Sam received her B.S. with honors and M.Sc. in Marine Science from the University of North Carolina Wilmington, where she conducted research on microplastic ingestion in marine species. Sam serves on the Board of Directors for the Plastic Ocean Project. She is currently completing her Ph.D. at the University of Toronto, studying microfiber and chemical loss from clothing in the context of Great Lake ecosystems. You can learn more about microfiber pollution and her research through Sam’s blog: the Microfiber Pollution Project.
Briefly describe your current work and your research.
My principal research interests revolve around microplastic debris as a vector for toxic compounds in marine and freshwater environments. I’m currently studying microfiber and chemical loss from clothing in the context of Great Lake ecosystems.
What do you love the most about your job?
I love engaging non-academics in marine science and teaching people about their impacts on the oceans. Many people who live in inland communities don’t realize they depend on and impact the oceans. Through my research interests on plastic pollution and marine debris, I’m able to relate their everyday decisions (whether or not to use a plastic straw or to bring your own reusable coffee cup) to large scale impacts on the oceans (plastic debris polluting shorelines, microplastic ingestion by endangered and/or commercially valuable seafood species, etc.).
How difficult was it to get where you are today?
I’ve known that I wanted to be a scientist since I can remember and I’ve been working towards that goal since middle school. It didn’t seem difficult to get to where I am today, however it did take an immense amount of time and dedication, hard-work and a firm idea of my long-term goals and where I wanted to be in the future. There have definitely been difficult times along the way, but my passion and my goal overshadowed the doubt and difficulties and got me through.
What was the biggest obstacle in your way before your career reached where it is today? How did you overcome it?
I have ADHD and have struggled with disorganization, forgetfulness, and trouble dealing with frustrations, anxiety and stress. I’m not alone in this, many people in STEM suffer from ADHD and I’ve found certain tips and tricks that help me manage symptoms. Although I have to work twice as hard to stay on track and manage my time, I’m very passionate about my work and the goal of becoming a professional scientist helps motivate me to work to overcome these symptoms.
What are you looking forward to the most in the future of marine science?
Marine science is an exciting field with so many research areas to get involved with. I am most excited to see how the marine science field helps to inform more sustainable marine-based industries and promote protection of the marine environment.
How do you think we can get more women involved within marine science?
I think it’s important to engage young girls in STEM, as well as offer more marine science curriculum and applied learning opportunities in middle and high school for girls interested to explore this field. Learning about and engaging in the marine environment as a young student is what propelled me into the marine science field. I also think it’s important for women is science to share their work with elementary and high school students.
What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring female marine scientists?
The first step to becoming a marine scientist is finding your passion. Marine science is not all sharks, turtles and dolphins, explore research outside your direct interests and find what you’re passionate about.
In one sentence, why do you think a career within marine science is a great career option?
Marine science is an incredibly interdisciplinary field that has the potential to engage so many scientists and students in every aspect of the study of the oceans and help them to fulfil their passions and advance our knowledge of the marine environment.
Social Media Links
Twitter – @sustainablesam_
I would like to give a massive thank you to Samantha Athey 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 Samantha Athey. All photographs have been used with the permission of Samantha Athey.