Hello and happy new year! My name is Brittany King and I am a third year PhD candidate, in the department of fisheries and wildlife at Oregon State University. My dissertation research focuses on underrepresentation of racial and ethnic groups in marine and fisheries related science professions. My first quarter as a Malouf Scholar has been full of data collection, in the form of semi-structured interviews with participants, in marine and fisheries related fields, across different racial and ethnic backgrounds and career levels. My interviews typically start out with me asking my participants to describe their career journey, which I thought would be an appropriate prompt for me to introduce myself in this blog…so here it goes!
Can you describe your career journey thus far?
Brittany King: Growing up, I always lived near water. I grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area but often took The Bay for granted. At an early age, it was hard to see more than just water, but that all changed in middle school. In my 8th grade science class, I saw a picture of a scuba diver with an organism in her hand and below it said she was a marine biologist. Until then, I had never heard of a marine biologist. but that day I went home and told my mom that I wanted to become one, not knowing anything about the occupation except that they studied a world that was so close and yet so far from my understanding.
For college, I attended Hampton University, a historically black college, which gave me the opportunity to meet amazing people, who also wanted to learn more about the marine environment. During my time at Hampton I participated in various research projects and experiences. One of my greatest experiences occurred while volunteering at the Virginia Aquarium. Through an after-school outreach program called Mentoring Young Scientists, I mentored a group of middle school students, and helped them to develop yearlong coastal trends projects. At the conclusion of each year, the students presented their projects to the public at the aquarium’s coastal trends weekend. Seeing each week how excited the students were to learn about marine habitats and their effects on them, helped me develop an interest in how coastal communities’ impact coastal habitats, and the importance of community outreach and education.
Looking back on my time as an undergrad, I realize now that many of my experiences during that time have played a significant role in my career decisions and my current research interest. In addition to sparking an interest in community outreach, it influenced my current interest in underrepresentation. While at Hampton I was exposed to people from a variety of backgrounds, all interested in marine and environmental science. However, outside of my Hampton bubble, as a person of color entering the marine and environmental science professional space, it was hard to ignore the lack of diversity.
The first time it really hit me was when I started my master’s program, which I often refer to as grad school “Part I,” at the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at the University of California, Santa Barbara. To this day, I still have a vivid memory of walking into the courtyard for orientation, scanning the group of students and realizing that of the 70+ students in my cohort, I was the only African American. This trend continued after graduating from UC Santa Barbara, when I spent a year as a 2013 Knauss Fellow, and again, of the 50 fellows selected that year, I was the only African American. Both of these experiences resulted in me developing s strong interest in underrepresentation in marine, fisheries and environmental science related fields.
After the Knauss fellowship and prior to returning to graduate school “Part II” at OSU, I stepped out of the marine and fisheries science realm and worked as a community organizer. During this time, I was able to reevaluate my career decisions and aspirations before finding my current position in the F&W human dimension lab at OSU. The lack of diversity throughout my early career journey, coupled with my desire to pursue a career related to marine and fisheries science, has led to my current interests and dissertation research. I believe that to better understand how to recruit and retain individuals from underrepresented communities, it is important to examine the factors that influence individuals to pursue and persist in careers in marine and fisheries science professions, while identifying whether any of these key factors are unique to individuals from underrepresented populations.
I’ve spent the past year interviewing people with a focus on how their experiences and social identities have influenced their career decisions and career experiences. As the interview portion of my research wraps up in the winter quarter, I’m looking forward to taking a deeper dive into the data.