Clara Bird is a recent graduate of Duke University where she majored in Biology and Environmental Science with a concentration in Marine Science and Conservation. As an undergraduate she studied Adelie penguins using drones. She is currently a research assistant in Duke Marine Robotics and Remote Sensing Lab at the Duke Marine Lab in Beaufort, NC. She is interested in spatial ecology and remote sensing and plans on pursuing a PhD in marine science.
Briefly describe your current work and your research.
I just graduated from Duke and during my last 3 semesters I did research with the Duke Marine Robotics and Remote Sensing Lab researching Adelie penguins off of the Western Antarctic Peninsula using drones. For my first project I create an algorithm for ArcGIS that automatically counts the number of penguins on an island using multispectral and thermal imagery. For my senior thesis I analysed the 3D data of the penguin habitat to develop a characteristic called texture that quantifies how much terrain changes within a 25m2 area. I’ve just been hired as a research assistant for the same lab where I’ll work on finishing the penguin project, create population models from citizen science data, and support PhD students studying whales in Antarctica.
What do you love the most about your job?
I love being able to work with a rapidly developing technology and I love getting to work on a wide variety of projects; as a young scientist the exposure to different research projects is really exciting and helps me figure out what I really want to focus on in the future.
How difficult was it to get where you are today?
I’ve been really fortunate to have a lot of support from my parents and teachers since I was young. I’ve worked hard to succeed academically and I’ve found opportunities for myself and fought to be able to take the advanced courses I wanted to take, but overall I’ve been really fortunate.
What was the biggest obstacle in your way before your career reached where it is today? How did you overcome it?
I’ve been lucky and my biggest obstacles have been experiencing failure and rejection in college. One semester I was rejected from every summer internship I applied to and that was a huge learning experience, I found an unpaid volunteer experience and worked to gain more research experience so that next year I would have a better resume. I’m sure I’ll face bigger obstacles later in my career but so far I’ve been so lucky that since I was a kid my parents always told me I could be a scientist and I had great teachers since I was little that never told me I couldn’t do anything.
What are you looking forward to the most in the future of marine science?
I’m looking forward to seeing these new technologies become more widely incorporated. There are already so many exciting new applications and we’ve barely scratched the surface. I’m also excited to see more and more attention on the importance of science communication which I think will continue to grow and change in the future.
How do you think we can get more women involved within marine science?
I think it all starts with teaching and inspiring girls from a young age about marine science and showing them that there are so many different opportunities under the large umbrella of marine science from ecology to computer science to engineering to molecular biology and beyond. I also think that hands-on experience is one of the best ways to learn what working in marine science is really like.
What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring female marine scientists?
Find mentors and role models at different stages in their careers, role models in later stages of their careers are great because you can see what degrees and jobs got them to where they are, but I’ve found that younger mentors can be really helpful because they really remember what it was like to be in your shoes and you can learn from them as they progress through their own careers.
In one sentence, why do you think a career within marine science is a great career option?
A career in marine science is a great option because you get to work in the most incredible places and there’s a lot of variety and interdisciplinarity, I love that you can do both field work and computer work while meeting the coolest and best people.
Social Media Links
I would like to give a massive thank you to Clara Bird for participating in this interview. I cannot wait to share more of your stories and I hope that you find inspiration in learning of other journeys within marine science.
Are you a woman working within marine science? Would you like to share your story and inspire the next generation? Please get in contact with me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to be involved with the Leading Women in Marine Science Interview Series.
Disclaimer: All responses to the interview questions and the biography belong to Clara Bird. All photographs have been used with the permission of Clara Bird.