Studying sea turtles, serving as a mentor in science

Similar to the experience of most undergraduates about to earn their degree, my senior year at Stony Brook University was filled with bittersweet excitement as graduation neared and a new chapter in my life was to unfold. I graduated from SBU in 2014 with my B.S. in Marine Vertebrate Biology and a minor in Ecosystems and Human Impact through the university’s Sustainability Studies Program. For me, the next step after graduation was clear: grad school. Thus, I went on to begin my graduate studies this past fall at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS).

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Currently a 2nd year masters’ student, I am working under the guidance of Dr. David M. Kaplan to investigate sea turtle stranding events in the Chesapeake Bay. The Chesapeake Bay is a significant foraging and developmental habitat for thousands of juvenile sea turtles, however each year approximately 200-400 deceased sea turtles are found stranded on local beaches. The number of stranding events in Virginia waters has increased substantially over the years, a major concern for the long-term sustainability of turtle populations. For my graduate research thesis, I am using computer models and field drift experiments to determine likely locations of juvenile loggerhead mortality in the Chesapeake Bay. My research will be used to identify possible causes of mortality and highlight areas of focus for conservation.

The experiences I gained during my undergraduate program at Stony Brook University played a vital role in narrowing my passions within the field of marine science. I found many opportunities as a SoMAS student to directly immerse myself in the field, such as through hands-on lab courses on the Stony Brook Southampton campus and study abroad programs at the Discovery Bay Marine Lab, in Jamaica. Throughout my coursework, I began to form an acute awareness of the delicacy of aquatic ecosystems, raising questions about the sustainability of the marine realm. This spurred a desire to strongly integrate conservation in my future endeavors and led me to pursue the Ecosystems and Human Impact minor within the Sustainability Studies Program to supplement my degree.

My position as an undergraduate research assistant during my junior and senior years under the direction of Dr. Bassem Allam was perhaps my most valuable Stony Brook University experience in my development as a scientist. Working closely alongside graduate students, I dug deeper into scientific thinking and research and gained an invaluable look at the dedication and resolve that a graduate education mandates. Greatly inspired by the support and work of those around me, it was through this experience that I decided to pursue research and continue my education at a graduate level.

Today as a graduate student, I strive to form mentor relationships with students interested in pursuing marine science and provide the same encouragement, time and support that the individuals in my early career served me. I have been able to advise my own undergraduate student this summer and am looking forward to serving as a graduate teaching assistant this upcoming year. I am also excited to participate in VIMS’ GK-12 Program this fall, where I will be sharing my research and helping teach in a local middle school classroom.

Fueled by my enjoyment of research and desire to learn, I am thankful for the opportunities I had as a Stony Brook University student and the crucial impact it had on preparing me for this next chapter of my life. I am eager to continue pursuing my career and am excited to see what the future holds!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy Bianca Santos
Marine Vertebrate Biology Major
Ecosystems and Human Impact Minor
Stony Brook University ’14

2 thoughts on “Studying sea turtles, serving as a mentor in science

  1. Erica, pleasure to read. Our education, careers and lives are an accumulation of all our experiences– some more vital than others– and all connected. So glad you are connected to this community, one you have played a major role in creating. We’re indebted to you. Jim

    • Thanks so much, Dr. Quigley! I find it continually exciting to see where our students’ environmental/sustainability educations take them. It’s my pleasure to share their stories.
      -EC

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