Diving Into the Depths of SciComm with Melissa C. Márquez

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We chat with special guest, Melissa C. Márquez, about her research with sharks and her dive into science communication, through the Fins United Initiative and the ConCiencia Azul podcast.

About Our Guest:

Melissa Cristina Márquez is a shark scientist and science communicator extraordinaire. Her background specializes in marine ecology and conservation, with a special focus on sharks and predators of the sea. Her recent TEDx talk, entitled “Sharks & Female Scientists: More Alike than You Think” covers part of her research with sharks, as well as her experiences as a woman in that field. She continues to do outstanding outreach for sharks and women in STEM alike, especially for the Latinx community. Her most recent podcast, ConCiencia Azul, in collaboration with the Speak Up for The Blue podcast is a Spanish-only STEM show interviewing Spanish-speaking scientists in the marine biology world.

Find her on Twitter (@mcmsharksxx) and on her website.

Links & Resources:

+ Transcript

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SYNAPSE SCIENCE: Hey folks, welcome back to the show! On today’s episode, we’re talking about a few different topics with our special guest, Melissa Marquez, who is a shark scientist and science communicator extraordinaire. Melissa has a background in marine ecology and conservation, with a special focus on sharks and predators of the sea. Her recent TEDx talk, entitled “Sharks & Female Scientists: More Alike than You Think” covers part of her research with sharks, as well as her experiences as a woman in that field. She continues to do outstanding outreach for sharks and women in STEM alike, especially for the Latino/Latina community. Her most recent podcast, ConCienca Azul, in collaboration with the Speak Up for The Blue podcast is a Spanish-only STEM show interviewing Spanish-speaking scientists in the marine biology world. We cover all of this and a little bit more in this episode.

So without further ado, let’s...dive right into it.

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SYNAPSE: So first of all, thank you so much for taking the time to appear on the show!

MELISSA MARQUEZ: No, no, my pleasure. Thanks for asking! I’m [chuckle] honored!

SYNAPSE: You know, when most people hear the word “shark”, they feel terrified or they don’t wanna be anywhere near - like, within 500 miles - of sharks… How did it come to be that you instead were drawn towards sharks instead of being repelled by them?

MELISSA: Uh, funnily enough, shark week. [laughter] I...I think actually a lot of people have that same exact answer, so it’s not unique.

But...when I first moved to the States from Mexico, it was during the summer, and that first little bit between moving and starting school - because my brother and I didn’t know anyone, we stayed really much at home while the house got unpacked… And I was introduced to a bunch of new TV channels that I had never seen before, and one of them was the Discovery Channel. And because it was educational, my mom was like, “Fine, you can watch a little bit of it,” and I’m like, “Sweet.”

Just happened to coincide with...Shark Week! And watching these animals that I had never really seen before up until that point, besides in like cartoons like The Little Mermaid and stuff, was - I mean, it just left a lasting impression of like, “Holy crap, these animals are amazing. They are so beautiful, so elegant in the water but completely filled with power...I need to know more about these.” I did have previous loves, though, before settling on sharks. I did - I was quite obsessed / still am with manatees! [laughter] I had like at one point, 13 manatee stuffies, with one of them being like the size of 8 year old Melissa.

SYNAPSE: That’s amazing. [laughter]

MELISSA: Oh my god, it’s the - I still have it to this day actually.

SYNAPSE: [laughter]

MELISSA: It’s not with me in Australia, it’s back at home with Mom and Dad. But it’s - she’s beautiful. Um - [laughter]

So yeah, it’s just - I’ve always just been interested in the ocean in general. But I really, really got interested as I grew up, in predators. Land predators, so everything from wolves, bears, owls, like the other birds of prey - basically anything that is a predator, I am interested in it. And because I have always been drawn to the ocean - like my first memories are of me being by the beach in Puerto Rico, where I was born - it just made sense, and it kinda just clicked, and I was like, “That’s it, that’s what I wanna study!” [laughter]

SYNAPSE: So you were always kind of drawn towards marine biology and ecosystems and that kind of stuff because of where you grew up, you think?

MELISSA: Yeah! Yeah…that and also, my mom - at that time ‘cause she’s had a lot of career changes - but she is a scientist at heart. And so she very much encouraged my love of science. I mean, I remember I was 8 years old sitting in my great-grandmother’s house reading marine biology textbooks.

They most likely thought I was a little bit weird but also were like, “Great! Melissa’s not making noise so the grownups can have talks.” [laughter]

But yeah, no, I’ve always been interested in marine biology. I think it’s just part of who I am as a Boricua, a Puerto Rican.

SYNAPSE: That’s fantastic, too, that you know, your mom was so supportive of you being interested in the sciences.

MELISSA: Oh yeah, my - both of my parents have been insanely supportive. I mean, just in general, my whole family has been amazingly supportive of my dreams and my endeavors - I could never thank them enough for that kind of support.

SYNAPSE: Mm-hmm. Yeah, that support system is so key and so crucial to build and include other people in.

MELISSA: Yeah, and just in life, too...it’s good to have that kind of sounding board of people that - if I’ve got a big decision, you know, I’ve got my really good friends who are both in and out of STEM, and also my family. And if I’m just stuck between decisions, I kind of lay it out to them and I’m like, “What do you guys think?” And it’s almost like a little Congress of, “Well, we think this. Well, we think this.” And it’s a nice blend because it’s kind of a little bit of everyone in different stages of their lives.

And so while I never had a formal mentor, I did have that support group, which has helped shape me into the person that I am today and also help make some crucial decisions in my life.

SYNAPSE: Mm-hmm. So what do your parents think of you studying sharks now and being so close to these predators?

MELISSA: I think Dad wishes I stuck to guppies. [laughter]

Naw, naw, both of them are - and I say this because they’ve said it [laughter], so I’m not putting words in their mouth - they both say they’re very proud of me for following my dreams. And it has made both of them kind of see sharks in a different light? Dad does like to make a few shark jokes every now and then.

Yeah, I think it’s - I don’t wanna say “humanized” them (like humanize the animals) - but I think it has kind of made them more aware of something that the media like to portray as a villain.

SYNAPSE: That’s awesome. That’s such a fantastic reaction to that. How do you prepare for something like that? Like, going in and being so close to these predators?

MELISSA: You know, I don’t really have like a set way of preparing myself. It’s just excitement, every single time. I remember the first time - when I was learning how to scuba dive in the British Virgin Islands - the first time I saw a shark was a nurse shark. And for most people, it’s like, “[unimpressed] Ah yeah, it’s a nurse shark. It sits in one corner, and they’re kind of everywhere in the Caribbean area.”

But I was...14? 15? when I first saw it? And I mean, I was screaming through my regulator. Like, I came up and I was a ball of joy, like, “YES! YES! YES! AHH!”

And my scuba instructor - or one of the scuba instructors - was on the boat that we were living in (because we were living in catamarans at the time), and she peeked over her head and was like, “Are you alright?” And I’m like, “I just saw a shark!” And they were like, “What?” And my dive buddy popped up and it’s like, “It’s only a nurse shark.” And everyone was like, “[dismissively] Ah.” And I’m like, “BUT IT’S MY FIRST SHARK NOT IN AN AQUARIUM!”

Like, it was super - it’s that feeling every single time. Just because, you know, a lot of people don’t get to see this elegant side of these animals. When they see a shark, they’re usually like, “Aw crap, teeth, (uh what is it), ‘soulless eyes’...” and they kind of just look the other way or swim the other way, and they don’t want anything to do with it.

But if you really take the time to observe this animal, I mean, it’s years of evolution perfected into this - often times, depending the shark and the environment - this top predator. And it just astounds me every single time. Like...the way I prepare myself to dive with them is a big smile and being like, “Alright, which one am I going to see now?”

So yeah, definitely always excitement... [amused breath]

SYNAPSE: That’s awesome. So have you ever been scared of approaching any kind of shark, like any of the more dangerous ones, or…?

MELISSA: [pauses and inhales] No… I think I’ve been more - I wanna say prepared, or on guard. Especially if you’re going into murky water, there are some - I don’t want to say there are some sharks that sneak up on you - but in a way, they kind of do. You always want to keep your eye on the sharks that are there, but also realize sometimes the shark that isn’t there is the one that’s gonna come from behind you in the murkiness.

So you always wanna, you know - don’t dive alone. You wanna be with a buddy, and you guys both want to be just searching for sharks and making sure the other person is aware of where the sharks are. Most sharks do have some sort of body language that they’ll let you know if you’re kind of in their space and they want you to back up. But just...practice common sense, essentially.

So naw, I’ve never been scared, more prepared and more aware of the situations that I’m getting into for some dives, but never scared.

SYNAPSE: So do you have to go through a training for that? To learn these shark behaviors before you go in? Obviously, I assume you have to learn some basic scuba diving and stuff…

MELISSA: Yeah, there’s the training for scuba diving that you go through, and usually they’ll cover it with the hand signals. And depending who you get taught, the hand signals do vary, but usually before you go down for a scuba dive, you’ll have a quick briefing being like, “Alright, these are the hand signals that we’re going to use. Anyone have any questions?” Sometimes they’ll tell you about the wildlife you’re going to encounter. But...there’s not really a class like Sharks 101, which... [laughter]

There may be some scuba diving companies that go a little bit more in depth into it, depending where you are and if it is a shark-heavy area, but none of the scuba diving places that I’ve gone with.

SYNAPSE: So it’s all just kind of - like you said - common sense, and being aware, and instead of being scared, it sounds like having a respect for how powerful those creatures are and giving them the distance that they - that they need.

MELISSA: Yeah! Well, I mean, I like to liken them to kind of lions in a safari. Are you really going to up to a lion in the middle of Africa and start petting it? And start tugging at its tail and whatnot? Like uhhh, no, you wanna give it some space. It’s the same exact thing with these sharks.

I don’t like when people try to liken them as dogs or pets and stuff like that. Yes, they’re curious. I personally would not really want my hands on them just because...again, that’s just me, it’s fine if other people think differently. But you know, I try to give them the respect that they deserve because they are predators.

There are no vegetarian sharks, they do all eat meat (even the whale shark). So they are predators, and they do deserve the respect and some distance.

SYNAPSE: Totally. What has been the most rewarding part of being in the field with these sharks and studying them off the field, as well?

MELISSA: Learning about them. Um, I don’t like the term “expert” for myself, though some people do put that term on me, but I personally do not think I am. And the reason is is because I don’t think I’m ever going to stop learning about these animals. I’m never going to know everything about them, I’m constantly learning new things about them. And I like that. That’s what drives me every single day. It’s like, “Okay, what am I gonna learn about this other animal?”

And with Fins United and doing all the blog posts for them, I’m constantly learning new stuff about them that I didn’t even know. So yeah, that’s definitely the most rewarding part is being a forever student in a way.

SYNAPSE: That’s such a great answer, I really love that.

MELISSA: [soft laughter]

SYNAPSE: Just being able to constantly gain more and more knowledge that you can share with other people.

MELISSA: Yeah, I think it’s a shame if we stop learning one day, because then, you know, life gets boring.

SYNAPSE: Yeah, yeah! Totally, I feel that…Speaking of Fins United Initiative, by the way, how did that come about? Did you just bring all that enthusiasm and passion for seeing sharks in the water to wanting to bring that education to other people?

MELISSA: I actually first got into science communication because...in 2013, I did a lot of study abroad projects and was just out of the United States for the first time for a really long time. Like I was out, I think, 7 or 8 months out of the year. And a lot of my friends wanted to know what I was going to be doing.

And so my parents, the Christmas before, had gifted me a Go-Pro because I was going to be going to South Africa first with the great white sharks. And so, I brought along the camera and started doing little videos and taking snapshot pictures for my friends and explaining it to them in a way that I knew they would understand it. In a way, that’s what science communication is, is making sure that your science is communicated in a way that anyone of any audience and background can understand.

And so when I got back to Sarasota, which is where my undergrad university was - shout out to New College - I don’t want to say I was bored, but I was a little bit restless because I had been traveling for a whole entire year and it’s like, “Great, now I’m stuck in one spot.” And I realized that even though we had Mote Marine Laboratory right there, a lot of people were really disconnected with Sarasota Bay, in that they didn’t know the animals that were in it, specifically the sharks, the skates, and the rays. And I was like, “Hold on, that’s silly, because a lot of people spend a lot of time in Sarasota Bay.”

So I self-published a book that I did research on and did drawings on - really horrible drawings [laughter] - and it was called The Sharks, Skates, and Rays of Sarasota Bay. And I was passing it around to schools and teachers - even my own university, I still think has a copy. And one of the teachers actually - or one of my professors - reached out to me and said, “You should be going into the classrooms to teach this to kids,” because I was in one of her science outreach classes.

And so she got me in touch with a teacher who was interested in having me come in. And so the teacher had shark jaws and everything, I did a quick powerpoint, and the kids were really, really enthused, and I’m like, “Oh my god, I really like this because…”

Kids are smart. A lot smarter than a lot of people give them credit. And some of the questions that these kids were giving me were just - I mean, you sit there and you’re like, “Holy crap, you can write a paper about that.”

And so it kind of kept going because after this teacher had me, he told other teachers and they told other teachers...When I would go back home to Orlando during break, my mom would tell my brother’s teachers and my teachers and they would tell other teachers. So something that became very, very small, which was Sarasota Fins, grew into national. And once I left the United States, it became international. So that’s why it got rebranded in 2015, 2016, to the Fins United Initiative.

So it wasn’t something that I suddenly had an epiphany for - it kind of was an opportunity that fell into my lap, and I’m like, “Holy crap, I really like this.”

SYNAPSE: Mm-hmm. It kind of evolved into something that’s a little bit larger than -

MELISSA: Ohhh yeah... [laughter] It’s - it’s a lot bigger than I ever thought. But you know what? Sometimes life has a funny way of throwing curveballs that it’s - I don’t wanna sound mushy and say it’s your destiny or your fate - but you know, it’s the path that you were supposed to be going through. And I think this is definitely the path that I was supposed to go on.

SYNAPSE: Mm-hmm. Totally. I was looking through all the educational programs and stuff that you have up there on your website (which by the way, I will link in the show notes to the website and all of these resources for people to check out)...

And I was looking at the - you have your goals and your numbers reached so far - and I’ve just been blown away. Like, I think, in the first or the second year, you had a goal of 1,000 people and you reached like, 4,000 or something more people?

MELISSA: [impressed exhale] Yeah...

SYNAPSE: That’s amazing! It really shows you that a lot of people want to get more educated about sharks, and that’s fantastic for the environment, you know? And our interaction with the sea.

MELISSA: Yeah, and I think it’s - I think it shows also that people are willing to learn about these animals and see them in a different light, which really heartens me? I really like that.

So here’s hoping more for the future - we’ve got quite a lot of plans for expansion, bringing in more educational materials, more collaborations, and making Fins United Initiative truly bilingual, as well. So I’m really excited about that.

SYNAPSE: Where do you see it going in...this year, or the next year, or the next 5 years?

MELISSA: Definitely expanding more to be more...encompassing? Of the whole ocean and not just sharks, but with a shark focus. And you know, I don’t really know where it’s going to be in the next couple of years because it keeps exceeding my expectations. [laughter] So I’ll say one thing and then something completely different thing happens.

But um, I am hoping to make it one of those global organizations that a lot of people can look up to and look to for scientifically accurate resources for these animals.

So we’ll see what ends up happening! But I can say, without a doubt, I am excited on the direction that it is heading.

SYNAPSE: Yeah, it’s fantastic! I’m so excited to see it grow in the near future, too.

MELISSA: Thank you!

SYNAPSE: Yeah! A lot of people are interested in sharks, and they prefer to learn more about them instead of, you know, being initially drawn away from them. And anytime they’re looking for materials, like if they’re teachers or anything like that, I’m like, “Hey, by the way, there’s this cool little site you guys should go to.” [laughter]

MELISSA: Heyyyy…. [laughter] You’re awesome!

SYNAPSE: It’s been a great resource - yeah, no, you’re awesome for - for putting it together and all the other officers, too, that put work into it...

MELISSA: Yeah, they do amazing work. Definitely do amazing work. I can never thank them enough for everything they do.

But it’s - it’s surprising because actually, the majority of people - depending who you ask - are still a little bit...scared of...sharks? And what I mean by that, um… So when you close your eyes and you think of sharks, a lot of them think of Jaws - or I guess nowadays, they think of Sharknado. [short laughter] But Snapchat recently held a poll of over 250,000 people (which meant over 250,000 votes), and 64% voted that, “Yes, they were still afraid of sharks”.

But what’s interesting to me is that sharks were not always innately feared. In fact, they were often treated like...gods.

SYNAPSE: Oh, wow.

MELISSA: Yeah! So I’m interested in seeing how people went from having these spiritual connections and worshipping these animals to many painting them as villains. So I’m currently looking at the history, mythology, and folklore around sharks and their relatives, to see how people form attitudes towards predators and how those attitudes vary between land and marine predators - and see if that perception sways conservation initiatives. And also to see if the larger regions’ public opinion towards those animals matches the local folklore or myth.

So it’s - it’s exciting. I’ve been finding out a lot of really cool legends, myths, and history of sharks and their relatives in regards to the greater scheme of things. So...yeah, it’s interesting seeing how conservation biology is no longer about the animals and the habitats, but also the people.

SYNAPSE: That is so cool! I had no idea - I mean, I guess it makes sense when you think about it - but I had no idea that sharks were - like, they had a significant role in folklore...

MELISSA: Yeah! There’s actually, um… So here’s an example: for Fiji, there’s a shark god - or the myth is that there’s a shark god named (and I’m going to butcher this name) but it’s Dakuwaqa [pronounced Dah-coo-wah-cah], I believe is how it’s said? It’s D-A-K-U-W-A-Q-A. And Dakuwaqa protects the people when they’re at sea, and it also protects the coral reef. And it’s kind of showing if the animal matches the myth - so do sharks really keep coral reefs safe? Yes, in a way they do, because coral reefs are healthier if more sharks are present because sharks control the mid-size predators who are either their prey or their competitors. And in Fiji, almost 70% of the 75-ish recorded elasmobranch species (so the sharks, the rays, and the skates) are considered threatened or endangered. So the island communities responded by creating the Shark Reef Marine Reserve, and it’s actually the first official marine-protected area (which is called an MPA) for sharks in Fijian waters.

So that’s just one example of kind of...does the myth match the animal in which it’s portraying? In this case, yeah, it kinda does. And does the myth sway policy? Maybe not….but it does show that they’re still kind of held in high regard in Fiji.

SYNAPSE: Mm-hmm. Wow, that is so cool!

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SYNAPSE: One last thing, too, that I wanted to touch on is your new podcast that just launched!

MELISSA: Yes! [laughter]

SYNAPSE: ...which is amazing!

MELISSA: Thank you!

SYNAPSE: Can you tell us a little more about that?

MELISSA: Yeah! Um, so… ConCienca Azul is, I will say first and foremost, not my brain child in a way. It is actually Andrew Lewin’s of Speak Up for [the] Blue. And after he interviewed me back in June for his podcast, he was like, “Hey, Melissa, if you - are you interested in getting into the podcast world?” And I’m like, “I’m - yes [laughter]. I’m listening, you have my attention, what’s up?”

And he said that he really wanted to branch out the Speak Up for the Blue podcast and make it bilingual. So someone’s going to be doing a French version of it, and then I’ll be doing the Spanish one. And so basically what ConCienca Azul is is a podcast that’s completely in Spanish and interviewing Spanish-speaking marine scientists, conservations, grad students, photographers, and more around the world. So we’re discussing their studies or their work and some of the unique challenges that they face in their - usually Latino-American - countries, such as racism, poverty, government corruption, drugs, narcotics, you name it.

The reason why I was so passionate about this was because that lack of visibility, that lack of relatability, really made me feel kind of alone in the STEM world. It’s kind of what sparked my TED talk. And what ConCienca Azul really wants to do is to change the way that Latinos are represented in the marine world and kind of shine a spotlight for them. There’s not a lot of resources out there for Spanish-speaking scientists, and especially marine scientists. I mean, me growing up, I knew no marine scientists who spoke Spanish, or were Hispanic or Latino or Latina.

So It’s kind of the whole, ‘Be the change you wanna see’. And this is my kind of way of providing a platform, with the platform I already have and the one I’m being given, to shine a spotlight on all of these amazing people doing great, and I mean, absolutely mind-blowing work around the world, that we don’t really about or hear from because… science kind of has a main language of just English. And if you don’t speak English, well, you’re kind of cast to the side. So um, yeah this is my way of kind of showing the world what Latino-Americans, or just Latinos, are made of. [laughter]

SYNAPSE: I think that’s fantastic. And yeah, you touched on the TED talk, too - that’s something that I found really inspiring.

You were talking about how you are starting to realize now that you have a platform where you can be a role model that you maybe wanted to see when you were 7 years old or younger.

MELISSA: Mm-hmm.

SYNAPSE: You know? And I think that’s super important - having that visibility, having that representation is so fantastic for - you know, not just young scientists like little kids out there who are looking for people like themselves, but older people, too, who might be considering a career change but might be too scared to go into a field - like, academia and science can be super daunting. Especially if you don’t see other people like yourself in there, you know?

MELISSA: Yeah. I mean, I kind of said this in the TED talk, but when someone says “scientist”, you usually don’t think of someone like me. Like, I’m 5’3” (so 157 cm for those who know metric), and I’m like less than 100 pounds (which is like 49 kg). Like, I am not your typical looking scientist, essentially. When I introduce myself, people are like, “Oh, you’re a scientist?” Like… ”What?”

SYNAPSE: [laughter]

MELISSA: And then I tell them I study sharks, and they’re like, “No, no, you’re kidding right?” So it is about breaking that stereotype, breaking that kind of mold, but you know... If me being out there shows one little girl or boy that they can do it, that’s - that’s what I want. And you know, that’s kind of what the Behind the Fins series for Fins United is trying to do, too. We’re going around to the world, kind of (virtually), and showing people scientists who study sharks and their relatives from all around the world, all different backgrounds, and whatnot.

And it’s kind of my way of being inclusive, being diverse - and you know, I’m still learning how to do it. I’m not perfect at it, by any chance. But I don’t want some kid in this day and age to go through what many of us have gone through, and that’s: look at the people you want to be like, but you don’t see yourself, and then you start questioning, “Do I belong there?”

And I kind of want to be that person who gives them that high-five and says, “No, you do belong here.”

SYNAPSE: Absolutely. That’s fantastic, and I’m so glad you’re doing that. For you to do that kind of stuff and to talk about it, and be so open about diversity and representation, that means a lot, too, you know? Because it’s exposing other people to different kinds of people, which is a more realistic view of the world, and it’s a more realistic approach to the kind of people we have in science.

MELISSA: Yeah, I definitely, I mean - we are a very diverse group. Um, I was part of the group - I don’t know if you’ve heard of this - of the #BillMeetScienceTwitter?

SYNAPSE: Yeah, yeah!

MELISSA: Yep. So it was me, Dalton [Ludwick], and Dani [Rabaiotti] - three people who - well actually, I don’t know if Dalton and Dani have never met, but I’m going to assume they never have. And we’ve like - the three of us have never met - again, assuming those two have never met. And that hashtag was kind of a way to show how many scientists are out there and also how diverse they are. I mean, to this day, I still see people using that hashtag and also #ActualLivingScientist hashtag?

SYNAPSE: Mm-hmm.

MELISSA: And just the beautiful kaleidoscope that scientists make is absolutely breathtaking. And it saddens me that the very, very small majority are the ones who get that spotlight, who fit into that stereotype that people look up to - and there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m not one of those people that says we should take the spotlight away from them...

If anything, I just think we need a bigger spotlight, or a longer table that we add chairs to. I think there’s enough room for everyone to get their say and for everyone to be up there, so everyone can see themselves. Diversity is definitely a here and now issue - I think it will continue to be a here and now issue for many years to come. But, it’s heartening to see that people are very inclusive to that kind of conversation.

And I’m definitely one of those people that I believe in community over competition, and am a big promoter of collaboration. I mean, that’s what we’re doing with the Fins United Initiative expansion - it’s like, [laughter] an unprecedented number of collaborations between people. Like, I think maybe 2% of the project, we’ve already got collaborators - like, 30 different collaborators? [laughter] So like, it’s gonna be huge.

So yeah, I’m definitely one of those people that I think collaboration is the way to go. Community is the way to go. Diversity and inclusion is the way to go. And if more people start having those kind of conversations, I think, you know, at the end of this - and who knows, how long it’ll take - but I think we’re going to have a really strong group of people that are gonna absolutely revolutionize what “scientist” looks like.

And I’m very excited for that.

SYNAPSE: Absolutely. Yeah, me too. And as long as people keep doing the kind of work that you do, I think we’ll definitely have that conservation keep going.

MELISSA: Thank you. Yeah, it’s...you know, again - I’m just trying to use the platform that I’ve been given and that I have worked for to help other people get their time. That’s kind of like, how I was taught. It’s one of those - what’s the saying - “Don’t build your fence higher, build your table to be longer.” It’s that, essentially. I basically [snorts] toppled over my fence and burned it to the ground. [laughter] And... Or maybe not burned it to the ground! Because that’s not as eco-friendly...

SYNAPSE: [laughter]

MELISSA: ...I used the fence to make the table longer. There we go! [laughter]

SYNAPSE: I like it. Recycling - nice! [laughter]

MELISSA: Exactly! Recycling and reducing and reusing. There we go, I like that message much better. Ex-nay on the burning-ay. [laughter]

SYNAPSE: [laughter] So, if there is somebody out there who - maybe they’ve seen some stuff from Fins United Initiative, maybe they’ve been introduced to a little bit of shark education - if there’s somebody out there who wants to get involved in marine biology, especially with respect to sharks - what kind of advice would you give them to start out?

MELISSA: Be passionate. And the reason I say that is because, it is - like any other science industry field - it is...tough. It is - I don’t wanna say it’s cutthroat - but it is quite tough sometimes. We’re like any other science field - we struggle with grants, we struggled with getting funding, etcetera etcetera. But your passion is what’s gonna shine through a lot of the time. And if you’re passionate about something, as the cliché goes, you’re not gonna work a day in your life.

So I think more people need to be passionate about what they do, and the good thing is that a lot of scientists are. I don’t think I’ve ever met a dispassionate scientist. We are very much a bunch of let’s-throw-100%-of-ourselves-into-this. So be passionate but stay passionate, even after all the obstacles, because it’ll either a) make the reward at the end (whatever it is that you want) more sweeter, or it’ll push you in a direction that you were meant to go all along.

SYNAPSE: I think that’s a great message, to stay passionate.

If people wanted to find you on the internet, on social media, where can they connect with you?

MELISSA: Twitter is usually where I’m most active in - that’s @mcmsharksxx. Twitter’s really good, and usually I’m on there like all the time - it’s kind of a bad habit. [laughter] But yeah - It’s just really addictive, it’s really good for networking. This is going to make me sound like a hermit, but I’ve got like a lot of friends on there. I just love chatting with people from all sorts of backgrounds. I usually end up having really good conversations.

Like just recently, I talked about my wonderful experience of scaring my parents when I was 19 because of a scorpion bite. And that has led to quite a lot of wonderful conversations... [laughter]

SYNAPSE: [laughter]

MELISSA: ...and also me scaring a few people… [laughter]

SYNAPSE: Aww… [laughter]

MELISSA: But um… [laughter] Yeah, so Twitter’s usually the number one place to find me. If not, my email address, which is my full name: melissacristinamarquez@gmail.com.

I’ve also got a personal website, which is melissacristinamarquez.weebly.com. And that’s got my contact information.

As well as...the Fins United stuff -- if anyone feels like they want to check that out, feel free! I think it’s pretty snazzy, but I think I’m a little biased.

SYNAPSE: [laughter] I think it’s pretty snazzy, too.

MELISSA: Yes! And you’re not that biased!

SYNAPSE: ...But I also might be a little biased. [laughter]

MELISSA: No, no, you’re not - no, no we’re going to say for the sake of this, you’re not biased! So there we go. [laughter]

SYNAPSE: Okay. [laughter] Thank you so much, Melissa!

MELISSA: My pleasure. Thank you again for having me on the show. Honestly, it is an honor.

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SYNAPSE: Thank you so much for listening to this episode of the Synapse Science Podcast, and a special thank you to Melissa Marquez for chatting with us about shark outreach and STEM representation. I encourage you to check out her podcast that she’s doing in collaboration with the Speak Up for The Blue Podcast. You can check Melissa’s website for more information or you can just find ConCienca Azul right on iTunes. That’s C-O-N-C-I-E-N-C-A A-Z-U-L.

And if you don’t speak Spanish yourself, but you want to support this kind of science outreach, I encourage you to share it with other folks and help promote a more representative, diverse view of STEM. If you need links to anything we talked about in this show, as well as a transcript of the episode, you can find them in our show notes over on synapsescience.com. And if you need to chat with us about interdisciplinary and intersectional science, you can find us over on our Twitter @synapsepod. If you’d like to get in touch with us personally for comments, questions, or anything else, you can email us at synapsepod@gmail.com.

Finally, if you like the show, please let us know! You can write us a little review over on iTunes, where you can also find more of our episodes to listen to. Reviews help keep our show visible & they also let us know how we’re doing, what you like already, and what we can improve upon.

Thank you so much for listening. We hope you enjoyed this episode, and until next time, have a wonderful week!

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Speeches sampled in the show's introduction are found in the public domain - find out more here. All music tracks are attributed to Kevin MacLeod and are licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/. All audio clips included in the podcast are used for nonprofit, educational purposes. The Synapse Science Podcast is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Disclaimer: the views and opinions expressed by guests appearing on the program do not necessarily represent those of the Synapse Science Podcast and/or its host.