Alexandra M. Avila | PhD Fisheries Science | Quito, Ecuador
Nancy Foster Scholar | NOAA ONMS Outreach Fellow volunteer
First-Generation Female College Student
I grew up in Ecuador surrounded by amazing marine and aquatic ecosystems. Since I was quite young, I was particularly drawn to the Galapagos Islands and the Amazon region. Being part of this vast and unique biodiversity gave me an unbounded curiosity and enthusiasm for nature, animals and for our water resources. I saw their inherent beauty, and early on recognized what an important resource our waterways were to all living things and how much we owed them in return. The marine ecosystems and the fisheries they support are some of our most priceless legacies, but if not handled properly they may soon be irreparably damaged. I cannot remember ever having a different life goal than to dedicate myself to preserving these special places. As the optimist I have always been, I do believe that change is possible and this is my motivation. I hope to channel this energy, drive, and passion into focused and effective science-based conservation efforts.
Conserving the Future
Given that many marine fisheries worldwide have been overexploited or nearing this point, the goal for my PhD and subsequent career and research is to make a difference in sustainable fisheries conservation. Conservation efforts need to use the best science available to make correct management decisions. I realize full well that in order to really make a difference in this field, I need advanced studies. Therefore, working toward a PhD in Fisheries Science at Oregon State University is my academic goal. It is important to me because it would not only allow me to pursue my passion for conserving the oceans, but it would also allow me to become a leader in this field. I probably would not be able to reach these goals without a PhD. My career goals and aspirations would be to work with NOAA, in academia or a marine research institute and become an expert in sustainable fisheries and ocean conservation. I see myself working side by side with fishermen and coastal communities to find new solutions to help restore our fisheries and our marine ecosystems. Each species and ecosystem is unique and therefore each one needs a specialized management and conservation plan that can evolve. I seek to be part of an effort to help conserve fisheries for upcoming generations while maintaining our ocean’s ecosystems at healthy levels and educating these future generations in ways to help improve the quality of our oceans and the state of our fisheries.
It is a common misconception that conservationists, scientists and fishermen must forever be embattled over “to fish, or not to fish”. Rather, I believe that we have a common goal: to ensure best practices so that this source of livelihood and cultural heritage does not decline over time, so that our descendants may enjoy and benefit from it too.
Flow of Information
For all of 2014 and part of 2015, I volunteered as an Outreach Fellow at NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS) for the Education, Outreach and New Media Division. I participated in many projects, including what for me have been the most exciting projects: OceansLIVE productions, Earth is Blue Campaign and being Sanctuary Sam. These activities have increased my awareness of the importance of outreach, science literacy, and climate literacy and have taught me different ways to reach a broad audience. I have improved my own science communication skills and hope to use them to share the results of my future research, its importance, and what marine sanctuaries really are, by means of presentations at local schools, newspaper editorials and newsletters, with the local communities who are impacted by this research, and policymakers.
I have continued to be an active participant in these outreach projects while attending graduate school, participating in events like: Facebook Live events while working on the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer, science mentor for Newport Middle School and Sam Case Elementary School, robotics mentor at Garfield Elementary School (in Spanish), speaking to a fourth grade class at Garfield Elementary School about Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and about the impacts of Marine Debris on marine life (in Spanish), conducting a salmon watch to teach kids from local schools the importance of our river ecosystems and salmon (in Spanish), Exploring By the Seat of Your Pants (web event that connects scientists and classrooms), Inspiration Dissemination, Twitter chat "ask me anything" event during Latino Conservation Week, Discovering the Scientist Within (OSU-hosted event), Wild About Wildlife summer camp (OSU-hosted event), and many more.
While I have not found these experiences through the College of Agricultural Science, my hands-on experience has been very important, since I learn by doing and it helps build up my resume.
It seems Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Sciences (FWCS) has fallen in with the College of Agricultural Sciences mostly due to aquaculture, so it appears that the College's main focus for scholarship and funding opportunities are directed toward agriculture students, and less so on funding FWCS students. It would be great if there was more research funding for FWCS students. This provides a challenge to finding funding within the College of Agricultural Sciences for my research (as well as other FWCS graduate students), so I apply to every funding opportunity I can find, many within the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, many at Hatfield Marine Science Center (HMSC) and others outside of Oregon State and the College of Agricultural Sciences.
Make sure you get along with your adviser and that graduate school is right for you. Talk to other graduate students in the department and ask what its like working with that adviser to see if it fits your learning/working style. Ask your future adviser what their management style is (hands on, hands off, micromanager, etc).
Follow Alexandra's adventures on Instagram and Twitter: @marinebioalex.