Science for Everyone

Marissa McMahan, graduate student studying emergent species in the Gulf of Maine

Marissa diving off of Monhegan Island, ME.

Marissa diving off of Monhegan Island, ME.

Marissa is a graduate student, pursuing a Ph.D. at Northeastern University - Marine Science Center and we got a chance to hear a bit more about her experiences, career choices and time in the field - read on to find out more...

HI: What are your research interests and can you describe a current project you are working on?

My research interests focus on changes in predator-prey dynamics in the Gulf of Maine. Currently, I am working to better understand the impacts of emergent species on local ecology, food web dynamics, and fisheries productivity. In light of recent and continuing climate change, emergent species are becoming more common in areas such as the Gulf of Maine. Specifically, I am interested in the recent range expansion of the black sea bass, Centropristis striata, into the Gulf of Maine.**

**HIF plans to help Marissa collect samples of black sea bass for her research. We'll save any black sea bass we catch in the lobster traps we set around Hurricane Island. We will mark the date, depth, and location at which their caught and then pass them on to Marissa who will analyze what's in their stomachs to understand what black sea bass in the Gulf of Maine are eating.  

HI: What does science or research mean to you?

I'm an ecologist, so for me, science/research means striving to better understand the mechanisms and processes that drive broad ecological patterns.

HI: Was there a memorable experience or a defining moment that made you realize you wanted to pursue a career in science?

I realized I wanted to become a scientist (specifically a marine scientist) when I was 7 years old and started going out with my dad on his lobster boat. I was fascinated by the creatures he would catch in his traps, and I would always fill up a 5-gallon bucket and collect everything he was discarding so I could have a mini aquarium for the day. I wanted to know everything there was to know about the sea and all the interesting critters that lived in it!

HI: Did you have an important person in your life who encouraged you to pursue this path?

My parents were both very influential for me. They taught me to work hard and always do my best. They also imparted a healthy sense of curiosity that drives me forward each and every day.

HI: What words of encouragement would you give to students considering a career in science?

There is never a dull moment in the world of science! The sky is the limit (or your imagination)! It all starts with the tiny first step of asking a question, and from there the possibilities are endless.

HI: What’s the best story or favorite memory from your time in the field?

Several years ago I was attempting to catch cod for an experiment I was doing. I was out on a boat with a research technician, Curt, and an intern, Josh, who was working with me that summer. We had been out all day trying to catch cod, but hadn't had any luck. Everyone was disappointed and getting fed up. Then, out of the blue, Curt says "Ya know, if I had some Bohemian Rhapsody to listen to right now, I bet we'd catch a fish." I laugh, but Josh whipped out his cell phone and proceeded to download Bohemian Rhapsody. Technology is amazing! To Curt's surprise, Josh turned the volume all the way up and blared the song. Apparently cod must really like the band Queen, and Curt must have razor sharp intuition, because he had a bite before the song was over. He reeled in a huge cod! We ended up landing three fish that day, which was less than we originally had hoped to catch, but it was all thanks to that song. Next time you're fishing for cod, try playing Bohemian Rhapsody, it could make all the difference!

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