Monthly Archives: November 2015

Connections from the Past

You just never know when a past connection is going to resurface.  Kevin Bacon may be 6 steps removed from me, but Kyle Frischkorn, a PhD candidate in biogeochemistry at Columbia University and a budding science communicator is only 4.  This week Kyle published his first science communication article on the COASST program.  Woohoo!!

What’s the connection between a West Coast professor of “seabird science” and an East Coast “molecular oceanographer” studying nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria with a hankering to expand his science domain into public communication?

In academics, it’s all in the pedigree.  Kyle was an undergrad at the University of Washington who signed up for my Marine Biology course.  And part of that class is a weekend field trip (imagine 5 weekends with 25 freshmen and sophomores who think of the ocean as the thing you lie next to when you go to the beach, all crammed into vans on a early Saturday morning on the way to a salty science adventure – introduced species on the mud flats, invertebrate sampling in the rocky intertidal, 24 hour plankton tows, dead birds on the beach – and you can begin to get an idea…).

Kyle’s first choice was a weekend on the UW Oceanography research vessel Thomas G. Thompson.  When do students ever get their first choice?  He ended up on the beached bird field trip.  Turns out that a beachcast bird is a lot like any other drifter that oceanographers might use to understand ocean currents.  What had started out in his mind as a waste of time suddenly became a cool way to figure out more about ocean flow.  Lightbulb moment!

And, it opened a door in his academic path and in his future career.  From marine biology, to a cool capstone project with marine bacteria to a PhD project at Columbia to a realization that reaching out to the public about how cool science can be is something all scientists should do.

So when Kyle called COASST a few months ago to ask whether he could write his first story about COASST and identified his pedigree back to the COASST field trip in Marine Biology, I was thrilled.  Because you never know when the “pay it forward” every professor hopes to gift their students with will turn into a “pay it back.”  Thanks Kyle!

— Julia K. Parrish, COASST Executive Director