June is Ocean Month, and to celebrate STEM Rising is sharing profiles of Energy Department staff in ocean-related careers. Meet Dr. Naomi Lewandowski.
Dr. Naomi Lewandowski is a Knauss Sea Grant Fellow in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Wind Energy Technology Office. I grew up in Michigan and fell in love there with all animals that live in the water. During college, and for a few years after, I was lucky to have a few different research jobs where I studied plankton, diseases in fish, and even shark behavior. I went to graduate school at the City University of New York and earned my PhD studying animal behavior, specifically the behavior of chambered nautilus as well as squid. Most of my research was in the laboratory but I also had the opportunity to do some field work during a research summer in Japan (which is where the picture above was taken).
After completing my PhD, I decided to try something different and applied for the Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship. One of the options was my current position at the DOE’s Wind Energy Technology Office which sparked my interest because I would get to continue utilizing my expertise and learning more about animal behavior. In my free time I like to crochet, try to ID birds on nature walks, and play Dungeons and Dragons.
What’s your favorite fact about the ocean?
All of my favorite ocean facts have to do with marine life and it’s hard to pick just one interesting thing! One of my favorite facts is that the ocean sunfish (Mola mola), grows 60 MILLION times its original size during its lifetime. It goes from being about one millimeter long just after it hatches to being as big as 9ft across and weighing nearly 5000lbs. Completely mind blowing.
What do you do to celebrate Ocean Month?
I usually would be visiting the ocean much more but it’s difficult to get out there this year. Instead I’m making an effort to get to know more ocean scientists. I work with lots of amazing people who study the ocean already so I’ve been talking with more of them about their work. However, I’ve also started following more scientists on social media. It can be a great way to casually connect with diverse scientists and learn about all the amazing work that’s taking place on a variety of ocean topics.
What inspired you to work in wind power?
I loved doing experiments and research during my PhD, but I wanted to do more to work toward conservation of global marine life. The biggest threat to oceans is climate change and rising sea water temperatures and increasing green energy usage will work to mitigate climate change. I feel so much satisfaction every day that even the little things I do in this job will help make a difference in protecting marine life.
What do you do in your job?
Broadly, I work to help understand the ways that offshore wind energy could potentially impact marine life. Day-to-day I do things like talk to scientists to help plan ways of monitoring birds and bats that fly near turbines in the ocean. Or help plan ways to protect endangered species, such as the right whale, from any potential harm caused by wind turbine construction noise. I also work to make sure that any gaps in knowledge around these issues are identified so that scientists can work to fill those gaps. I really enjoy working as part of a larger team of people that each have their own role but work together to affect change.
What books or movies about the ocean do you recommend?
One of my all-time favorite books is The Unnatural History of the Sea by Callum Roberts which is about the ways that humans have interacted with the ocean for hundreds of years and how it can inform current conservation efforts. It is the book that originally got me interested in studying marine conservation.
I love the movie The Abyss which is science fiction but still does a great job showing that deep sea exploration is just as exciting and dangerous, if not more dangerous, than space exploration.
Do you have any advice for people who want to work in ocean-related careers?
Be curious and be stubborn! There are so many types of jobs related to the ocean that there’s a fit for everyone but you may have to endure some low or unpaid internships, sorting through graduate school options, or securing funding. I’m mostly familiar with the academic route of entering an ocean career and my specific advice there would be to talk to people in the jobs you want. You could learn things like: in a STEM program you don’t have to pay for a PhD, or that many labs don’t advertise for open graduate student positions. A lot more is done by word of mouth in academia so be sure to get yourself out there. Ultimately to me, it’s all been worth it and I’m really happy in my current position.
For more Ocean Month profiles and STEM resources, visit www.energy.gov/STEM