Director of Ocean Policy, New England Aquarium
“My geology major has translated into skills in strategic planning and problem-solving within complex, interconnected systems.”
Tell us about what you do.
I advise the U.S. Department of State on issues pertaining to the energy and water nexus, which are inherently linked. All steps in the energy life cycle, from extraction, to refining, to power generation require water and, conversely, pumping, conveying, and treating water requires energy. I work to identify opportunities for the United States to engage internationally with partners interested in sharing ideas, best practices, and solutions to overcome challenges associated with this nexus and with increased stress on natural resources.
What have been your key milestones since graduating from Middlebury?
My career path has been anything but linear, and as a result I have had the opportunity to work in academic, non-profit, philanthropic, and governmental sectors. I spent about a decade in school earning a BA from Middlebury, an MS in Oceanography from the University of Rhode Island, a PhD in Earth Sciences from Boston University, and conducting post-doctoral research at Stanford University—all with a focus on understanding Earth’s climate history. After this, I spent nearly another decade working in the non-profit sector as a program manager and grant maker facilitating scientific research. Most recently I have entered a third phase in my career, having transitioned into the public sector working to solve policy challenges associated with energy and water. This stage of my career brings together everything else I have worked on over the past two decades—my varied educational background and my professional background as a project manager—as well as my interest in working on complex issues that are global in scale.
How has the geology major influenced your life after graduation?
If I went to a college other than Middlebury, I have no doubt that I wouldn’t be a geologist today. Becoming a geologist helped to define my life choices post-graduation, from what I choose to do in my free time to what to choose to work on professionally. During my academic career, I travelled to all seven continents, which gave me an insatiable case of wanderlust. I choose to live and work in a city, but nearly every weekend or vacation, I try to spend as much time outside as possible—I love to hike, bike, run, kayak, and try new things. Geology and Middlebury gave me this. From my other answers, I think it is clear how being a geologist has influenced my career choices and given me the flexibility to transition between different professional roles.
How have the skills, knowledge, or dispositions you learned as a geology major translated into your career?
Something I didn’t fully appreciate until just a few years ago was that being a geologist gave me inherent skills in understanding very long time and enormous spatial scales. In my career, this has translated into skills in strategic planning and also in problem-solving within complex, interconnected systems. Most importantly though, I learned how to learn. Prior to accepting the position at the Marine Microbiology Initiative at the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, I had virtually no experience in the life sciences. My curiosity, tenacity, agility, and ability to learn—skills that as a geology major I had continued to develop while getting a PhD—allowed me to move from a geoscientist’s view of the world (i.e. long view of time, global spatial scales) to a microbial ecologist’s view of the world (i.e. instantaneous time scales, micro spatial scales) and, more importantly, to combine these two perspectives to understand how processes occurring at the micro-scale sum to maintain global homeostasis. This was one of the biggest challenges of my professional career, but also one of the most satisfying because I had to stretch beyond my limits and, as a result, became more confident in what I am capable of. Now, depending on the situation, I either define myself as a geologist, oceanographer, or climate scientist. My background has enabled me to work effectively on policies related to energy, water, oceans, and climate. And, if that wasn’t enough, I also worked on the helium legislation that passed in the 113th Congress. It’s a fascinating story about the confluence of geology, national security, science innovation, and high-tech manufacturing—look it up!
Finally, what advice or suggestions do you have for current geology majors as they consider their post-Middlebury futures?
Challenge yourself. Take risks. Open your mind. Say yes to new things. Do what you love. Have fun.