Mike Interviews Marine Biologist Kevin Zelnio

2011/01/05
By Mike S

In January, eight Extreme Biology students will travel to Science Online 2011, an international conference where scientists, educators, journalists, and students come together to discuss the way the web is changing science and science education. As part of their preparation, the students have conducted interviews with conference organizers, presenters, and participants. This is the sixth in the 2011 series.

Kevin Zelnio is the assistant editor of Deep Sea News and a PhD student at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington.  He’s described five new species of shrimp and anemones found near deep sea hydrothermal vents.  Currently, he’s studying populations of Mytilus edulis and Mytilus trossulus (a type of saltwater mussel) and their hybrids in the Gulf of Maine.

As a marine biologist, what is your role at Science Online?

Although my training is in marine biology, I come to Science Online each year to discuss how we are doing as group in communicating science. There is always lots of room for improvement and Science Online provides the perfect venue to get new ideas, share what has worked and network with professionals from fields that I would never come into contact with otherwise. It is a rare place where scientists, journalists, writers, students and editors from all over the country and world – who are very passionate about science and information – can get together and exchange ideas and experiences. This doesn’t happen at a marine biology conference.

The way I contribute though is to use my experience communicating from the “field” and highlight blogging that is done that really relay the sense of adventure in doing science. My colleagues and I have done this for years now. We organize sessions that discuss the difficulties, what to expect, how to overcome technological obstacles, in addition to success stories and how our blogging makes it way around the web. This upcoming Science Online in 2011, we will be discussing the Gulf of Mexico BP oil disaster. Deep Sea News, where I am the assistant editor, has been at the forefront of oil spill blogging since it happened in early April. Other blogs have also played important roles and our session will look at various issues concerning our blogging of it, the mainstream media’s portrayal of the spill and the outcomes from blogging about the oil spill.

In general, is marine biology a promising career choice?

It’s tough to say. I never thought I would be a marine biologist, much less a scientist, when I was in High School. I always thought I was going to be a rock star. I tried too, and lets just say it didn’t pan out…

Proper training in marine biology can prepare you for a lot of great career choices. So I would recommend it but would caveat that with keeping an open mind about what do or work on. Focus on the concepts and learn about all the fields of science, physics, geography and geology are just as important as biology and chemistry! I can’t stress how important it is to get comfortable with math (especially statistics) and writing. Scientists, and honestly EVERY profession, relies on analyzing data and writing it up. It is not going to be the formulaic lab report you are forced to write up in your classes. Science writing require thought, planning and making a logical argument based on the data you have.

I think careers in ocean sciences will have a bright future though. It is getting more and more recognized how connected the ocean is to everything, climate change for instance. Medical companies are interested in marine life because of their search for new compounds with antibacterial or other medicinal properties. As we have depleted many of our ocean resources we’ll need more people who understand the ocean to help manage those resources. There is also no shortage of basic research that needs to be done and teaching others about the ocean. NOAA, government, universities, and non profit conservation organization are the probably the biggest employers. But other people go into science writing and editing, consult for private environmental management companies and teaching.

Do you recommend any colleges for marine related studies?

Getting to the coast is clearly a good choice. It provides inspiration and easy access to opportunities. Most, if not every, coastal state have universities with really good marine biology programs. The key is choosing a school where YOU will excel at. Getting an education somewhere where there are no marine science programs is just as valuable. Getting a degree in marine biology, doesn’t put you in an advantage necessarily. I did my B.Sc. in Evolution and Ecology at University of California, Davis and I am from Iowa (about as removed from the ocean as you can get!). It was a great choice for me. If you are at a landlocked university, there are lots of programs to get your sea legs during the summer and semesters abroad.

Do you attend a lot of science conferences? Are any others based on the Internet and web technology?

I attend 1-3 conferences a year. Science Online is the only one based on internet and web technology. All others are concerned with pure research.

I understand you’re a musician. Who are some of your musical influences?

Just about anything! At so many periods of my life I was into different musical styles. When I was in high school in the early to mid 1990s, we grew up with the “Seattle Sound”, or grunge, scene. So Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains all have a special place in my heart. My older brothers were punk rockers and my parents listened to Motown and rock and soul from the 60s and 70s so I listened to a lot of that growing up. Now, I can have some east coast hip hop one song and a Bob Dylan tune the next and it won’t phase me. My “style” is mostly rooted in folk and Americana though. Most high-schoolers probably wouldn’t know the amazing songwriters that I listen to, but I think the band Uncle Tupelo encapsulates the majority of my current influences and what I like to play.

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  • mcshanahan

    Thanks Mike and Kevin for a really enjoyable interview.

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