Knauss Update: Placement Week

A few weeks ago, I attended Knauss Placement Week in Washington D.C. During this week, all the 2018 Knauss Fellowship Finalists interview with potential host offices, to eventually be placed in one for their upcoming fellowship year. For the first time in my life, I put on a full suit, complete with a Sea Grant pin on my lapel, and plenty of butterflies in my stomach. After 18 interviews across 2.5 days, a few missed meals, and blisters from wearing high heels later, I’m thrilled to announce that I’ll be spending my Knauss Fellowship year with NOAA’s Ocean Service, National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science in the Biogeography Branch of their Marine Spatial Ecology Division! I am so excited to learn from a great group of scientists, while seeing how science is turned into policy at the federal level. Now just to wrap up my thesis, before making my way to D.C. in February!


Executive Knauss Fellows from Virginia, at NOAA in Silver Spring, MD post-placement.

Easy, breezy, beautiful…cover-snail

The beautiful coffee-bean snail (Melampus bidentatus), made the cover of this month’s issue of Ecology and Evolution! This fantastic photo was taken by my advisor Dr. David Johnson at our field site in Plum Island, Massuchusetts. Our recent paper, published in this issue, highlights how coffee-bean snails will respond to a changing marsh in the face of rising seas. While their responses may not be easy nor breezy, they sure are beautiful creatures. We are so excited our snail was chosen as this month’s covergirl cover-snail!

E&E Cover

Field Experiment Up and Running!

The arrival of summer brings with it the start of field season, my favorite time of the year! This summer, I’m continuing to study how animals are influencing salt marsh responses to sea-level rise. Last year, I went from marsh to marsh, taking observational measurements of crab activity, grass abundance, and sedimentation. This summer, I’m switching gears and manipulating marsh crabs in cages to see how grass and sedimentation respond to the crabs’ continual presence. Stay tuned to hear how it goes! For now, check out the pictures below to see how setup went!

Virginia Science & Educators Alliance Expo

As a Virginia Sea Grant Graduate Research Fellow and a scientist dedicated to sharing my work with a broader audience, I participate in various outreach opportunities. One such outreach opportunity is the Virginia Science Educators Alliance (VA SEA), through VIMS Marine Advisory Services. During this program, graduate students created interactive lesson plans, based on our research, for middle and high school classrooms. I have always been interested in enhancing coastal literacy at the K-12 level, and this program was a great chance to do so. Many drafts and post-implementation teacher feedback later, I finalized my lesson plans and shared it at the VA SEA Expo, this April. Around 100 teachers from the area came and were able to see demos of all the students’ lessons, leaving with a flash drive loaded with all of them. Additionally, teachers unable to attend the expo can access the lessons via the NOAA Sea Grant and National Marine Educators Association sponsored Bridge, which features a host of marine education resources for teachers. It was a great opportunity for me to not only share my work with others outside the scientific community, but to be able to turn it into an interactive hands-on experience for young students, and maybe even a few future scientists.

Benthics 2017

JLab packed our bags and headed down to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina last week to attend the 46th annual Benthic Ecology Meeting. My advisor, Dr. David Johnson, labmate Serina Sebilian, and myself presented some of our work. It was a great time to not only share what our lab has been working on, but also to see what work is being done by others in the broader scientific community. Lots of learning, lots of fun, and lots of big time science! Want to hear about what we presented? Keep an eye out for some publications in the future!

Exploring the world of policy in state government

Last week, I had the opportunity to travel to Richmond, Virginia on a policy expedition with Virginia Sea Grant. Throughout my career, my interest in the science-policy interface has grown, along with my desire to participate in responsible natural resource management. To that end, I have tried to take advantage of as many policy-related professional development opportunities as possible. Last year, I participated in a similar trip, to Washington D.C., where our focus was understanding how science plays a role in policy at the federal level. This year, we applied this same question to the state level, aiming to understand how science is involved in policy decisions and what skills are needed to be successful working in the science-policy interface. We met with professionals from a broad range of roles within state government, from budgeting staff to deputy attorney generals and deputy secretaries of natural resources. After hearing the path each speaker took to their respective positions, we were able to ask questions about working at the science-policy interface. One of my biggest takeaways from this trip was that clear communication skills to non-science audiences are key. While many management decisions are informed by science, decisions are not necessarily made by scientists. Instead, professionals with widely varying backgrounds from law to public administration to science are making decisions and creating the policies that manage our natural resources. Therefore, being able to clearly communicate the science that is informing these policies is critical. In addition to discussing the importance of clear communication skills, it was beneficial just to learn about the differences between federal and state policy. As I continue to delve further in to the science-policy interface and develop my communication skills, I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to participate in this trip, and plan to utilize the insight gained to help me be more successful working at this interface as I progress in my career.


Lab Tours and the Next Generation

Last week, Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) and Old Dominion University hosted Blue Crab Bowl, the regional competition for the National Ocean Sciences Bowl. In this fierce competition, teams of high school students from all over Virginia showcase their knowledge of ocean sciences. In addition to competing, the teams in this years competition toured various labs around VIMS. During these lab tours, I had the opportunity to showcase the research that I and the rest of the JLab does. In addition to being able to share the motivation for my Master’s research and why salt marshes are important, pass around some frozen fiddler crabs, and show off Sesarma burrow footage, I was also able to talk about the path that brought me to graduate school at VIMS. While I have always recognized the importance of communicating research to the general public, being able to talk with the next generation about how they can get involved in research, and potentially begin a career in science was extremely rewarding. Congratulations to all these awesome students for their participation in Blue Crab Bowl!

Wrapping up field season 2016

This summer has been a wild ride. From swimming for water samples in the 11 ft. tides of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to trudging through hip-deep mud on Virginia’s Eastern Shore to measure sedimentation, this field season has been the most rewarding yet. This summer marks the beginning of the research I’m conducting for my Master’s, focusing on the indirect role of crabs in salt marsh geomorphic processes, via their interactions with marsh grass. My goal for this summer was to conduct a survey of salt marshes, quantifying the effect of two different crab species, the Atlantic marsh fiddler, Uca pugnax, and the Purple marsh crab, Sesarma reticulatum, on smooth cordgrass, Spartina alterniflora, and ultimately sedimentation, which is essential for salt marsh resilience in the face of sea-level rise. Thanks to funding from Virginia Sea Grant and the Garden Club of America, I was able to travel to five sites along the Atlantic Coast, from Cape Cod, Massachusetts all the way down to Goodwin Island at the mouth of the York River in Virginia, sampling grass, sedimentation, and crab abundances along the way. After many long days in the mud, and a few fiddler crabs in the pants later, I am so proud to have finished all the sampling for this summer’s survey. I couldn’t have made it through this summer without all the support from the rest of the Jlab team (David Johnson, Cynthia Crowley, Kathy Longmire, and Serina Sebilian). Now time to process the hundreds of samples we collected!