A summer in the life of a research fellow

Back in 2015, I participated in #LibWorkIT, a social media campaign that highlighted some of the diverse professional responsibilities of librarians throughout Florida. My contributions weren’t terribly exciting, but it was fun to participate and see what my colleagues were up to throughout the week.

While there isn’t a similar hashtag for ASLC fellows, I still wanted to share a brief snapshot of my summer and the various projects I worked on during my fellowship. And hey, maybe someone can make #ASLCFellowLife happen next summer!

Sharks!

My fellowship began (most appropriately) with my very own mini-Shark Week – a three day crash course on sharks and Alaskan marine science. I learned about fisheries complexes, salmon declines, One Health, and the numerous unanswered questions surrounding Pacific sleeper sharks and the related Greenland shark.

arctic sharks
Sharks, sharks, and more sharks.

After Shark Week came the actual catching of sharks – or the attempts, anyway. Fieldwork in Alaska was a bit different than my previous experiences in the southeastern US; fieldwork in Florida generally requires nothing more than water shoes and a bathing suit (or waders and bug nets if you’re in the swamps). I eventually got a feel for what I did and didn’t need for outings on Jubatus.

We had one or two beautiful, sunny days on the bay:

20180601_171259
Gotta remember to wear sunscreen!

But most days ended up like this:

20180515_145238
It rained the whole ride back to the harbor.

Website Building

As my main project was developing an outreach website, I spent most of my time researching, writing, and planning website content. My personal Shark Week proved to be immensely  helpful in planning content for the site.

I browsed a lot of science outreach and news sites during my research, trying to find what worked and what didn’t. A site with simple descriptions and easy to understand text required a specific browser plugin to operate and wouldn’t load properly over my slow WiFi connection. Another site that targeted a “general” audience was a hot mess of jargon and technical language, but fortunately had an excellent comment system and glossary where readers could clarify the language.

I also spent a great deal of time reading communication and outreach literature, hoping to find some sort of standards or set of best practices for outreach. And while there’s a great deal of information out there, I never did find that set of standards. In the end, I took the good and bad from each site and paper I read and created my own loose set of best practices: keep the language accessible (as I mentioned in my last post), keep the site itself accessible by adhering to W3C’s accessibility guidelines, and keep the site user-friendly by limiting embedded media.

Sleepersharks.org is mostly finished; as the project progresses new pages will be added and old pages will be updated.

New Skills

GIS

I had some rudimentary knowledge of GIS coming into this fellowship (and by that, I mean I once spent an afternoon working in ArcGIS under a TA’s supervision almost a decade ago), but I wanted to learn more. Learning how to create story maps ended up being a great way to both get more experience with ArcMap and generate content for sleepersharks.org.

arcgis data
I often started with something like this.
gis error
And usually ended up with this.

After a few false starts I was finally able to generate something useful for my storymaps.

observerdatamap
Pacific sleeper shark fisheries data, 2016 – 2017. Data from Alaska Fisheries Science Center.

Hormone Analysis

In July, I began assisting Renae with her Steller sea lion fecal analysis study. With support from the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund, Renae is trying to determine if progesterone secreted in feces can be used to identify pregnant and non-pregnant Steller sea lions. A poop pregnancy test, if you will. However, some processing needs to happen before she can begin analyzing the samples. That’s where I came in.

20180629_113804
I apologize to all the behind-the-scenes tours that I passed while carrying these downstairs.

After another team member, Lisa, sorted and weighed the fecal sub-samples, I freeze-dried each container for later sifting and processing. Due to some mechanical malfunctions, what would normally take 48 hours ended up taking 5 – 6 days and daily trips to the basement. (All work conducted under NMFS Permit #18534).

And that’s it! I don’t think it’s possible to fully capture my entire summer in a single blog post, but I hope this little glimpse into the life of a summer research fellow has been interesting. And though my fellowship is officially over, I will continue to be involved in the development of sleepersharks.org and here on 60° North Science.

 

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