these volunteers interact with visiting guests, passing on their knowledge and climate change solutions.

I went to Northeastern University for my undergraduate degree and participated in their cooperative education program. I knew I wanted to work in informal education when I got my first internship at the Northeastern University Marine Science Center in Nahant, Massachusetts. While there I worked with classes teaching kids to do biological surveys in the intertidal zone. I loved connecting kids to real science methods. Since then I have worked as an educator in the Everglades and at fishing camps, and when I moved to New Orleans I was lucky to continue working as an informal science educator.

What is your favorite thing about marine science, or your research field more specifically?

My graduate research focused on two small tuna species commonly caught by recreational anglers in southeastern Florida. Working with non-scientists, especially children, and helping them understand their connection to the ocean and their impact on it is my favorite thing. Even though I am not currently doing research, I love to translate active science to the general public to foster a better connection between scientists and the community.

What is your greatest professional/educational accomplishment?

All of my accomplishments, including graduating with a bachelor’s in biology and a master’s in marine biology, have gotten me to this point in my life, so collectively those are all my greatest accomplishments. Through all of this I have grown and I am glad for all of my experiences.

What are your goals for the next six years?

I want to continue to grow in my ability as an informal science educator and develop programs that engage audiences about the ocean. It is becoming more important that people not only talk about climate change and its impact on the world, but also about how collectively we can make changes to our lifestyles that will help reduce this impact.

What advice would you give the six-years-ago version of yourself?

Six years ago at this time I was in the fall semester of my senior year of undergrad and working at my Marine Science Center internship. I had just come back from a year-long marine biology program called the Three Seas Program run by Northeastern University. During this year my class traveled and researched marine biology in the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and Pacific Ocean. I was trying to decide what I should do after graduation and if I should pursue a graduate degree or start applying for jobs. My advice to myself would be to work towards your goals but be flexible in the path you take to get there. Find out what makes the most sense for you, what makes you the happiest, or what gives you the skills you want to develop.  

Our theme for our 4th annual fall symposium is “Swimming in Confidence: Declaring your Scientific Authority.” How do you increase your self-confidence?

I am lucky that I have a strong group of women to whom I can look for guidance and assistance, both professionally and personally. By talking and brainstorming with these women I am able to increase my self-confidence and see my accomplishments through others’ eyes. Sometimes I need to take a step back to appreciate how far I have come.

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.

Six Questions with SWMS – Dr. Rika Anderson

“Six Questions with SWMS” is a series of interviews with women across marine science with a wide range of career paths, degrees, and experiences. 

Dr. Rika Anderson
Dr. Rika Anderson

What is your current job, and how did you end up there?

I’m an assistant professor in the biology department at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota. I teach bioinformatics, introductory biology, a course on the origin of life, and I’m hoping to develop a study abroad program with a focus on oceanography and the history of oceanography. Carleton is a 4-year small liberal arts college, so I teach small classes of undergraduates, and during the school year and over the summers I have undergraduates working in my lab to help conduct research.

I’ve wanted to be a professor at a small liberal arts college ever since I graduated from a small liberal arts college (Carleton, coincidentally!). So throughout graduate school I made a point of telling my advisors and my graduate committee that this was my long-term goal, and I sought out teaching opportunities as a graduate student. I TA-ed more classes than was required by my program, and I found ways to act as a co-instructor for classes in the oceanography department at the University of Washington, which is where I got my PhD. I wanted to develop my skills in pedagogy, so I participated in the Biology Education Research Group at UW to learn about the latest research on effective teaching practices. I knew that I needed to get teaching experience under my belt if I wanted to be competitive on the job market for a small liberal arts college, but I knew that I also needed a good postdoc. So I spent one quarter teaching oceanography at The Evergreen State College before starting a NASA postdoc. I went on the job market immediately during the first year of my postdoc (I saw it as a good way to practice, and it was!) and the next year I got my current position at Carleton.

What is your favorite thing about marine science, or your research field more specifically?

I study microbial evolution and ecology in deep-sea hydrothermal vent systems, so I dabble across astrobiology and oceanography. I love how interdisciplinary my field is, and I love the fact that we ask big-picture questions. I get to talk to oceanographers, geologists, biologists, chemists, atmospheric scientists, and astronomers as part of my job, which keeps things interesting and stretches my brain in new and fascinating ways. We ask questions related to the origin and early evolution of life, the fundamentals of evolution, how climate change might affect marine ecology, and more. Students love these kinds of big-picture questions, so it’s a powerful tool to attract students to STEM disciplines at all ages.

What is your greatest professional/educational accomplishment?

I always think of my students as my greatest accomplishments. Whenever I see a student go on to do great things, or even when I see a student’s eyes light up in response to something they’ve learned in class or in doing research with me, I feel like I’ve accomplished something. That’s why I love teaching.
What are your goals for the next six years?

Well, I’ve just started here, so my main goal is to keep my head screwed on straight, enjoy myself, and establish myself here at Carleton! I’m hoping to get my research program off the ground and publish some papers with my students, and thanks to some absolutely amazing students I had working with me this summer, we’ve made great progress on that. I’m also really looking forward to developing a study abroad program that focuses on a combination of science and society through the lens of oceanography, marine ecology, marine policy, and the history of oceanography and maritime exploration.

What advice would you give the six-years-ago version of yourself?

Six years ago was 2011, and I was deep in the throes of graduate school. I’d say it’s important to identify your goals and work towards them, but at the same time take time for yourself. Go on those backpacking trips, take the time to spend time with friends and family. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by things like qualifying exams or generals in graduate school, or to feel like you aren’t accomplishing anything. Take the long view and keep the important things in mind: your long-term goals, and taking time for yourself.

Dr. Rika Anderson (center) and colleagues in the DSV Alvin ~7 years ago.
Dr. Rika Anderson (center) and colleagues in the DSV Alvin ~7 years ago.

Our theme for our 4th annual fall symposium is “Swimming in Confidence: Declaring your Scientific Authority.” How do you increase your self-confidence?

I’ve been told that I have a problem with confidence, and I think I’m not alone among women in academia! I find that teaching and mentoring is actually a huge confidence-booster. When I’m mentoring or teaching students, I can so often see myself in those students, reminding me of what it felt like to be in their shoes just 5 or 10 years ago, often asking the same questions they were asking me. It reminds me how far I’ve come, and helps me feel that I have, in fact, learned useful skills and become wiser (I think!) since I was a student in college.

I think an important distinction to draw is that it’s possible to be self-confident while also possessing a strong sense of self-awareness and humility. I place high value in being confident in my own skills and my knowledge while also recognizing the skills of others and understanding the limits of my knowledge. It can be difficult to admit to a class full of students that you don’t know something, but ultimately I’ve found that students’ respect for me increases if I tell them (confidently) that I don’t know something, but that there’s nothing wrong with that and that we can learn something new together.

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

Gearing up for SWMS 2017

Steering Committee at OCB meeting

By Chrissy Hernandez

For the past few years, the SWMS Steering Committee has been comprised primarily of students and postdocs based at WHOI and MIT. Despite our close geographical locations, we have all of our meetings via Skype. This has made it easy to transition to having Steering Committee members in more far-flung locations. When Femke DeJong was wrapping up her postdoc and spending more time at home in the Netherlands, she continued to participate in our meetings and with website upkeep. And this past year, after Ellie Bors and Sophie Chu defended their theses at WHOI, they moved on to exciting postdoctoral fellowships but have continued to support us back ‘home’ as we work to grow SWMS. Ellie is currently a Knauss fellow in DC, and Sophie is in Seattle, splitting her time between NOAA and the University of Washington.

The 2016 Symposium was  planned entirely over Skype!
The 2016 Symposium was planned entirely over Skype! Annie, Sophie, Femke, Gabi, Ellie, and Chrissy (clockwise from top left) are used to e-meetings, but we are excited to add two new members to our crew. 

As exciting as it is that our experienced Steering Committee members are staying on to help guide our organization through some growing pains, it’s an even bigger deal to bring in some fresh blood! Alexa Sterling and Anna Robuck, students at the URI Graduate School of Oceanography, have generously volunteered to help plan and run the 2017 SWMS Symposium. These ladies are already doing an amazing job with the URI Chapter of SWMS, which you can read about here. Their participation in planning the 2017 Symposium will be invaluable because they add a perspective that is outside of WHOI, and because they’re bringing all kinds of great ideas about what has worked well for SWMS at URI!

I guess that in our highly-connected, social-media-filled society, it shouldn’t seem so weird to meet people and collaborate with them electronically…but it still does! Since Alexa was in Woods Hole last week for the Ocean Carbon Biogeochemistry (OCB) meeting, she and I made plans to meet up in person (for the first time ever!). When I realized that Sophie, Hilary, and Annie were also participating in OCB, I was so excited to have a get together!

Although I wasn’t participating in OCB this year (#fieldwork), I went to the Tuesday evening poster session and had the opportunity to hear about Hilary’s current research. We asked a kind stranger to take some photos of us, because this is the first time we’ve had this many Steering Committee members in one room (outside of the Symposium). After that, the 5 of us went to the Captain Kidd for a lively session of eating, drinking, talking, and being merry! It was a special treat to have Annie out with us for the evening (big thank you to her husband for watching their kids!), to have Sophie back in town, and to meet Alexa face-to-face! Of course, I also had fun hanging out with Hilary, but I get to see her most frequently outside of the group.

Steering Committee at OCB meeting
SWMS Steering Committee members Sophie, Alexa, Annie, Hilary, and Chrissy (L to R) got together at the OCB meeting.

After this brainstorming session, we’re ready to hit the ground running with planning the SWMS 2017 Fall Symposium. Our next priorities are to pick a theme and invite a keynote speaker. We’re also working on setting up registration forms and designing our program. If you have a scientist in mind that you would like to hear speak, on either their awesome science or the specific experience of being a woman in marine science, please email us at!

We are so excited to see you on November 3rd in Woods Hole!

Member Updates: Corals, Parasites, and Graduation

Megan Frenkel: first paper published!

Megan (Meg) Frenkel, a PhD student at Columbia/LDEO, published her first paper! “Quantifying bamboo coral growth rate nonlinearity with the radiocarbon bomb spike: A new model for paleoceanographic chronology development” was published in Deep Sea Research I, and is based on her undergraduate honors thesis at Bowdoin College with Michèle LaVigne

Close up of Meg Frenkel smiling at the camera
Meg Frenkel

Meg’s journey to publication was not exactly smooth: when she was almost ready to submit the paper, her computer crashed and she had to remake all her figures and reprocess part of the data — yikes! She is excited to have her first publication out and is now transitioning to working on dust flux at Lamont. You can read her paper here.

Bamboo coral with calcitic internodes (white) and organic gorgonin nodes (black). Image credit: NOAA
Bamboo coral with calcitic internodes (white) and organic gorgonin nodes (black). Image credit: NOAA

Meg is on Twitter at @megfrenkel.

Jillian Freese: review paper published!

Did you know that there are over 6,000 species of red algae, and that the latest review published about this huge assemblage of species and their parasites was written by a grad student?  Jillian Freese, a PhD student at the University of Rhode Island, recently published an invited review in Molecular and Biochemical Parasitology on parasitism in red algae. Her research in the Biological and Environmental Science department focuses on red algal parasite development. While researching for her paper, Jillian really enjoyed seeing how much each paper built off others from the past, even as far back as the 19th century.  At that point, the most cutting edge research focused on the appearance and shape, or morphology, of red algae specimens.

red algae illustration
This illustration of red algae was published in 1849. Image contributed to the Biodiversity Heritage Library by Museums Victoria.



Red algae
Modern photograph of red algae. Image credit: University of Wisconsin Plant Teaching Collection, used with permission.








The most challenging part of getting the paper out was the actual writing. “There’s something about that blank document and blinking cursor that can be intimidating,” Jillian said. Read her paper here to learn all about the fascinating link between red algae species and their parasite friends.

Jilliane Freese with red algae
Jillian Freese with red algae sample.

You can find Jillian on Twitter @JillianFreese.

Dr. Sophie Chu: graduation!

Model, doctor, or both?!
Model, doctor, or both?!

Sophie Chu defended her thesis back in January, but she finally got to wear a funny hat and walk across the stage this month! Dr. Chu earned her PhD in the MIT-WHOI Joint Program in Oceanography. She traded one joint program for another when she graduated and is now a postdoc with the Joint Institute for the Study of Atmospheres and Oceans (JISAO), where she is part of the NOAA PMEL carbon group.

Sophie and her boyfriend in front of mountains
Sophie and her boyfriend are loving the PNW life!

Sophie is a SWMS steering committee member and is working on starting a Seattle chapter of SWMS.

Written by Gabi Serrato Marks, PhD student in the MIT-WHOI Joint Program and SWMS steering committee member.

Do you have news to share?

The Society for Women in Marine Science would like to start posting about our members’ exciting news and accomplishments to highlight the excellent work being done by women marine scientists.

Is your first (or fiftieth) paper coming out? Are you graduating, or did you get tenure? Did you just get back from a two week cruise? Did you write an article for a public outlet?


We want to hear about it! Nothing is too small to celebrate.

Please fill out this form about your news, and then email us a picture at to go along with it.We plan to write posts with a group of member updates, so look out for those in the future. We can’t wait to hear what you are all up to!


PS: not a member yet? Fill out our membership form here, and then send the link to your friends.

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