Career Story: Coastal Water-Quality Biologist

Coastal Water-Quality Biologist

Job Title: Research Associate

Type of Company: I work for a state university performing grant-funded research on coastal ecology.

Education: BA, Biology, Amherst College •• Ph.D., Geology, Boston University

Previous Experience: I worked as a research assistant at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute.

Job Tasks: I work on a small boat collecting sea water and sediment samples for chemical analyzes of nutrients including ammonia, nitrates and phosphates. I also perform incubations on these samples to determine how nutrients change through time in the environment. In a typical week I spend two to three days in the field collecting samples and the remainder of the week analyzing them in a laboratory. In addition, I place automated instruments in local bays and estuaries to measure dissolved oxygen, temperature, salinity and chlorophyll. The instruments make measurements every 15 minutes for weeks. The combination of instruments and sample collection provides a detailed picture of the environment. Ultimately the measurements are used to determine the impact of septic systems, sewage treatment plants and fertilizers on coastal water quality. Most of the field work occurs during the summer. In the winter, most of my time is spent at a computer writing reports on the samples and data collected over the summer.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part of the job is being outside and on the water throughout the summer learning about the environment. I also feel like I am making a contribution to the community I live in by helping to solve problems affecting water quality.

The worst part of the job is having my summer schedule determined by weather. I often have to work on weekends or very early in the morning. Some incubations require that I stay overnight in remote locations.

Job Tips: Take as many courses as you can in basic sciences. Chemistry, physics and calculus are the basis of all sciences and will make biology courses much easier. Take summer internships in research laboratories so you will understand what the work is really like. Classroom laboratories will not provide you insight into what laboratory work is really like. Plan on getting at least a masters degree eventually. An advanced degree will provide many more opportunities to advance in your career.

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