Ewaldo: That’s super interesting. What was your master’s degree in?
Bridget: My master's research was on the ecology of Ceriantheopsis americanus, which is a burrowing mud anemone.
Ewaldo: And why didn't you follow up on that particular topic?
Bridget: There's not a lot of jobs for that particular topic. So, I found a job that was mainly education. But it was a horrible salary. Like a third of what you students make. So, in the summer, I went to an oceanography summer camp and worked there. Then after a couple of years, I was like: “Okay, I cannot make a living at this”. I was searching around not being so successful. In the meantime, I did another environmental education job down in Virginia, which was fun.
Ewaldo: All the way down! So when did you come back up to the Northeast?
Bridget: As I was finishing that up, my former boss said: “I got a Pew Foundation Grant, and I put in money for a research assistant. Do you want to come work with me?” I said yes and I went to work with him, but it was only a two-year grant. As that was coming to an end, I saw a job by a man named Evan Ward. I didn't really know anything about culturing phytoplankton, which was what he wanted. But I figured I could learn. Why not? Right. So yeah, that's how I got here. And that was in 1999.
Ewaldo: It's been 24 years! And what was your position then – and currently?
Bridget: I was a research assistant when I started. Now, I'm a research assistant three, but in a lot of ways, my job is very similar. The only thing that has really changed is that as funding got tight, I started to work for Rob Mason as well. I also worked with Claudia for some time, because her job was expanding. I like the fact that there's a lot of variety. I hate being bored.
Ewaldo: You have done a lot of different things and learned a lot of things in this dynamic way. What were your biggest challenges and also biggest joys here?
Bridget: You know, I really enjoy working with bivalves, I like running experiments. Even though sometimes they can be a little crazy. I like seeing the whole process, from what we are proposing to do, to making it happen, and analyzing the data. And then luckily, I don't have to write it.
Ewaldo: Would you have advice for grad students?
Bridget: Boy, that's a really good question. One of the things in this is just kind of funny, because writing is not my favorite thing to do. But people often get hung up on the writing portion, thinking to themselves: “Okay, I need to write the perfect sentence”. Sometimes you just need to write. The beauty of the computer is that you can delete it, you can move it, you can copy and paste it into a different document. So you just have to get your ideas down on “paper”, and then refine them later. Just write it down, get it on the computer, and then fix it.
Also, I recognize that there can be a weird power dynamic between students and professors. But with most professors, you can really just say, “I need help with this….” Rather than wasting a bunch of time, being afraid to ask. Professors will be more receptive than if you wait five months and say you haven't been able to get this to work for five months. That is especially true when students are first starting out, and I see that is an easy role for me to fill. Because students are more comfortable coming to me and saying: “Hey, I don't know what's going on here”. Usually I can point them in a direction or even facilitate the conversation. And of course, there have certainly been times that my advice has been about things having nothing to do with oceanography.
Ewaldo: This is all great advice. Thank you. Maybe the final question, what's the story behind the five cents for advice in your door?
Bridget: I came back to my office one day, and we had a new nameplate and my title was wrong. Nobody told us they were going to change nameplates. I was not happy, so I took it off. I, of course, calmed down. I was going to put the correct title and make it more legible by making our names bigger (I shared an office at the time). It wasn’t a priority for me, so I took my time replacing it. One day I came back to my office and the Lucy character from the Peanuts comic was there. In the Peanuts comics, she had a little booth where she gave advice for five cents. One of my colleagues put it in there because sometimes people come to me for things other than science related advice. I found out later that it was Jeff Godfrey. I thought it was super funny, so I just left it. And one day I came back and there was a little bag of nickels.
Ewaldo: Who did that?
Bridget: It was Lydia Norton
Ewaldo: I guess that sounds about right! Hehe. Thank you so much, Bridget!