On August 17, 2018 Justyna Hampel, a PhD candidate in Environmental Science at Wright State University, was interviewed by Hannah Rudd, a scientist, ocean advocate and aspiring environmental journalist. Rudd is the author of a blog titled "Leading Women in Marine Science". We are pleased to be able to share her interview, which is reprinted here with permission.
Justynas' research focus is in aquatic biogeochemistry and nitrogen cycling in aquatic ecosystems affected by toxic algal blooms. Her field sites include Lake Taihu (China), Lake Erie and Lake Okeechobee (US) and Saint Lucie Estuary in Florida. She has an undergraduate degree in Biological Science and did her undergraduate research on fibropapilloma-associated virus in sea turtles. Justyna is currently looking for postdoctoral research positions in environmental microbiology and marine sciences.
Briefly describe your current work and your research.
I am currently finishing up my PhD in Environmental Sciences. My main project is studying nitrogen cycling and nutrient pollution in lakes and estuaries affected by toxic algal blooms. These toxic blooms happen when excess of nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus), coming from farm fields and urban waste, enters the waterways, rivers, and eventually the coastal areas. My research focuses on mitigating these toxic blooms and trying to reduce the nutrient pollution in aquatic ecosystems.
What do you love the most about your job?
What I love most is the ability to travel and do field work in many exciting places in the world. Thanks to this job I was fortunate to do field work in China and Florida, and travel to conferences in Hawaii, Vienna, and many other places in the US. I also love being able to meet so many amazing scientists around the world and collaborate with them on science projects.
How difficult was it to get where you are today?
I am from Poland, but I am doing my research in the US. It was pretty difficult to be far away from home and do a PhD in non-native language. But I am lucky to have an excellent support system in my lab and be surrounded by people who treat me (and I treat them) like family.
What was the biggest obstacle in your way before your career reached where it is today? How did you overcome it?
I think the biggest obstacle was to move alone across the ocean to pursue undergraduate degree in the US. I thought that getting my education abroad would be the best for the kind of work I wanted to do. It was hard to leave my family, but I am very fortunate to be able to fly home often. And like I mentioned above, I have amazing people around me and I have a very supportive advisor (Silvia Newell, PhD, associate professor) who makes being away from home much, much easier.
What are you looking forward to the most in the future of marine science?
I think it is very exciting to see many countries and individual companies (i.e. Marriott, McDonalds, Starbucks) reducing use of plastic straws and banning microplastics. Plastic pollution is currently one of the biggest threats to marine biodiversity. We still have ways to go, but I am looking forward to seeing this change happening in more places.
How do you think we can get more women involved within marine science?
I think outreach programs and outreach series like this one are an excellent way to encourage young girls to pursue careers in marine science. It is important that these future scientists have someone to look up to and someone who can be their mentor. I think it’s also essential to support current female marine scientists who might be struggling with harassment or depression. We often refer to this “leaky pipeline” that shows many female scientists drop out from grad school or postdoctoral studies because they are being harassed or told that they are not good enough. Showing support and encouragement from fellow Women in STEM is very important.
What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring female marine scientists?
Don’t get discouraged by people telling you that you cannot do something. My high school teacher told me I will never achieve anything in science and that I should not pursue a degree in science. I am in my final year of a PhD studies in Environmental Sciences and I am happy that I didn’t listen to her “advice”.
In one sentence, why do you think a career within marine science is a great career option?
You get to do very important work in most amazing, beautiful marine environments in the world, what’s not to love!
All responses to the interview questions belong to Justyna Hampel. The biography and all photographs used also belong to Justyna Hampel.
Learn more about the Environmental Sciences PhD Program at Wright State University.