Q & A with Spencer Showalter

Why did you decide to pursue a Master of Marine Affairs?

Two summers ago, while I was working on my BA in Marine Science and Environmental Science at Boston University, I had the opportunity to intern at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC) here in Seattle as part of my Ernest F. Hollings Scholarship. It was the summer you’re supposed to be applying to grad school if you don’t want to take any time off, and I was in a frenzy of researching programs and reading everything I could get my hands on. I hadn’t fallen in love with a program or a research project, and I turned to the people around me and started asking everyone where they’d gone to grad school. Several people pointed me towards SMEA, and unlike my repeated attempts to find a lab I loved, I was immediately drawn to the opportunity to pursue the bridge between science and policy. The 2016 elections had made me more politically active and I was and am excited for the idea that I can take my knowledge of and love for the marine world and apply it to policy creation.

Why did you decide to come to UW’s SMEA for graduate school?

This story doesn’t differ dramatically from the one above, except that it was the program that was most highly recommended to me and offered classes I was excited about. Ultimately, after starting with a potential list of 14, it was the only graduate program I applied to.

Are you doing a thesis or capstone project? If thesis, what are you writing your thesis about and why? If capstone, what is the project about?

I am working on a thesis with a researcher I met during my Hollings Scholarship at the NWFSC, Dr. Kathi Lefebvre. I am performing a 20-year retrospective review of the presence of algal neurotoxins in Alaskan Pink Salmon. There has been increasing concern about the more frequent presence and wider range of toxic algal blooms and determining their historic presence in Alaskan Commercial salmon will provide a baseline on which to build our understanding of the possibility of future intoxication events. I am doing this project because I am interested in the trophic effects of harmful algal blooms, and I hope to take it a few steps further and consider the potential effects of algal neurotoxins in finfish on the commercial fishery.

What has been your favorite class at UW so far? Why?

I’ve loved a lot of classes here, but my favorite so far was probably Nives’s Governance of Climate Change class. It was my first policy-heavy class, and it made me think about climate change in a whole new way. Plus, Nives is very engaging and you can just tell that there’s always more that she can teach you.

What do you like most about SMEA?

The people! In lots of different ways. I’ve made great friends, the professors are amazing, and the network you can build here is fantastic.

What’s it like to live in Seattle? What do you do in your spare time?

Seattle is beautiful. I’m a California girl who spent undergrad in Boston and Seattle’s weather is the perfect in between–I love that everything here is always green! I read a lot for fun in my spare time and have been trying my hand at painting fish and learning to be a person who exercises with some regularity. I’m exploring the hiking and amazing tidepooling in the great PNW, and I’m on a mission to learn to make bread! It’s not always successful but it’s fun to try.

If you could design your ultimate job after graduating, what would it be and why?

I have an internship this summer with NOAA’s Sustainable Fisheries Office, and I would absolutely love for that to turn into a full-time position after graduating. Managing fisheries sustainability requires integrating natural science, social science, and policy work–exactly what I want to be doing.

What is your favorite form of marine life, and why?

I spent high school and undergrad summers volunteering with The Marine Mammal Center, a rescue and rehabilitation facility for seals and sea lions in California. There, I found my true love of the sea–California Sea Lion pups! They’re super cute and smart and feisty. How could you not love them?