North Carolina State University
As a graduate student she worked to understand the "ghost forests" forming as sea levels rise. She learned fieldwork in Mexico -- and isn't scared of alligators.
Melinda Martinez, PhD
Mendenhall Post-Doctorate - Research Ecologist
Wetland and Aquatic Research Center - U.S. Geological Survey
What high school to go to? Melinda recalls, “The dedicated high school for my district, I always thought it was kind of scary. I always heard bad rumors about it, that there was always fighting going on, there was violence there.” To avoid it, she applied to a magnet school. “I got in, luckily.” In high school, she became a fan of math.
Melinda says, "I wouldn’t say that growing up I was always a nature lover because that would be false. I’m first generation so I didn’t grow up like most people did. But yeah, I think it happened until the last year of my undergrad." Once she had her bachelors, she set out to find a job, but soon found that the jobs she wanted to apply for required a higher degree. Then I had to apply for grad school but I had to apply for a year out. That’s why I took that year off because I didn’t know what to do.
Melinda joined the Ecological Society of America's listserve Ecolog, in order to get the news about her field, including openings in scientists' labs.
She also joined the Nautilus Corps of Exploration as a student scientist. Learn about the Ocean Exploration Trust's student programs here. Melinda's experience sailing aboard the E/V Nautilus with participants in the Nautilus Honors Program made her aware of the great opportunity it offers to high schoolers. (Same website.)
Melinda takes part in the program Letters to a Pre-Scientist, which matches middle school and high school kids wth scientists for one-on-one communications. Get involved -- and get letters -- here.
During a study abroad research trip in Mexico, Melinda had a mentor who introduced her to research. "He made me realize that this could be a career. From there I just kept building it.". She went back to work in Mexico at a nonprofit organization, then became a marine mammal observer aboard seismic vessels. These ships shoot air pressure into the water, looking for pockets of gas. “If there’s a manatee, dolphin, or whale within a kilometer of the ship, they have to stop their activity in compliance with the Marine Mammal Act." After I did that she went on to do her masters.
"At first it was Dr. Marcelo Ardón’s project that interested me most," Melinda recalls. "I saw the project that was listed on — do you know Ecolog? it’s like a ecological listserve. So I found it there and someone else had also forwarded it to me too at Florida International University, where I was working. So I sent Dr. Ardon a letter saying I was interested. He called me for an interview and told me a little more about the project and what he was looking for. Eventually she got the position.
Melinda's field assignments can be a challenge. "I’ve never seen a python while I was working in the Everglades, but the gators… Well they’re more scared of you than you are of them. If you approach the area, they usually just leave."
ON HER OWN TIMELINE
Melinda created a graphic to show her education and career -- including ALL her turning points.