Captain of the Ship – a woman at the helm
An interview with Estuary & Ocean Science Center's Amanda Dostie by staff members Aimee Good and Sarah Ferner
Last week Aimee Good and I sat down to talk with Amanda Dostie to learn more about her background. We were curious about Amanda’s career path because, as mothers of tween daughters, we wanted to know more about what attracts a young woman to a science, technology, education, and mathematics (STEM) job. We also wanted to get to know Amanda, who is fairly new at the Estuary & Ocean Science (EOS) Center, a little better. Amanda’s current job is unique in that it is split across our two partner programs. She spends 80% of her time working as a monitoring technician for the San Francisco Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, which takes her outside deploying and retrieving instruments, paddling canoes and kayaks, and troubleshooting all kinds of problems from faulty electronics to salt-encrusted Master locks. The other 20% of her time, she works with the EOS Center’s Marine Superintendent, David Bell, piloting and maintaining boats. Before coming to the EOS Center, Amanda was a Marine Technician on board research vessels, often spending weeks at sea. The combination of jobs ties together a lot of seemingly disparate skills and experiences for Amanda.
Aimee: Did your family have a boat when you were young?
Amanda: Yeah. [Laughing] We would buy crummy boats and then fix them up. I spent lots of time on boats as a kid. I remember lots of summers in New England clamming with my Dad. I also swam and life guarded. Water is very calming for me.
Aimee: What did you study in college?
Amanda: I went to University of Connecticut, which is where I am from. I worked in a research lab at first doing a project about an algae bloom that was a local health problem. It was a lot like the work I do now. The last couple of years, I worked in an analytical chemistry lab, looking at nutrients in water. We were looking at munitions in the water – TNT in the water – and how it is taken up by animals. This was an interesting and fun project as Groton, CT, the town of my study, has a rich history of nuclear submarine, navy and coast-guard operations. There is a strong history of the release of [munitions] in the marine environmental globally through military operations. In the lab, I worked with lots of big instruments, and I realized that I really liked fixing things. I knew this when I was younger, too. I also worked as naturalist and marine science educator. I got a boat captain’s license through that [education] job. I hope to get my captain’s license for even larger vessels one day, a goal is to have my 100 ton license.
Aimee: You worked a lot in college.
Amanda: I had to pay my way through college. It was hard. I thought about quitting. I finished in four and half years.
Aimee: How did you become a Marine Technician?
Amanda: A Marine Technician acts as liaison between crew [on a research vessel] and scientists. The Marine Tech helps scientists put out research gear and tells the boat equipment operators what to do. When I finished college in 2017, I wanted to keep working in science, but there weren’t as many job opportunities. I found this program called MATE – Marine Advanced Technology Education – based out of Monterey Peninsula College. They offer different internships to attract people to marine technician jobs. They were interested in people from different backgrounds, from community colleges. They connect interns with research vessels in UNOLS [University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System]. It is a paid internship. The program kind of contracts you out, the ship gets free work, but they have to train you and treat you well.
Aimee: Were there other women on the ship?
Amanda: I was shipped out to the bayou. I was with the R/V Pelican. It was the biggest, coolest ship. It was an all-male crew. There were women scientists, but no women on the crew. It was definitely a little intimidating. If you don’t know how to do something, it is hard to have confidence. I had to learn not to take things personally.
Aimee: What else did you learn about working in an environment like that?
Amanda: If you show up and you want to learn, and you don’t try to over compensate and don’t take it personally, then it is great. I have to not worry about whether I am accepted, just do my job. I have a voice and feel strong and okay with that.
Aimee: What is your favorite part about your current roles?
Amanda: I like the variety of tech work and boat work, everything I do helps me gain experience. I didn’t want to choose between the two. The duality is great, every day is different.
In addition to learning that Amanda is a talented and driven woman, we also took away from the conversation a deeper understanding of how many diverse jobs exist even within our own field of marine science. We also reflected on how some of the quiet moments we spend with our daughters, like those that Amanda spent fixing up boats with her dad, may shape their futures more than we can predict.
Photo: Amanda with the "Kraken ROV" aboard the R/V Connecticut on Connecticut, Long Island Sound. The ROV was used take video surveys of the Long Island Sound "sea-flower" blooms that happen in the spring.