Meet Caitlyn: A dancing marine scientist


Meet Caitlyn! Caitlyn’s among the first of our collegiate Science Cheerleaders. She cheered for the University of South Carolina while pursuing her Bachelor of Science degree in marine science. Now, she’s working on a Master’s degree in Coastal Environmental Management at Duke University. And, she’ll be helping us with an exciting event to be announced shortly!

SciCheer: Caitlyn, what turned you on to science and when?

Caitlyn: I would say that I was turned on to science the day I saw the ocean. While growing up, my family and I took summer vacations to the beach where I fell in love with the water and was fascinated with the thought of the animals living under the waves. Science was also my best subject in school; it was something that just made sense to me and came naturally, I greatly enjoyed it and still do!

SciCheer: Favorite and/or least favorite courses you took to prepare for your degree in marine science?
Caitlyn: My favorite class was in undergrad; it was my first advanced biological oceanography class. The professor was incredibly knowledgeable and I felt that I learned a great deal about the subject and was able to retain it. We were taken out into the field to conduct research on an island off the coast of  Beaufort, SC. It was an amazing experience and gave me skills I have used many times since then.

SciCheer: How would you like to apply your degrees?
Caitlyn: I have a background in marine science and environmental education with younger children and I would like to expand on that and go into the field of public engagement and education specifically with ocean science and conservation.

SciCheer: How long did you cheer/dance for your college team?
Caitlyn: I was a dancer for the University of South Carolina Coquettes for three years. I was captain my senior year of college. And I have been dancing since I was three years old.

SciCheer: Which came first? Your interest in science or dance?
Caitlyn: My interest in dance came first, at the age of three. My science interest began not long after when I was about 5 or 6.

SciCheer: Did you find that stereotypes about cheerleaders helps or hinders your studies or professional experiences? (Are you taken seriously?)
Caitlyn: I have found that in places where I am already known (my hometown and cities I have spent more than a few years in) I am taken seriously. However, when I move to a new place, I feel that I need to prove myself before people will pay more attention to what I’m saying. For example, after I tell a person that I am getting a masters degree from Duke, they start listening. Many people who first meet me and hear that I was on the dance team or in a sorority look at me with skepticism; when I first came to Duke, my peers seemed very surprised to find this out. I think many people have a hard time believing that a dancer or sorority girl could be smart as well.

SciCheer: How do your fellow cheerleaders accept your interest in science?
Caitlyn: The girls I danced with were wonderful. They were very accepting of my interests and would come to me with any questions they had related to science; they believed that I should have the answer to all science related questions!

SciCheer: Do you have any advice for youngsters who might feel torn between following one dream (cheerleading, etc)  and following another (a Science, Technology, Engineering, Math career)?
Caitlyn: I would tell them that there should be no reason you can’t do both! Women are smart and powerful; dancing and cheering is fun and a great way to be active and healthy and being interested in STEM careers holds no shame. It’s very possible to be a dancer/cheerleader and a scientist while having fun with your friends and doing everything else you enjoy!

SciCheer: Along these lines, what advice would you give your 12-year-old self?
Caitlyn: I would tell my 12 year-old self to study more outside of class! I loved science but never pushed myself beyond what we were learning in the classroom and I greatly regret not just spending time reading about the topics I was interested in on my own time.

SciCheer: What are your plans for the future?
Caitlyn: Currently, I am working towards a master degree in coastal environmental management from Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment. I plan to work at NOAA’s Coastal Services Center this summer before finishing my degree. I hope to go into the field of science communication and public engagement and education.

SciCheer: Best cheerleading/dance experience?
Caitlyn: My very first game dancing in Williams Bryce Stadium. Standing in front of 80,000 people getting ready to perform is an amazing feeling.

SciCheer: Best science-related experience?
Caitlyn: Going to Japan to collect muscles for research. I was able to experience a totally new culture in a part of Japan that has not really been touched by American civilization. And I was able to work through a complete research project with actual field research (not just a field trip in class) for the first time.