Georgia Institute of Technology
- PhD Canditate (Organic Chemistry)
University of Hawaii at Manoa
- Marine Biology (B.S.) - 2012
- Chemistry (B.A.) - 2012
I grew up in a small farming community in central Maryland near a small man-made lake. I have fond memories of going out on the lake fishing with my family in the early mornings, catching 6-inch perch and blue gill, and watching the fish swim away hurriedly as we returned them to the safety of their home. Some weekends we would venture out to big rivers like the Potomac, and a few times out into the Chesapeake Bay to go crabbing or sailing. I always felt at ease on the water, and from an early age I had a healthy interest in the creatures that lived in aquatic and marine environments, an interest that routinely took me to local fish stores and aquariums. The Baltimore aquarium in particular was a favorite for me and when a special exhibit on tropical reefs opened, I fell in love with the multi-colored, almost alien-like fish and corals I had only seen in movies or on TV. I was so infatuated that I would go to second-hand book stores and buy old marine biology textbooks that dated back to the 70s, many of which still litter my book shelves today. In my AP biology course in high school I gave a presentation on nudibranchs, one of the many marine invertebrates that has always peaked my interests, and my good friend Gabby suggested I look into the University of Hawaii for my undergraduate studies. When I spoke to my parents about attending UH, they suggested the University of Maryland, or a few colleges in Florida that were closer. After visiting a few of those schools, I quickly realized that UH was the best fit for me, and after much discussion, it was agreed that UHM was going to be my home for the next four years.
I began attending UHM in the fall of 2007 as a marine biology major. My very first class was Biology 171 at 8am on Monday and I still remember it: my professor began by introducing herself and what to expect in her course, however instead of continuing directly into the course content, she described the research that she was conducting as a marine botanist. At the end of class, not 50 minutes later, I asked her if I could work for her in her lab and on my first day of classes I had already earned a paid position in a research lab. I worked in her systematic phycology lab for a little over a year collecting and cataloguing Hawaiian macroalgae from around the island of O´ahu, and while I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, the sessile nature of algae didn’t hold my attention for long. In my junior year, I took invertebrate zoology and immediately knew I had found my passion. On Tuesdays we would collect animals from the surrounding reefs and on Thursdays we would dissect our catch. The opportunity to see many of the animals in their native environment, in addition to dissecting them, was an opportunity that few others around the world would get, and looking back at my time at UH, it is one of the unique opportunities that enhanced my education the most. Through this course, I began to look into how invertebrates interacted on the reef and I quickly found that chemical defenses were not only vital to the survival of many invertebrates, but also that they were quite common. Having expressed my intrigue in the topic, my organic chemistry professor suggested I consider some additional chemistry courses to boost my knowledge in the area and pointed me to some scientific literature in the area, some of which his laboratory had produced. Within a few weeks I had declared chemistry as a second major and asked him if I could complete directed research in his lab.
Through my experiences in his lab, as well as the remainder of my upper division chemistry and marine biology courses, I decided that my next journey would be to tackle a graduate degree, specifically relating to something chemical in the ocean. While that may sound rather specific, it is also amazingly ambiguous as far as thesis subjects go, and it was through the direct mentorship of my organic chemistry professor that I narrowed my interests to marine natural products and marine chemical ecology. Throughout the process of applying for graduate programs, my mentor gave constant feedback, advice, and helped prepare me for my interviews. Looking back, the support by UHM professors, in preparing students for jobs and further education was one of the most important factors that led to my success, and it is something that sets UH apart from other schools.
It has been four years since I graduated from UH and I am a PhD candidate at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), where I am earning a PhD in organic chemistry. My research focuses on chemically mediated predator-prey interactions among marine invertebrates in the Southeastern U.S. reef system. My research has allowed me to travel all around the world, including amazing places like California, Denmark, Fiji, Norway, and Sweden. I have presented my research at the local, regional, national, and international levels, and I have had the opportunity to meet many world class scientists, many of whom laid the foundations of knowledge for my undergraduate courses. If it were not for the diverse, hands-on, world class education and professors at UHM, I would not be where I am today. In the future I hope to become a university professor where I can continue my research and help train the scientists of tomorrow.
Pictures below are from left: My Siberian Husky Mikha and I. Middle: My mentors and I at the Gordon Research Conference. Right: Me presenting at ISCE 2015.