CSETAC would like to recognize the student presentation winners from our 2017 Annual Meeting in Charleston, South Carolina. Rachel Leads, a student at the College of Charleston and the 1st place platform presentation winner, shares how a childhood family vacation helped shape her decision to study environmental toxicology.
When I was twelve years old, I traveled to Washington State with my family for summer vacation. I remember two experiences during this trip to be particularly captivating: hiking through mountain snow in July and wading through the rocky intertidal tide pools of the Pacific Northwest. While the summer snowball fights were fun, it was the experience exploring tide pools that proved to be life-defining, for it was this experience that ignited my passion for marine biology and conservation. I think every marine biologist can point to a similar experience or moment in their life when they decided to pursue marine biology. The ocean and its diverse, abundant life deliver a profound first impression.
As a Michigan native, I received a B.A. in Biology with a minor in Chemistry from Albion College in Albion, MI. My undergraduate degree and research experience provided me with the foundation necessary to pursue an M.S. in Marine Biology at the College of Charleston in Charleston, SC, where I am currently a student. While exploring research topics during my first year in the graduate program, I was immediately drawn to the field of environmental toxicology because this research combined marine biology, chemistry, conservation, and environmental policy. This interest led to my working with Dr. John Weinstein on the sources, fate, and effects of microplastics (plastic particles measuring less than 5 mm in diameter) in Charleston Harbor, SC. My thesis research specifically investigates the sources of microplastics in Charleston Harbor and the effects of microplastic exposure on the immune function of aquatic organisms. My favorite aspect of environmental toxicology is that the research can be directly used to inform environmental policy. After completing my M.S. in Marine Biology, I hope to pursue a PhD in Toxicology—and maybe visit a tide pool or two!