Meet the newest Southern Fried Science contributor, Dr. Catherine Macdonald

Hello, world of Southern Fried Science.

The Field School team restrains a blacktip shark for a quick work-up during a female-scientist-led trip with the amazing non-profit Terranaut Club.

I’m Catherine—if we’re being official about it, Dr. Catherine Macdonald—and I’m the newest contributing writer around here. Before we get into science, I thought it might be helpful to get better acquainted.  

I’m an interdisciplinary conservation scientist, mostly working on marine systems (although I’ve dabbled in the odd research project on bear hybridization). A lot of my work deals with shark biology, ecology, fisheries, and conservation. I’m a frequent collaborator of Dr. David Shiffman’s (we were in the same PhD cohort at the University of Miami) so feel free to try to make us fight with each other about sharks. I study coastal shark populations in South Florida, looking at everything from physiology to habitat use to interactions with fishers. I’m also the principal investigator (“PI”) on a multi-disciplinary research project studying shark fisheries in the southern Caribbean—you can read my blog posts on that work over at the Save Our Seas Foundation website. Other than sharks and tropical marine ecosystems, my research interests include wildlife tourism, how humans relate to the environment, and human-wildlife conflict.

Some quick measurements are collected from a great hammerhead shark (Sphyrna mokarran) before release during shark field courses last summer with field school.

I have two different day jobs and I love them both, although I don’t get a lot of sleep. I’m the Director and one of the founders of Field School, an interdisciplinary marine science education company which operates week-long field courses on our 55’ live-aboard research vessel. Teaching field skills is one of my favorite things—especially training students to safely work with sharks and rays—and I will spend more than 15 weeks at sea next year. I am also a part-time Lecturer at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS), where I teach graduate-level courses in Marine Conservation Biology, Marine Tourism, and (starting this spring) Marine Conservation Outreach. I do a lot of student mentorship, so I’m also happy to answer questions about finding the right grad school/career path/advisor.

I care a lot about representation, inclusion, and diversity in STEM. Field School offers merit-based scholarships for every one of our week-long courses as part of our effort to improve access to marine science education for diverse students. I’ve volunteered for years with organizations like Gills Club (which provides role models for girls with an interest in sharks) and Terranaut Club (which offers girls hands-on exposure to science led by female scientists). As a relatively small woman who professionally restrains sharks, I’ve definitely encountered a lot of casual (and not-so-casual) sexism in my career and I’ve always been determined to try to make things better for the women who come after me. We’ll almost definitely talk about all of this more later.

I have some ideas, but I would love to hear from readers about what topics you’d find interesting and useful for me to write about here and what questions you have for me, so please feel free to email me about it or leave a comment! If you want to know more about me, you can also check out Field School’s website or my personal website. You can follow me on Instagram @drcatmac, or on Twitter (I just signed up!) @dr_catmac. Anyway, thanks to Southern Fried Science (and you!) for having me. I’m excited to be here.

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