Marine Biology Student Profile: Jessica Hale

derekMarine biology minor and Aquatic and Fishery Sciences (SAFS) major, Jessica Hale, first became interested in marine biology in 6th grade, when she went to summer camp at Camp Orkila on Orcas Island.  After days in the field doing fish trawls and night classes watching the waves sparkle green with bioluminescence, Jessica told her mom she wanted to become a marine biologist. At Ballard High School in Seattle, she joined the BioTech Academy, a small cohort of students who participate in hands-on coursework in biology, chemistry, and genetics, as well as fieldtrips and summer internships partnering with local organizations. Jessica interned with the Institute for Systems Biology and continued collaborating with this organization in her first year at UW. Declaring an Aquatic & Fishery Sciences Major
During her freshman year, Jessica declared a Cellular, Molecular and Developmental Biology major.  However, after taking FISH 250 – Introduction to Marine Biology, her passion for marine science re-emerged. She decided to switch majors to Aquatic and Fishery Sciences to help foster her interests in both marine biology and microbiology the following year. She described that process:

“I took Professor Carolyn Friedman’s Marine Biology class (FISH 250) my first quarter at UW, and I think it was and still is my favorite class. We learned about a huge breadth of topics, all of which have provided me with a foundation for my other fisheries courses. bacteriamatsBecause I liked her class so much, I asked my TA Lisa Crosson, who works in the Friedman Lab, if they had any opportunities for student volunteers. Carolyn and Lisa invited me to a lab meeting, during which they asked me about my interests and told me that I could volunteer in the lab!

The summer after my freshman year, I worked in a microbiology lab, as well as volunteered in the derekFriedman Lab. I discovered that I was much more interested in my work in the Friedman Lab, and changed my major to SAFS. I also chose SAFS because it provides students with the benefits of a large research institute coupled with the support of a small department. Also, as a student responsible for most of my finances, it was important to me that SAFS provides me with more funding opportunities than other, larger departments.”

Taking FISH 404 – Fish Diseases as a Freshman
In addition to working in two labs during her freshman year, Jessica decided to take an intermediate course, FISH 404 – Fish Diseases, to continue pursuing her interests and taking courses with Professor Friedman.  She explained why she decided to do this:

derek“It seemed a little daunting, but I figured that if I was interested in fish diseases, I should try out the class. I have been all about getting the most out of my experience at UW, be it in classes, my work in the lab, studying abroad, or going to Friday Harbor Labs, (UW’s marine station). I didn’t want to leave feeling like I should have done something that I missed out on.

FISH 404 was an interesting experience for me. Carolyn was great about bringing up examples in class bacteriamatsof things we worked on in the lab, so she would say, “Jessie and I are working on this in the lab…” She made me feel really smart and gave me credit for my work, even though I was only a freshman and at that point I think I was still only a volunteer, not employed as a work-study student yet.”

Abalone and the Friedman Labs
Now a junior, Jessica continues to work in the Friedman Labs.  She received work-study status as part of her financial aid package, which allowed her to transition from volunteer to employee in the Friedman Labs.  Over time, Jessica’s responsibilities have changed, and now she is working on a scientific paper that she and the lab group plans to publish.  She described some of the lab projects and what her duties have been in the last few years:

bacteriamats“I can honestly say I feel so lucky to have asked Lisa if I could volunteer.  I have worked there almost two years! Carolyn has two labs, one at UW and another at the Mukilteo NOAA facility as part of the Abalone Restoration Project, a project that is trying to restore the almost extinct native pinto abalone to Puget Sound.

When I started volunteering, I knew that I was interested in working in the “wet lab” with the animals, as opposed to working in the lab (doing things like running gels etc.). The Friedman Lab has been really great in letting me choose my own path. I am one of three people who help manage the abalone hatchery at the NOAA Mukilteo Lab. My main responsibilities include changing the filters, cleaning abalone tanks, and feeding the abalone.  I also help out with abalone tagging for outplants—abalone about to be released in the Puget Sound—spawning of broodstock, larval care, and genetic sampling.

Over the last year, I have been working on a project using Passive Integrated Transponders (PITs, similar to the RFID tags used in pets) to tag abalone and jessiedeveloping an underwater PIT tag reader. We haven’t released any animals with PIT tags yet, the project is still in preliminary stages in the lab. We have had success tagging broodstock in the lab as well as 3.5 year old abalone. There is high tag retention and low impact to the animal. Next we will be testing PIT tags in the field with the underwater reader.

We are submitting a manuscript on the use of PITs in abalone in the next couple of weeks, of which I am first author! We have submitted it for friendly review and it should be off to the journal soon.  My advisers came to me and asked me if I wanted to write up the manuscript. I had already written a draft for FISH 499 credit, credit for an independent research project; so we went off of that for the manuscript. I couldn’t believe they would trust me to do that!  But my advisers were very supportive and so constructive in their feedback, I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to work with.

Josh Bouma, my workplace supervisor at the NOAA lab, also gave me the opportunity to be an invited bacteriamatsspeaker at the National Shellfisheries Association Annual Meeting in the abalone session in March in Seattle. I will be discussing the PIT project in an oral presentation on March 28th. Having the freedom and taking responsibility for my own research has taught me what research is really like. I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything!”

Studying Tropical Ecology in Micronesia
While working in the Friedman Labs and finding a niche in abalone restoration, Jessica continued to take advantage of the wide array of field courses that UW offers for marine biology students.  She has also studied abroad with UW Oceanography Department’s Exploration Seminar to Kosrae, Micronesia, an island in the South Pacific, in the summer of her freshman year.  This study abroad seminar explores tropical coastal and reef ecosystems, mangrove forests, and the impacts of tourism.  Jessica explained how this experience has affected her:

“I had never been out of the country, except for Canada, when I decided to study abroad in Micronesia. Even though I was living on bacteriamatsmy own since starting college, I still lived in the same city and I didn’t feel like I had changed that much. When I went to Micronesia, I was completely independent of anyone I had ever known. I didn’t know anyone on the trip until it started and I only used the internet once while I was there, and didn’t make any phone calls. Being separated from my “zone” was a great experience.

We stayed in a fairly Americanized resort, called Kosrae Village Resort and stayed in traditional Kosraean huts. They were right on the beach. The island was really mountainous and gorgeous, derekespecially the highland forest. We did three units while were there,a coastal unit including the reefs, a mangrove unit, and a highland forest unit. We learned how to do fish counts and coral counts, and did a lot of field observation of healthy coral reefs and unhealthy reefs that were near the recently constructed airport. We drew a lot of the species and learned about the diversity of fishes and coral that were there.

For the highland forest unit, we hiked two large mountains and did sort of a “bio blitz” of plant species while we hiked. For the mangrove unit, we took boats through the mangroves, as well as hiked through the mud to observe various types of mangroves. We also collected mangrove propagules (seeds) and replanted them.

In a typical day, we had breakfast all together and then met for our morning class. Then we would usually pack lunch and go into the field and come back bacteriamatsto the resort for dinner. We had Sundays off and did a lot of swimming in our free time. We also explored the island and rented a car. We also got a few dives in while we were there. A great part about our course was that it was focused not only on oceanography, but also Kosraean culture. We were there for independence day and got to participate in the celebration.

After the trip, my goal to do field research was definitely solidified. My study abroad trip was an all-around great experience. I think of it as a stepping stone on my way to finding the perfect career for me.”

A Summer at Friday Harbor Labs, UW’s Marine Station
bacteriamatsThe following summer, Jessica spent more time in the field, taking a summer course at Friday Harbor Laboratories, UW’s marine station on San Juan Island.  She took BIOL 432 – Marine Invertebrates, a 5-week intensive lecture, field, and wet-lab course and used it for a requirement for her SAFS major.  She described that experience:

“I had heard from every student that Friday Harbor was the best experience. I knew I had to fill a SAFS requirement for Biology of Shellfish (FISH 310), and I knew Friday Harbor Labs was the best place to get hands on field experience and access to a lot of different animals. Carolyn Friedman was supportive of my decision to take the invertebrate zoology class because it would give me more breadth, outside of abalone.

I cannot emphasize enough how awesome Friday Harbor is. Being surrounded by students with similar interests really allowed me to derekcome into my own.  Nobody made fun of you for talking about science and fish all day, and it was actually encouraged! In our lunch breaks between labs and lectures, we would still talk about invertebrates. There were a couple of other classes on FHL campus while I was there, including the Bioacoustics class and Ocean Acidification class, as well as some REU students, who are research interns. Overall, it was a really positive experience.

Each day, we would have breakfast together in the dining hall and bacteriamatsgo to morning lecture. Then we would go to the laboratory until lunch. After lunch, we would have another lecture and return to the lab until dinner. A lot of nights, I would go back to the wet lab with my friends and do an extra dissection or draw some extra animals and listen to music. The teachers were great about leaving the lab open for us and structured the class as “a la carte.”

Sometimes after dinner there would be a lecture from a guest speaker for all of FHL. A lot of days, we would go on field trips to derekcollect our specimens, so we would have a morning lecture and then be off in the boat for the afternoon or on the tidal flats collecting specimens for our next lab. Sometimes it was a little exhausting, but nothing a little coffee couldn’t fix! FHL solidified my goal to do marine research. My favorite parts were the late night lab sessions and night lighting off the dock. I also really liked our excursions to “town.” It was fun not having a car and either walking or taking a rowboat to town to do your shopping.

The great thing about summer quarter is that students from all over the country come to take classes. There was only one other bacteriamatsstudent in my class who went to UW, and another who was from Seattle but went to school in Ohio. We all still keep in touch and I have been able to see a few since we left FHL. I know that I have made some life-long friends. I am currently visiting a friend in La Jolla that I met at FHL who is a graduate student at Scripps Institute of Oceanography. FHL has given me great connections with people all over the country.”

Leading SURF, A Marine Biology Student Group
This fall, Jessica took on a leadership role as co-president of SURF, the SAFS student group. SURF is not open only to SAFS majors but encourages all marine biology students to participate in SURF activities.  Jessica said:

“SURF is the Society for Undergraduate Resources in Fisheries. Our derekgoal is to provide undergraduates with opportunities to meet other students and get involved in the community. I was involved with SURF a little bit as an underclassmen. I jumped on the opportunity when Jessica Randall asked me to be co-president with her. I see SURF as a great way for me to encourage other students to do their best and expose them to as many experiences as possible.

This year, we have done a lot of events, including study session each quarter for finals, social events like a Finding Nemo movie night and a cookie decorating party, as well as educational events like Ocean Career Day at the Seattle Aquarium. A lot of us also attend the Bevan Seminar, a quarterly lecture series on sustainable fisheries open to the public.  We bacteriamatsencourage SURF members to attend other workshops/talks being held in SAFS and College of the Environment, like the Social Media for Scientists Workshop earlier this quarter and the Career Development Seminars put on by the American Fisheries Society UW Student Chapter (AFSUW). SURF is unique because we are there solely for the students; we take their suggestions really seriously. If a student wants to get connected with a faculty member in her area of interest, we will make it happen. If students want to see a certain speaker, we will invite her to give a talk. We want students to get the most out of their experience in SAFS.

I am also the Communications Officer for AFSUW, and have helped SURF students get connected with derekgraduate student mentors in AFSUW. I also help manage the website and communications for AFSUW on twitter and facebook. Next year I will be running (it looks like unopposed at this point) for president of AFSUW!”

A Senior Year of Invasive Bullfrogs and Abalone
During Jessica’s senior year, she will need to do a capstone project to complete her SAFS major.  Capstone projects usually involve two quarters working in a faculty lab, as well as work in the field.  Students design and complete a research project under faculty guidance.  Although Carolyn Friedman would seem like a natural mentor for a senior project, she encouraged Jessica to branch out and develop her skills in a new project.  Jessica talked about her capstone research:

“My mentor through AFSUW, Meryl Mims, a graduate student in the Olden Lab, is my workplace supervisor for my capstone. The Friedman Lab encouraged me to branch out (as long as I didn’t leave them), so I am working with frogs in Arizona. A lot of people are surprised by this, because I am obviously so interested in marine invertebrates.  But, I didn’t want to pigeonhole myself, and I can work on my capstone while still working in the Friedman Lab.

My project in the Olden Lab evaluates population structure and dynamics of the invasive bullfrog in Arizona using mark-recapture techniques combined with molecular genetics. Specifically, I want to know if bacteriamatslandscape features like steams or mountains affect bullfrog movement, as well as surface water availability. I started extracting DNA from spadefoot toad tadpoles, and will start on redspotted toads in the spring that will be used for our genetic analysis. I am also organizing our field samples. An awesome part of this project is that I get to go into the field to Arizona for a week this spring and for 6 weeks in summer to work on my project.

I have also been talking with Glenn VanBlaricom, who was my professor for the marine mammals course, and a colleague and office neighbor of Carolyn’s. Glenn and I have been chatting for a while since I had him as a professor, and I will likely be joining Glenn for a week in fall to do some abalone survey work off the coast of California.”

Future Goals and Science Blogging
In the future, Jessica plans to continue on to graduate school.  She mentioned her future plans and described current blog project that has connected her with a larger science community:

“My vision for a career is to be doing something that I love. I know that I want to get a graduate degree because I have really liked research so far. I am derekdefinitely going to stick with marine animals. I have a special connection with shellfish, but I am thinking about branching out a little to other invertebrates and maybe even vertebrates. I am particularly interested in marine ecology and conservation, and am hoping I can find a graduate program that fits with my interests. I think I will take a year off to get more experience though before I move on to graduate school.

Since I stayed in Seattle for undergrad, I would like to move somewhere else for a year to work. I have recently become interested in working in a museum/research institute, such as the California Academy of Sciences. I have also been interested in being a writer ever since I was little, and would love to combine my love for science with writing. I am hoping to explore these career paths after undergrad.

I think science communication is an up and coming thing, and I hope to get involved. This had led me to start a blog (, as well as get on twitter (@halejessie). I have made some great connections through twitter (to many peoples’ surprise)!  I have met with Christie Wilcox, who is a bacteriamatsblogger for Scientific American, and Miriam Goldstein, who is a graduate student at Scripps and a blogger for Deep Sea News. A lot of professors and professionals have told me that they read my blog, and it has been a great way to get my name out there. I have talked with people who I probably never would have if it weren’t for twitter or my blog. My blog has also been featured on the comments section of Nature and Scientific American! Not quite as awesome as writing a blog specifically for them, but I wrote a blog post in response to a blog posted on Scientific American, and they featured me in the comments section. I also received an invitation to be a regular contributing author for a science blog that just got started. All in all, some great opportunities via science communication.

Finally, I would like to encourage students to get as much as they can out of SAFS, or whatever program they are in. I have gotten most of my opportunities from just talking to professors or emailing. You don’t know until you try!”

Photos from top, from Jessica Hale unless specified:

  • Jessica with abalone shell at Seattle Aquarium Oceans Career Day
  • Prof. Carolyn Friedman working in her lab, from UW
  • Jessica working in Carolyn Friedman’s lab
  • Abalone with withering syndrome, from Friday Harbor Labs
  • Fish caught during a FISH 312 course fieldtrip.
  • Abalone Pictures: abalone shell, tagged abalone, abalone growing in the nursery
  • Pictures of Kosrae: Kosrae view, Jessica on the beach, and Jessica diving
  • Pictures from Friday Harbor Labs: Orcas, Jessica during BIOL 432 fieldtrip, Jessica on the dock, Jessica doing fieldwork, Jessica in costume at the “Invertebrate Ball”
  • Pictures from SURF: Jessica and SURF students at the Seattle Aquarium, Jessica and UW Scuba group the Underdawgs with Santa, Jessica and SURF students decorating cookies
  • Bullfrogs in Arizona
  • Jessica on statue in Friday Harbor
  • Jessica in waders