Diving in Head First
Many children are fascinated by dolphins, but few grow up to be savvy scientists who work to protect these animals and their environment. Meet Lauren Bacharach, a WC biology major whose internship with the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), Office of Protected Resources (OPR) was a way to get her feet wet in the field of marine biology.“I came into the position not knowing a ton about the materials I would be working with,” Bacharach said. “This made the work challenging but also very rewarding; I was able to dive head first into the project and gain a lot of knowledge and experience in a marine laboratory setting.”
The risk paid off. In August, she was hired at the center as a full time biological technician who will work mainly with the Dolphin Food Habits Project.
The OPR is a headquarters program office of NOAA’s NMFS, under the U.S. Department of Commerce, with responsibility for protecting marine mammals and endangered or threatened marine life. Lauren’s internship was located in Beaufort, NC at the Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research.
Her summer work was not what most would consider glamorous — one part of the project was identification of hard materials obtained from stomachs of stranded dolphins — but she collected important data for the protection of marine life. “I have enjoyed the sorting and identification process of the samples, because each sample is like a big puzzle that I have to put together and it is very rewarding whenever I make a breakthrough,” she said.
“There is also a big “team” aspect to the job, which I really like, because it allows us bounce ideas off each other and come together as a group to solve bigger issues,” she said. “That has been a key aspect to making the Food Habits Project a success.”
The skills from her lab time at Washington College allowed Lauren to participate as a confident and passionate member of her team, even as an intern. “Looking back on my WC experience, I realized how well my professors set me up for the working world,” she said. “The hard skills they taught me like laboratory and writing techniques helped me do well in the aspects of the job I was familiar with.”
When things were less familiar, her liberal arts background and critical thinking skills helped her stay afloat. She said, “At WC, I also developed the knack for utilizing different resources, which helped me succeed in the areas of the job that I had less experience in.”
Her supervisors often let the interns explore other projects happening at the lab. One day, Lauren went out on a boat with the turtle team, acting as an extra pair of eyes as they surveyed for surfacing sea turtles. “This variety of experiences,” she said, “allowed me to get the most out of my internship and helped me develop new skill sets.”