Field: Formerly marine biology; currently regulatory toxicology
Job/position: Government Scientist
How long have you been working in this field? 15 years
What kind of story would you like to share? Achievement Story
Please share your story here:
It took me nine years to get accepted as a volunteer at a marine laboratory in Florida. Everyone wanted to be there, it seemed. I was told to stay in school and keep trying. I came back every year and, finally, they had a new researcher who felt he could use me as a field assistant. I was in!
In three months, I was getting paid as a temporary employee and that morphed into full time. After doing random field projects for seven years it was suggested that I should specialize. No one was working on manatees (or other marine mammals) at the lab so I and another fellow started a marine mammal research program. He promptly left and took a state job. I stayed, got grants and donations for aerial surveys of manatees and, eventually, we identified five areas heavily used by manatees and got the places set aside as protection zones.
Now, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is going to officially improve the Endangered status to Threatened. The efforts of many of us in the 1980's and '90's really helped save the manatee. A Google search I just did on "manatees threatened or endangered" pops "Not Extinct"! Numbers I had at one point indicated that they could have been extinct by 2010. I only had a bachelor's degree during all that time.
Later, I went on to graduate school and my career turned away from marine biology, but the struggle to do that work and achieve those results stands out as a highlight of my life.
What do you wish you had known earlier during your career in science?
Your job does not define who you are. When the winds of fate change your life, your sense of self must be divorced from your role. Leaving marine biology behind continues to be difficult but my new career is equally rewarding in many ways - challenging and fun and lucrative and I wouldn't have had this second life without moving on when the time came.
Any final comments or advice for young scientists:
Be nice, be kind, and give others every chance to share your success.