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Preparing for a Future in Aquatic Science

Allison Gamble.

Allison Gamble, one of Minnesota Sea Grant’s current graduate research assistants.

Help Wanted: Detail-oriented individuals willing to boat on wastewater and high seas. Should be able to work long hours with tiny glass beads and statistics. Interest in bird droppings and bacteria a plus. Bachelorís degree in biology or related field required.

Fake ad. Real work for Sea Grant-funded graduate students. The job of becoming an aquatic scientist is periodically alarming, sometimes repugnant, and often tedious, requiring tenacity and aptitude. Take, for instance, the months Beth Holbrook spent plying the waters of Lake Superior collecting data on plankton and fish.

“One night we were sampling on totally flat waters,” she said. “By morning there were gale force winds that ended up creating 15-foot waves.”

With Sea Grant’s support for both her master’s and doctoral research, Holbrook, a University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) student working with assistant professor Donn Branstrator, is preparing for a career studying large lakes. Twice she has been stuck on Lake Superior without engine power.

“It hits home, just how far out you are when you start drifting towards Canada,” she said.

Minnesota Sea Grant is currently supporting the equivalent of nine graduate students like Holbrook by committing $507,060 in funding between 2005 and 2007. This graduate funding augments the $566,650 that Sea Grant awarded University faculty for research projects last March. Sea Grant’s Graduate Research Assistant Fellowships are essential to completing and reporting on studies such as:

  • identifying the sources of beach bacteria,
  • understanding endocrine disruption,
  • investigating carbon cycling, and
  • examining the interactions between Lake Superiorís physical and biological processes.

“There is no way I could have collected, processed, and analyzed the amount of data we did without graduate assistance,” said Sea Grant-funded researcher Thomas Hrabik with the UMD’s Department of Biology.

“The quality and quantity of the data we were able to obtain on how energy moves through the food web of the lake has put us in a position to compete successfully for additional grant money,” he said. &ldauo;Graduate assistants are critical to advances in science.”

Minnesota Sea Grant supports graduate students for two years, exposing them to the latest techniques used to address questions about Lake Superior and Minnesota’s inland lakes under the supervision of University of Minnesota faculty. The students are expected to conduct high-caliber research and help communicate results to the public.

“Minnesota Sea Grant is extending the country’s commitment to aquatic science by investing in its future,” said Jeff Gunderson, acting director of the program. “Engaging top-notch graduates in water-related research, policy, and education is critical to solving the world’s looming water and other ecosystem issues.”

By Sharon Moen
April 2006

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