Midsummer – and where are all of my students?

Its summer break at COA, we still have about six weeks before classes start, and I’ve been catching up with my advisees who are all over the place at the moment, as best I can tell in addition to the U.S. – Ireland, Norway, Italy, Spain, India (or maybe Kenya), Costa Rica, and some going off to Japan before the end of the summer. I think three are on offshore islands, and at least three are within a couple of hours drive down the coast of Maine. None of them are in town at the moment. As best as I can tell I currently have 17 advisees, and #18 is coming in the fall. Most of the time I know where most of them are, although I don’t think I’ve heard from three of them this summer but least for two I know what country they are in (okay that could be wrong, Morgan might still be in Spain). They are all adults, so I’m not responsible for them, and if I don’t know where they are its not as embarrassing as losing one of your kids in the Newark airport (don’t ask).

But they are a great group, and so I asked them all to write a quick summary of what they were up to and send a picture (if their internet was good enough, not so great when you are on a rock 25 miles offshore). I last did this over Christmas break, and I think this gives a good cross section of what COA students do doing the summer. Some of it is very dramatic and fits into a classic school bragging model of “look at all of our students are doing these awesome programs hither and yon”. And yes, some of them are doing exactly that. But others are doing other work, some of it very hard to define, but I think similarly meaningful for them, and some are recharging by spending time at home, with family and friends, or traveling, so I wanted to include all of them. It makes it long, but it seems both more honest for what our students do but also more honest for the variety of things that we honor. I can very honestly say that I am proud of all of them and think they all pretty much rock, and some of them even make me laugh. Yes, even Maxim. Each of them also has a very short bio and a picture on my faculty webpage.

Trying to figure out how to talk about 17 very different people is hard, I’m not quite sure where to start, so I’m going to go with my single graduate student, Abby Barrows. Abby stays busy. Her second co-authored publication, on microplastics in the Hudson River, was just published and she is currently working on three more papers (that she has told me about), a couple of them from her work with Adventure Scientists, as well as a couple of public policy pieces for use by the plastic pollution community. Meanwhile she is running an oyster aquaculture farm on Deer Isle, Maine. Mostly I just try to keep up. We are currently working on a worldwide marine microplastics paper, that we hope to have done by sometime in early/mid fall. She wants it done sooner.


I would say that four of my students fit a relatively traditional field ecology research summer internship. Two of them, Teagan White and Emma Ober, are out at COA’s Mount Desert Rock doing their own research projects while also taking part in the long-term data collection on marine mammals and birds out there. Teagan is looking at current patterns around the rock as her senior project , and doing water samples at the same time when she isn’t honing her carpentry or zodiac driving skills. Emma just finished her first year and is doing an internship with Allied Whale, which means she spends half her time in Bar Harbor and half on Mount Desert Rock. One the rock she is helping with the general research on seals (and seal wounds), birds, and whales. She is also doing her own research project …”looking at the abundances of crab parasites on the island. This study is an extensions of Alyssa Murad’s senior project and I am hoping to compare my results from the island to what she found on the mainland”. Emma is also going to be one of my teaching assistants for marine biology in the fall.


glass frog in Costa Rica

The other two researchers, Xochitl Ortiz Ross and Katie Clark, are off doing field research funded by the National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU). Last summer Xochitl was in the Rockies studying marmots on an REU, this summer she is wading through streams in Costa Rica at La Selva through the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS) looking for glass frogs. These frogs lay their eggs on leaves, but then the hatching tadpoles need water, so these species lay their eggs on leaves over streams. It is total Animal Planet wonderfulness. Xochitl is looking at differences in oviposition site use by different species of frogs, and gets the award for most awesome picture (I am biased, I studied parental behavior in fishes for a good chunk of my research life).


katie-group-field-data-2017Meanwhile, Katie is working at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) in Edgewater, Maryland. At SERC, she is working in the Marine Invasions Lab looking at oyster larvae settlement success at various densities and how it might affect population dynamics for a species that is critical in the rehabilitation of this ecosystem.

Okay, time for a break from straight up research. I’m not sure exactly how to define what Maxim Lowe and Rose Edwards are doing this summer. Both are seniors. Both have more broad skills and interests than I can imagine. Both love art and communication. Rose loves biology. Maxim loves eating. I guess I’ll go with the job titles and places. Maxim is working at the Cannery in South Penobscot, and here is his description: “a former canning factory turned into community arts space by local artist Leslie Ross. Leslie is a professional bassoon maker and sound artist. She is turning the building into a venue for concerts, open mics, and long-term installations. This intersection of community and art is precisely the kind of magic I hope to engage and create throughout my life; so, this summer, I am Leslie’s right hand”. Maxim has been working on graphics, websites, social media and developing the space. He is also working on his own art that he hopes to display there. Meanwhile, Rose is in Southern Maine, living and working on Cliff Island Maine for Cliff Island ACE– where ACE stands for athletics, conservation, and eduation (I had to look that up). Rose puts on community events, which mostly means things for kids, like cooking nights, sandcastle competitions (I’ve included a picture), sports, games, crafts, and more. “I’m living in a tiny cabin by the ocean with no electricity or plumbing (but with a stellar view) with another COA student, Grace Brown. She is working for ACE’s invasive species management program.” Interestingly, both of them sent pictures of houses where they are this summer, to see what they look like, you should check out their pictures on the advisee web site, however, Maxim just sends me pictures of him eating food. Rose will begin co-editing/writing this blogpost starting in the fall (perhaps with a Cliff Island post?).  The final picture below is from Rose, its from a sand castle event, and she calls it green crab on barbecue.  Hmmm.



I have three students that are interested in veterinary medicine, a senior, Renate Braathen, is doing an internship at Beech Hill farm this summer, where she says “It’s fun to be part of a small crew, and I’m learning a lot about food production and organic farming”. Renate will be finishing up at COA this fall working on her senior project, co-advised by a philosopher and a physicist pair that includes a field guide to Archimedean Geometry. Two other pre-vet students, Siobhan Rickert and Amruta Valiyaveetil are spending the summer working with vets in a range of settings. Siobhan, another senior, has been working for the third summer in a row for an emergency vet cline in San Francisco, but has been feeling the pressure of getting ready to do her senior project this fall in Chile comparing different approaches to veterinary medicine. This might account for the slightly scary cat photo. As she said in her email “In all honestly most of my summer has been me staring at my computer working on vet school apps and my senior project which doesn’t make for the most entertaining pictures”.

Meanwhile, Amruta is doing very cool stuff, but doesn’t communicate unless she is sitting in front of me. This spring she did a residency in India, one of our non-traditional ways to do a term, where she combined several ideas to study veterinary medicine in Mumbai, and then was planning to go to Kenya to work with on elephant veterinary medicine. I know she is still alive because she registered for classes for the fall, but like I said, she isn’t sitting in front of me. Needless to say, no cute elephant pictures for the blog.

I also have two students that are doing work in environmental education. Nick Tonti is working as an Outdoor Education Instructor for the Maria Mitchell Association in Nantucket. In addition to taking kids around the island, mixing marine biology, policy, and citizen science Nick is also doing a research project on how the strength of byssal threads in mussels are affected by water temperature. Nick is going to spend his junior year at St. Andrews in Scotland taking classes, before coming back and practicing weird Scottish accents on all of us. Meanwhile another third year student, Heather Sieger took off to County Kerry, Ireland, to intern with Sea Synergy Marine Awareness & Activity Centre (hmm, another accent possibility).  Heather is going to continue to be one of my workstudy research assistants this fall, along with Rose.


My two Knox County advisees have particularly quiet this summer. Morgan Heckerd was off in June to do the El Camino de Santiago pilgrimage with some family and then I think by herself, and I assume she is back in Camden, Maine, where she was going to spend the rest of the summer changing things up and working at a restaurant and sailing. The last two summers Morgan has been on Monhegan Island working more than full time at a farm and at a bed and breakfast. Meanwhile Kenya Perry is somewhere near Camden as well, working away but keeping away from any electronic communication while she figures out her senior project in nutrition.

bianca summer 2017My last three advisees are my new advisees who have just finished their first year. All of them went back ‘home’, Bianca Massacci went back to Sardinia, where she has been catching up with friends and family, and has been spending some time at the university talking to people about internship opportunities in biology and environmental engineering for next summer. Chantal Tonnessen Smeland is back in Norway catching up after a concussion in the fall set her back a bit, but she is getting caught up over the summer when she isn’t reading, drawing, getting out into nature, or finding ways to protest neo-nazis in Norway and I’m looking forward to having her back at full speed this fall.


Chantal reading material (not light) and drawings

Last but not least,


Allie has been working and traveling this summer and just got back to me, and if I’m getting the details right she has been working at home and looking after disabled children, and had travels that include Florida, Maine (and into Canada), and Wyoming. I don’t think they teach geography in Colorado schools,because these places are really far apart. She also really likes snails.

So, although I think these guys are exceptional, I also think they are representative, with the strong caveat that there is a pretty strong bias for biology and ocean stuff, which isn’t too surprising for advisees of a professor of biology that works on marine organisms.

So, where am I this summer.  Below is a picture of Helen and me paddling yesterday morning on Lobster Lake.  Hope everyone is having a good summer.  Chris  7/26/17


Chris Petersen is Associate Academic Dean, Director of Graduate Studies, and Professor of Evolutionary Ecology, Marine Biology and Policy at College of the Atlantic and wonders if any of those titles come with extra work.

About marinestudiesatcoa

Chris is a professor of marine ecology and policy at College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine
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