What were some of the things that interested you as a child?

I was interested in nature. I liked to be outdoors. I grew up in Colorado. I was really interested in animals. I liked to go outside and find animals such as insects, caterpillars, frogs, and things. I also had a lot of pets. I also participated in a lot of sports.

How did you become interested in science?
Before I was interested in science, I was very curious about nature. Up through high school, I wasn’t interested in science as a formal way of studying nature. Only after I entered undergraduate school did I start questioning things in various fields of science.I got interested in science as a way of understanding nature.

How did you actually decide that you wanted to become a scientist?

At the end of undergraduate school, I realized that I was interested enough in science that I wanted to make some sort of career or job out of it. I realized that the kind of research I was interested in required graduate work. So I went off to graduate school to try and get more training.

What was the type of research you were interested in?

As an undergraduate, I was interested in ecology. I went to Pomona College, which is a small college in California. The kind of ecology I was studying was desert plant ecology. I got interested in oceanography when I went out to sea on a cruise. I realized that there were a lot of parallels between the desert and the deep sea. I got intrigued by oceanography because there were lots and lots of unknowns.

How did you end up working at Woods Hole?

Towards the end of my graduate studies, which were long and convoluted (I won’t bore you with the details, but I went through probably a record number of different thesis projects) but when I finally finished the thesis project that worked out, I started looking for a postdoc and looking for the kind people who were doing the research I wanted to do. A lot of those people were here at Woods Hole. I contacted them and talked about getting a postdoc. I got funding together for a postdoc and ended up out here in the Ocean Engineering Department where I tried to learn about fluid dynamics.

Then a job opening came in the biology department, which was what my PhD was in. I applied for that job and moved across the bridge into the biology department.

What continues to inspire you about your job?

I think what inspires me is just figuring things out. Just going out there and trying to understand what's going on. And coming in everyday and thinking, "Hmm, nobody's answered that question. I guess I better work on it." Just going out and trying to figure it out, and having enough self-confidence to say, "I really think it is this. Oops, my bad. It wasn't that. Maybe it's this."

And you know what I really love is interacting with graduate students, undergraduates, and high school students. I love having them in my lab and asking all sorts of questions about everything. They ask you just the oddest questions that I should know the answer to, but I don't. I can't even begin to tell you about the questions that they ask that really make me think about what I do. It brings me back. What am I doing? What is important? I just love it.

As a woman, have you faced any challenges in pursuing your career? ?

As a woman, I can’t think of any specific major things that have come up in my career. There are many times when I feel like I don’t quite have the right type of personality for science. It seems as if science needs really aggressive, assertive people, and that’s not who I am. I guess I have found that I can compensate for that by being very stubborn.

What continues to inspire you?

One of the things that continues to inspire me about my career is the opportunity to discover things, and that is not just discovering things at the bottom of the ocean. It’s also the chance to discover how organisms work and interact in the interesting ecosystems in the ocean.

What types of things do you like doing in your spare time?

I don’t have any spare time! I have found that I have to make a conscious effort to make spare time. When I do that, I like to spend it with my kids. I also like to spend it out in nature. That’s one holdover from when I was a kid. I like to go sea kayaking and skiing, and I particularly like doing those things with my family.

Any advice for people who are thinking of pursuing a career in oceanography?

The only advice I would give anyone is to make sure you stay curious about whatever it is you think you are going to do. I think curiousity drives a lot of intellectual advancement. As far as classwork, if you are interested in oceanography, you really need a lot of basic science.

Lauren Mullineaux

  • Senior Scientist, Department of Biology
  • Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

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