We asked Sarah Harrison to share her experience working under an NSF Fellowship program. This is one of the many opportunities our graduate students have had while dedicating their time and effort to the Marine Science program. Here's what she had to say:
"I have been living and working in Seattle, Washington since January 2017. I have been working as a research intern at NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center, working with both the Environmental Chemistry and the Ecotoxicology programs on a project adjacent to my graduate research. This opportunity was funded by the NSF-GRFP, which established the Graduate Research Internship Program (GRIP) only a few years ago. The goal of this program is to give graduate students a chance to see what research is like in a federal research facility. My last day was December 1st, and it has been hands down one of the best experiences of my career.
My project here is very much adjacent to the work I did with my UGA advisor, Mandy Joye. In my graduate work, I followed the fate of oil in surface waters at a site in the northern Gulf of Mexico, and my research here has been following the fate of a specific class of compounds within oil, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), in fish. This class of compounds is known to be highly toxic; some compounds are known carcinogens and there is emerging evidence that some, particularly the water-soluble compounds, can interfere with cardiac development and function. For my project here, I have been developing a method to detect PAH metabolites, byproducts formed when an organism chemically alters a compound in an effort to remove the compound from its body. My work here at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center is building on questions raised during the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, which decimated the herring population, an important forage fish in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska marine ecosystems. This methodology could also be applied in future oil spills, to assess for oil injury to fish, whales, dolphins, and sea turtles.
It's been an eye-opening experience for me, because, as silly as it sounds, when oil is released to the environment, it has the potential to impact microbial communities, fish at various life stages, as well as whole coastal economies for decades; understanding where oil goes and how it is chemically transformed may answering lingering questions from previous oil spills, as well as help us prepare for the next one. It has also been a thrilling experience to see how federal agencies function and how the research goals differ between a federal agency and an academic lab. All told, I highly recommend the GRIP program to NSF-GRFP awardees."
We are proud of all of our graduate students, and there are more exciting things for all of them (including Sarah!) in the future that we can't wait to share with everyone. Check back as we keep the updates coming, and if you're interested in other graduate students, please check out our Student Spotlight page here.