Assistant Professor Dept. of Geological Sciences/Marine Science Program, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC
Ph.D. 1998 Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution/MIT, Oceanography;B.S. 1992 University of Washington, Chemistry; B.S. 1992 University of Washington, Oceanography
One of the major questions that I am currently seeking to answer is "What are the processes that dominate natural and/or anthropogenically induced climate change?" Towards that end, my primary research interests are understanding the biogechemical cycling of nutrients, particularly phosphorus and carbon, in marine ecosystems using a variety of radioisotopes. As a result, my research ranges from atmospheric processes (aerosol residence times, nutrient fluxes), to particle formation (carbon export) and burial (age-dating). See http://www.geol.sc.edu/cbnelson/index.htm for additional information
I have always been interested in science, but my exact interests were very wide ranging. Between the time I was in kindergarten until I reached my sophomore year in college, I wanted to be everything from an astronaut to a forest ranger. I grew up in Seattle, so when it came time to go to college I stayed close to home and attended the University of Washington (UW). I was very lucky in that UW had an excellent undergraduate program in Oceanography, a rarity in those days. Even so, I didnít become interested in oceanography until I took an introductory course on a lark in my Sophomore year. I did well in the class and the Professor, brought me to the attention of Della Rogers, the undergraduate oceanography advisor. Della was wonderful (she's retired now), and without her, I would never have thought about oceanography as a real profession. Like most parents, mine wanted me to be a medical doctor. Della found a position for me in one of the oceanography professor's labs. Before I knew it, I was getting a degree in oceanography and loving every minute in it.
I went to graduate school at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI)/MIT Joint Program in Oceanography after spending a summer conducting research there in between my Junior and Senior years (again due to Della). I mainly went there because of its reputation, but also because I had found a wonderful research advisor. If you are going to work closely with someone on a project for 5 years, you better make sure you really like them! My thesis research focused on using difficult to measure naturally occurring radionuclides, 32P and 33P, to investigate nutrient residence times and utilization in the Gulf of Maine. Phosphorus is an essential nutrient for all organisms, yet we know little about its composition, bioavailability, and residence times in the ocean. My research provided insight into those important questions. My graduate career at WHOI/MIT taught me how to be an interdisciplinary scientist, such that I now pursue research avenues that I never even knew about when I was in college. I think this is an important point -- take as many different classes as you can, do internships, work in labs, even if it isnít exactly what you initially find iinteresting. You never know!
I am now an Assistant Professor at the University of South Carolina. I married in graduate school and had a son, Noah, when I was postdoctoral researcher/Asst. Researcher at the University of Hawaii. When I became a scientist, I was worried that having both a family and a career would be impossible. There simply weren't that many female role models. I was worried that if I had a family, I would no longer be taken seriously as a scientist. This simply wasn't the case, and I have been continually surprised by how supportive my colleagues have been. That's not to say it hasnít always been easy (try interviewing for a faculty position with a 2 month old baby that you are breast feeding!), but I wouldnít change anything in the world.
If I can pass on any advice to those interested in becoming a scientist it would be that you can do anything that you set your mind to. What is important is that you be willing to try -- even if you envision something as too hard or difficult. Take that risk. You just might be surprised at how much fun it iis.