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Meet Jennifer McClain-Counts
The personal rewards of my work. First off is I’m always learning. I love learning new things and I feel every day I get to see or do something that I haven’t done before. And that to me, that constant increase in knowledge, is just an amazing reward. And then getting the chance sometimes to pass that on to other people. We get a lot of student volunteers in our lab, so training them with the isotopes and then a lot of them get intrigued and want to do projects with that. And so passing on that kind of knowledge and enthusiasm is just really rewarding.
It’s hard to say what sparked my initial interest in ocean sciences. I was always drawn to biology as a kid. I remember getting a microscope and collecting water samples, leaves, dirt, anything I could just to put it under the scope and check it out.
And then as far as the ocean goes, my family always vacationed in the Carolinas or Florida and so we would go crabbing and clamming, sail boating, so a lot of water activities. And I was always loved the water and so in my mind, well, I liked biology, I liked the ocean, why not be a marine biologist? And I think the deal was sealed when I got SCUBA certified at 12 years old and just discovered everything under the water.
I got most of the encouragement from my parents. They were very supportive early on. I lived in Ohio, there weren’t that many marine biologists, but in grade school and high school, they would look up colleges and ask me, “have you looked up the marine science program here?” My mom found a marine science camp in Florida and told me if I could raise the money, her and my dad would help out with the plane ticket and send me there. So they were supportive throughout my entire career.
A Submersible Dive
I think the most fascinating thing I’ve ever done was go down in a submersible. It was a goal of mine early on as a kid, and I kind of felt privileged to have accomplished that. And it’s really hard to even describe what you see going down. The lights are off and the amount of bioluminescence – flashes of light, creatures drifting by – it really is an amazing light show. And that me, I was in awe of how many animals and the diversity that live down in a place that is so dark and just foreign.
Our work benefits the public in kind of a management perspective. A lot of the environments that we’re looking at are in the deep sea and in order for you to protect any type of habitat, you kind of need to know what’s there. And so our work is looking at the trophic relationships, community structure, and once we can kind of establish this baseline, we can pass it on to government officials and managers to figure out how to protect these areas.