Q & A with Jessica O’Toole

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

I graduated college with a degree in Marine Biology and had no idea what I wanted to do with it. I spent some time working at an aquarium after that and learned more about the human side of the field and our impacts on the ocean. During my time there I got really interested in conservation and realized how political it can be. After a couple of years, I decided I wanted to go on to get my masters and decided I needed to branch out from my biology background. That’s when I kind of stumbled upon SMEA. The Marine Affairs program seemed like a great way to continue my education into the human dimensions and policies I kind of dabbled in at the aquarium.

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

The thing that got me really interested in SMEA was the interdisciplinary aspect of it. Coming into grad school I still wasn’t 100% sure what I wanted to do so I liked the idea of coming to a place that allowed me to explore a lot of different options. I was also impressed by a lot of the work the faculty were doing here and how amazing the alumni community was.

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 on the thesis track, looking at public perception and reputations of Great White sharks on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. I chose this topic because it is a big interest for me. I am from Massachusetts and spent most of my summers growing up down the Cape. Last year, Cape Cod experienced its first shark related death in over 80 years, making a lot of people rethink how they look at sharks. This made me really interested in how people interact with animals and how certain perceptions influence those interactions, so I went back home to write a thesis on it.

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

This is pretty hard since I like most of the classes I’ve taken so far. If I really had to choose, I would probably say Interviewing Methods and Environmental Topics with Marc Miller. Going into the class I had no real knowledge on how to conduct a research type interview and was worried about using them as a method for my thesis. However, by the end of class I felt confident I could not only complete my interviews for my thesis but also had the knowledge and background to defend my methods and hold my own against other interviewers. I also really enjoyed my two law classes as well, Environmental Law and Marine and Coastal Law.

What do you like most about SMEA?

My favorite thing about SMEA is the community. Going into grad school I didn’t expect to be this close to my classmates, but I really enjoy spending time with them, whether it’s in class, at happy hour, or playing intermural sports. It’s especially awesome to work with people from so many different backgrounds, we are always learning from each other and bringing in new perspectives which is great. Coming from across the country I was worried about not knowing people, so it was a nice surprise to come into a program and get 20+ friends right away.

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

Moving to Seattle from small town Massachusetts was a pretty big change for me. Though I am still getting use to “city living” I really enjoy how easy it is to get out into nature for hikes or camping. I’ve been here for over a year now and feel like there is still so much for me to see and explore. I’m trying to finish up my Washington bucket list before June. Top of the list; see the Southern Resident Killer Whales.

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

I would really like a job in conservation and endangered species management. My goal would be to work with communities to help design conservation strategies that work for both the people and animals living in the area. I like the puzzle of why/how some policies worked in one place but failed in another and trying to find the correct way to tweak it.

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

I like pretty much like all marine life, but it would probably have to be the epaulette shark. I think I am kind of attached to that species because I got to work with them before, both as pups and adults. Not only are they pretty cool looking but they are pretty interesting to study. If you don’t know what they are I defiantly suggest looking them up, there are some pretty cool videos of them walking around on land.