How to become a good scientist


Today, you’re hearing from Stephanie Petrus, a salt-marsh volunteer at Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge in Maine. FInd out how she’s learning to become a good scientist and what she’s giving to conservation in Maine, as a part of our Young N’ Wild series.

In 2008, I left home in Easton, Pennsylvania for the cold north in Biddeford, Maine to start college. Most of my friends thought I would be working for Sea World when I told them I was planning to study marine biology. I spent my time rehabilitating marine animals and exploring Maine, developing an idea of who I wanted to be.

After college I traveled to Kona, Hawaii where I helped with research quantifying the effects of tourism on the local spinner dolphin population. With a first taste for field research, I needed more. I applied for an internship in Maine at the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, back where I fell in love with lighthouses and clam chowder. There, I hoped I could keep digging my hands into the scientific world. Working with the Land Management Demonstration and Research (LMRD) team, little did I know that I’d be digging my hands into nature daily.


Installing a surface elevation table in a local marsh. Credit: Jordan Kramer

I like to describe my internship to people as “how-to-become-a-good-scientist” school. For example, working with Susan Adamowicz, a salt-marsh biologist at the refuge, always keeps me on my toes. We found a large pebble in a pool one day and Sue picked it up and asked me to give her five hypotheses on how the pebble got there. At first, I was a little stumped, and then I took a step back. Could winter ice sheets have moved it to this location? Maybe Hurricane Sandy brought it onto the marsh during the storm surge. It ‘s a possibility that a predator, such as an otter, used it for cracking open shells. By challenging me, Susan was helping me to instill confidence in myself.

Another experience I had was when the LMRD team sent me to Newbury, Massachusetts to help with their invasive perennial pepperweed problem, although pepperweed had not yet been found in Maine. Once I was back in Maine, I was carrying equipment for our piping plover technician one day, and I noticed a cluster of perennial pepperweed growing along the wrack line. This was the first official siting of pepperweed in the state of Maine. Without the training opportunity I had in Massachusetts, I would have walked right by without even knowing there was a threat to our marsh. The next day I had the satisfaction of leading our team and refuge biologist to the site so we could pull it out.


Having some fun while out in the marsh doing some nekton sampling. Credit: Candice Hodges

Don’t get me wrong, hauling sleds filled with cement and stainless steel rods through the marsh to our surface elevation installation sites is not a walk in the park. I have had to do more loads of laundry in the last three months than I have in my whole life. Some days we eat lunch while knuckles deep in the mud, as mosquitoes feast on us. I wouldn’t trade the experiences I’ve had with the LMRD team here at Rachel Carson for the world. I have enjoyed every minute and will always give thanks to those who have helped mold me into someone who can do good for our environment.

3 Comments on “How to become a good scientist

  1. Pingback: Young N’ Wild | U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region

  2. Yay for salt marshes! I like Sue’s “pebble challenge”… I’ll have to remember that one with our young staff.

  3. Pingback: Perfect autumn walk, Rachel Carson NWR | Millard Fillmore's Bathtub

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