WWU Biology graduate student Megan Russell of Duvall was this past summer named only the third Western student to become a fellow at the Northwest Climate Adaptation Center, a research consortium made up of federal agencies such as the U.S. Geological Survey and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, colleges and universities such as WWU, University of Washington and Washington State, and the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians. The center is based at the UW in Seattle. Western Today recently chatted with Megan about her appointment as a fellow, what the work will entail, and what she will focus on in her research.
WT: Congratulations on your appointment as a fellow to the Northwest Climate Adaptation Science Center. It’s quite an honor! What will your work as a fellow entail?
"A big part of this fellowship is establishing co-production research projects. I have partnered with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to research climate impacts on a critical organism- the pacific herring. This co-production project will result in important data for WDFW to use for management decisions and hopefully a thesis for me!
Another major goal of the Northwest Climate Adaptation Science Center is to fund actionable science, that is, science that actually drives action and change. To achieve this goal I will be participating in a webinar series titled Social Science Tools for Making Science Actionable, a course at the University of Washington called Linking Knowledge to Action, conferences such as the Northwest Climate Conference, as well as cohort meetings and calls with other fellows in the program to discuss our projects."
WT: Your research focuses on how climate change is impacting regional herring stocks. Why are herring an important species to study, and how did you become interested in this topic?
"Herring are a critical piece of the food web serving as prey to commercially important fish, as well as sea birds and marine mammals. They also require clean, cold, unaltered coastlines to thrive, thus, climate stressors have the potential to majorly impact these important fish. Because of this, Herring are considered an indicator species of overall ecosystem health.
I have always had an interest in climate change. It probably first stemmed from watching an inconvenient truth in the 7th grade. For my senior project in high school I presented on the topic of ocean acidification. I think it’s pretty cool to still be studying the same thing 7 years later. When I first approached my advisor, Brady Olson, I knew I wanted to study climate change, ocean acidification in particular, however, I didn’t have a specific organism in mind. A previous master’s student had just finished an ocean acidification project looking at herring, partnered with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). Brady reached out to WDFW to ask what further questions they wished could be addressed, and thus, my project was formed."
WT: What other entities are you collaborating with on your research, and how do these collaborations boost the efficacy of your data and outcomes?
"I am partnered with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Puget Sound Fish Science Unit. The project was designed to help WDFW answer unanswered questions from a previous thesis partnership. The data will contribute to their annual herring stock assessment and facilitate critical management questions. I will also be communicating with the Northwest Indian College and conducting a herring workshop during the 'Ecology of the Salish Sea Fishes' course. Herring is a very important cultural resource. This workshop will allow me to share my results on the effects that climate change is having on herring populations with native students."
WT: You are a native of Washington state, but did your undergraduate work at the University of Hawaii. What brought you back home in general and to Western specifically?
"I loved studying in Hawaii. It was a wonderful experience that only enhanced my love for marine science. However, I realized the majority of my experience was in tropical ecosystems with few similarities to the ones you find back home (in Washington). I always knew I eventually wanted to come home and study the ecosystems that originally inspired me. I also missed the seasons and believe it or not, the cold. I had originally considered Western when I was looking at undergraduate programs so it always seemed like a good fit. When Brady reached out to me about his ocean acidification work, I knew it was the perfect opportunity for me."
WT: Every student and every researcher has had barriers they had to overcome to get to the position they are in. Can you talk about one or two of the barriers you have had to overcome in your academic journey?
"My biggest barrier is probably being a first-generation college student. I had no idea how to approach things like college applications, extracurricular activities, study habits and what have you. I really had to try and fail a lot. I didn’t feel comfortable asking other people for help, because most people in academics just assume you know these things. I remember I did not even understand the difference between an “undergraduate” degree and a “graduate” degree when I first started researching programs back in high school. I had no idea what programs I should be applying to or how to go about it. I felt the same thing this past year when I started looking into grad programs. It’s a whole different process, and I wasn’t sure who to ask for help, but I fumbled my way through it and was able to find my way here."