How to become a good scientist

Stephanie

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.

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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.

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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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