Alum Katherine Thompson earned her master's degree at UMass Dartmouth's School for Marine Science & Technology (SMAST) in 2013 and went on to complete her PhD in marine biology at the University of Maine. Thompson talks about how her academic experience at SMAST shaped her career trajectory, and discusses her new position as lead scientist with the Department of Marine Resources' lobster sampling program.
Studying at SMAST
It was when I was sterning on a lobster boat that I began to realize the important role of fisheries science in informing stock assessments and ultimately fisheries regulations. It was for this reason that I applied to graduate school. I heard that SMAST has one of the best fisheries programs in New England. I knew that I wanted to study sea scallops and several folks recommended that I speak with Dr. Kevin Stokesbury. A few months later I was his student.
Working with SMAST faculty and students
My Master’s thesis focused on the timing of sea scallop spawning on Georges Bank. SMAST faculty members were extremely supportive and helpful throughout both my coursework and my thesis. I formed valuable friendships with fellow grad students, many of whom continue to be academic colleagues. SMAST has a positive reputation in academia as well as among the fishing industry. SMAST is unique in its relationships with the fishing industry and managers.
Working in the industry
I had a wonderful experience working with the fishing industry during my graduate studies at SMAST. The program has an excellent reputation with the fishermen and I took every opportunity available to go on research trips. I went on week-long video survey and dredge survey trips on commercial scallopers and really enjoyed working with the captains and crew. With the help of the fishermen, I collected all of the scallop samples for my thesis on these trips. There are also many opportunities to get involved with the fisheries management process, including the Cadrin lab’s ICES stock assessment student reviews as well as attending management meetings. SMAST faculty also has a good record in securing funding, providing opportunities for grad students to travel to regional, national and international scientific meetings to present their work.
Being a scientist at Maine’s Department of Marine Resources
I currently coordinate the Lobster Sea Sampling Program as well as the Ventless Trap Survey (VTS) at the DMR. I participated in the VTS as a sternman and have wanted to work at the DMR since then, however, I was not qualified enough at the time. At SMAST I learned the fundamentals of fisheries science and gained an appreciation for collaborative research.
Giving advice to students interested in marine science careers
I would recommend that new students gain as much field experience as possible. It is from direct observation of the marine ecosystem that you learn the most about organismal biology and population dynamics. Interacting with fishermen is also very valuable in understanding the ocean from hands-on experience. I would also advise new students to study a subject that they are truly interested in, since that is what motivates one’s research.