Where do I begin? Participating in this fellowship this summer has made it one of the most fun summers I’ve ever had. I met so many great people and had so many experiences that that I likely would not have had otherwise. Were many of the days exhausting? Yes. Would I change it? No. Our very first day we got to meet each other, have a little pizza party, and meet all of the mentors. From the very first working day we had a full and fun experience, we woke up bright and early (some days as the fellowship went on, we woke up ‘dark and early’) and loaded up the boat and I don’t think I fully expected how many sharks and rays we would catch on the first day (31 blacktips, 9 bonnetheads, 7 cownose rays, 1 scalloped hammerhead, and 1 bluntnose ray). What a day! What was cool about the whole beginning of the process is that the mentors really made us feel like we were very prepared and capable of doing all of this from day one, even though some or a lot of the things we were doing we had not done before. They let us learn by doing and if we made a mistake, we weren’t made to feel bad about it but instead it was used a learning opportunity and personally that is how I prefer to learn. So instead of “hey, you did that wrong” it was more like “Good attempt, but here’s why we don’t do it that way. Try again” and then we’d just try again.
What was cool about this experience is the mentors wanted to make sure we gained a wide variety of experience and knowledge. So they set up the fellowship so that we had a mixed bag of things to do. From being on the boat to working with the public and kids during a week long summer camp, where we had the opportunity to do some really cool things, like build ROVs, come up with activities and experiments and teach some kids how to work with sharks! We did something called GULFSPAN where we would get to catch, work up and release sharks. We learned a variety of field techniques, we learned how to take biopsies, how to draw blood, how to take fin clips, how to do microbiome swabs and we learned how to equip the sharks with various types of tags. Because we were working with so many different species of shark so often we got really good at identifying them, whereas before at least personally my identification skills were not that strong. Another thing I really enjoyed is that I was able to exercise my problem-solving skills. We were given a lot of opportunities to try to solve problems on our own and one of my stronger skills before coming to this fellowship was my problem-solving skills, so I felt that I was able to really use those and strengthen them even more. We were able to work closely with spotted eagle rays as well, which up until this internship I had never seen in person, so to get hands one experience with them was amazing. They are so cool and extremely beautiful. Working with the Eagles Rays we were exercised a lot of the same field techniques we used when working with the sharks with other new techniques and modifications also. I never thought that seeing and getting hands on experience with sharks and rays would be the norm for me and it became just part of the daily routine. To the point where when the fellowship ended it felt weird to not be on a boat, working with sharks.
The mentors we worked with also gave us some opportunities here and there to learn new or extra techniques that weren’t necessarily planned things for the fellowship. I was excited to take advantage of those opportunities and I did! What was nice was throughout the fellowship we had an opportunity to meet one on one with each of the mentors and ask them anything we wanted or get help with anything we wanted and not only was I able to talk and learn from my mentors but Kristin one of the mentors was able to connect me to someone who was able to give me really helpful information that would help me in my own grad school research. What was cool about meeting him was that he connected me with ANOTHER person who is able to assist me with things in my own research as well. Which made an already positive experience even more beneficial, and I am very grateful for that.
Lastly, I loved being able to participate in shark con as more than just a visitor. We had an opportunity to work the M.I.S.S. booth during the event and strengthen our outreach skills. During this time we were able to meet a lot of people and talk with them about what we do and what M.I.S.S. does. We also had times during shark con where we were able to experience it as visitors, so it was a really nice balance. It was a fun first experience with shark con. Overall, I had an amazing summer and there isn’t really much I would change. I wish I could do it all again, even thought I got the weirdest tan lines of my life. I am excited to be able to take the knowledge, experiences and the people I met with me throughout my career and I am so grateful for the opportunity.
MISS provides a community and funded opportunities for gender minorities of color who wish to enter the field of shark sciences. We aim to show that there are many gender minorities of color succeeding in and interested in this field.
We fundraise and apply for grants to create paid opportunities to attempt to knock down the financial barrier into shark sciences. We encourage other organizations in our field to do the same.
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