Alumna Emily Reynolds (C'12)

Alumna Profile: Emily Reynolds, C’12
Current Position:  Graduate Research Assistant at Louisiana State University
Earning Master of Science in Oceanography and Coastal Sciences

1. How did you come to major in ENVS?
I always was interested in animals and the environment from a young age.  Being a swimmer made me naturally love water, and I was quite intrigued how sharks and other marine mammals could swim so fast.  My swimming career and academic interests led me to Emory- and I am proud to call myself an alumnus of Emory University Class of 2012!

By the end of freshman year, I had taken the general classes that most freshman take, and I still had not decided what I wanted to major in.  By sophomore year, I decided to major in Environmental Studies with a minor in Sociology.  I still was not sure what part of the environmental field I wanted to focus on - green energy, renewable resources, zoology, and marine science all grabbed my attention.  After beginning to network with some family friends at home and professors at Emory, I had a meeting with Professor Yandle and talked to her about my interests in marine science.  She mentioned to keep my eye out for a NOAA NMFS Population Dynamics workshop that takes place every other year and it would be a great networking and resume building experience for me. 

2. What opportunities did you take advantage of while at Emory?
I kept Dr. Yandle’s advice in the back of my mind and began to research study abroad programs that I thought could also add value to my Emory experience.  Things fell into place for me. Even though I was on the Swimming & Diving team – which placed a lot of restrictions on my time - I found the perfect study abroad opportunity: to study marine resource management and ecology on the small island of South Caicos through The School For Field Studies.  I applied, and through a petition process with CIPA (the program was not preapproved since Emory does not have a major related to marine science), was finally accepted to study abroad in the fall of my junior year.

Studying abroad was the highlight of my college career and probably one of the best three months of my life.  I learned so many things in relation to marine organisms, habitats, small-island developing states, economies, resources, management, and the list goes on and on.   Those three months launched me into future internships and countless friends and colleagues to network with. 

3. What were the internships that you pursued while at Emory?
The summer before going to South Caicos, I applied for an internship at the National Aquarium in Washington, DC for the summer. The internship taught me about basic aquarium duties, along with allowing me to interact with marine creatures.  Even though I do not necessarily want to go into aquarium jobs in the future, it was a great launching point.

After studying abroad, I was accepted for an REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) internship the summer before my senior year at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute studying the effect of native versus invasive apple snails in the aquaculture section.  Once again, not necessarily convinced that aquaculture was my future,  but it was a summer that led to more great connections and to co-authoring a published journal article in the Journal of Molluscan Studies.

4. How did your research interests evolve?
After the REU internship, I had a better idea of what I was interested in and applied and was accepted into the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Population Dynamics workshop that Dr. Yandle had spoken to me about years before.  This was an intense week in the Florida Keys with about 15 University of Florida/NOAA professors and scientists along with about 10 other students from all over the United States.  We went through workshops and classroom sessions to understand the ins and outs of population dynamics and how it is used in the fishery world. 

That workshop led to my introduction to my current advisor at LSU, Dr. Jim Cowan, and in the spring of my senior year at Emory, I had an exciting visit to LSU and decided to enroll.  During my visit, Dr. Cowan explained how my opportunities in his lab were without limits, the only limit would be myself.  He said he would provide all necessary tools and what I did with them was my own decision and choice.  This was an opportunity that is not common and that I could not pass up.  Before talking to Dr. Cowan, I had applied to some Marine Policy Masters programs, however these were quite expensive and I was hoping to get funded –luckily I did!  I am very happy at LSU in my lab; I get to conduct exciting field research about 100 miles off the coast of Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico where I go offshore for about 6 days every other month.  My research primarily focuses on Louisiana’s Artificial Reef Planning Area, and we are using advanced stereo-camera video and hydroacoustic techniques to collect data. 

My research focuses on three standing and two toppled oil platforms, and for those of you who were like me and don’t know anything about these huge structures, they have been an area of significant controversy and debate over the last 20 years because of the concentration of fish around the structures.  Reef- associated fish, such as commercially important Red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus) and other species such as grouper and jacks are highly concentrated around structures such as artificial reefs (either standing or toppled platforms).  A question that has been of interest is are these structures merely attracting the fish to congregate (providing them shelter) and making them an easy target for fishermen? Or are these structures providing habitat that the fish want to reproduce at, therefore adding to the population? Our main research focus is to determine the most efficient way to sample these structures non-invasively, in addition to determining what the differences are between the types of sites in relation to the reef-associated fish community structure and spatial biomass distribution of reef-associated fishes. If you ever visit the Gulf of Mexico, you will be able to see these structures and understand how important they are to the fisheries stocks and fishermen.

5. Advice for current students?

Networking is huge- and applying for internships and volunteer positions is also important.  I know for a fact that if I did not study abroad, I would not have met the people who helped me to acquire the summer REU that I had, along with the NOAA workshop , which led me to my current position.  Use resources you have at Emory- just because Emory does not have a marine science career path- that does not mean you cannot do what I did and get there your own way. Use the Career Center’s resources, and use local resources like the Georgia Aquarium.  I started to volunteer at the Georgia Aquarium for fun my senior year because I enjoyed being by the water and animals, and that is about the closest you are going to get being in Atlanta.  Apply for an internships, get to know more people, but most of all, have fun!