Since Beam Reach…

I was a member of the Fall 2005 class got inspired to write a blog about my experiences since the class while listening to Dave lecture about sound production anatomy in toothed whales shown on the Ustream live video. Since that class, I received a BS, an MS, and am now looking for the right opportunity to begin a career in environmental consulting.

Beam Reach solidified and focused my goals as a scientist. During the 10-week program I learned a lot about myself as someone who can work in a team, or individually, as well as gained valuable insight into the world of marine mammal science. I made wonderful professional contacts and amazing friends. In addition, it was one of the highlights of my life. It isn’t too often you get to be so close to such intelligent and unique animals, surrounded by people who are interested in the same things you are. I went home with a new drive and completed a marine biology degree with the intention to some day continue in a graduate program.

After graduating with my BS, I continued working on a project for the National Marine Fisheries Service, where I learned something about working for a federal agency who is there to protect mammals using the environmental laws. I was later hired at an environmental consulting firm, where I worked for a few months because I also got accepted into a graduate program. I began at San Diego State University in 2008 working under Ted Cranford, whose work was the subject of part of a lecture Dave Bain gave today. I initially was uncertain how I felt about switching from a strictly ecology background with an interest in bioacoustics to anatomy. But, as it turned out, I really enjoyed it. There was blood, sweat, and tears shed in between the many good times. And I do mean, literally, blood, sweat and tears. I definitely injured myself enough times to learn my lesson around most tools, the porpoises carried onto CT scanner beds were heavy to prepare and maneuver, and sometimes I just sat down to cry out of frustration. I learned that most often things did not go according to plan, but at least the preparations made adjustments much easier.

My thesis project was focused on the mandibles of toothed whales because they are an important component not only in feeding, but also sound reception. Using newer methods of analyzing morphology and shape (excluding size), we were hoping to get some insights into the evolution and function of the mandibles. We saw that the posterior region, the region implicated in sound reception appears relatively conserved suggesting that stabilizing selection is acting on that part of the mandibles. Whereas in the anterior portion, thought to be primarily for feeding, there was much more variability among all Odontocetes, or the 53% of described species I used in my study. Using some comparative phylogenetic methods, we were able to confirm that, in fact, stabilizing selection was likely occurring. The results suggested that there is an optimum shape for the posterior region of the mandibles, perhaps an optimum shape required to adequately hear underwater?

Grad. school was a pain but well worth it. I learned so much about myself: my strengths, my weaknesses and how to overcome those weaknesses. I worked with Dr. Ted Cranford, who is brilliant and while he expects a lot out of a student, he taught me to become a much better scientist. If anyone is interested in mechanisms of sound reception and production, he is someone with whom to talk. Although I truly enjoy marine mammal work, I am now looking toward a career in environmental consulting. I would love to apply that to marine mammals, but look forward to expanding my knowledge and skills to terrestrial ecosystems. I recently was hired as an on-call biologist for a firm which will provide me with the opportunity to do just that. I look forward to applying the lessons learned during Beam Reach and my other experiences, to which Beam Reach helped open the doors.

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