Latitude: 30° 57.80’ S Longitude: 88° 30.56’ W
As a kid, I didn’t think I would be a scientist. I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps and join the navy. I was entranced by my dad’s stories of his days as a submariner, thrilled by his seemingly endless handy fixes for everyday mechanical problems, always prefaced with his trademark “Want to see an old navy trick?” Of course I did—they felt close to magic, and the navy seemed to offer the possibility of travel and adventure that my life in a sleepy suburb sorely lacked. My dad, ever supportive, suggested that I could aim to be an officer in the navy. I had a target, then. In high school I joined my local Navy JROTC unit and focused myself on pursuing an appointment at the US Naval Academy.
But like many teenagers, I found, explored, and ultimately followed other interests. By the time I was applying to colleges, I had turned from my dreams of a life at sea towards other horizons. I wasn’t exactly sure what course I was on, but I was more interested in computers and math than I’d ever been in my life, and more than anything else, I was ready to get out of my hometown and explore. I went to college out of state, in a city I had never visited before. The start of a long journey of discovering just what I wanted to do with myself and where in the world I wanted to be! I found a passion in the biophysics of protein folding and a lab I liked working in. I had my sights set on working on similar topics in grad school. But when I got there, I got the opportunity to work on a project on the biophysics…of squid eye lenses. It was too much to pass up. That project, and the work that followed, sent me back on a path I thought I had left behind. And ultimately, to this voyage.
One of my favorite stories from my dad’s navy days is his crossing the equator at the international date line, a feat that came with a trial and a title—my dad is what they call a Golden Shellback. Several days ago, I was able to call my dad to wish him a happy birthday on the ship’s satellite phone and give him some unlikely news. We had recently crossed the equator ourselves, complete with a ceremony to celebrate the occasion. Against all odds, I’m a Shellback now too, and I’m on my way to the only continent he hasn’t been to.
Thanks for the inspiration, dad.
Originally from Dallas, Texas, I studied biology at the University of Chicago (BA, ‘12) and finished my PhD at the University of Pennsylvania in 2018. After a working as a community scientist and K-12 educator with NYC-area nonprofit BioBus, I moved to Woods Hole, MA to work on a project with Dr. Jack Costello, studying the diet and swimming behavior of comb jellies (ctenophores) in the open ocean. We observe these animals directly by filming and sampling them while SCUBA diving. I have been on three previous oceanographic cruises in the Atlantic ocean, none of them nearly as intense as this one.