O’Hern, working towards her Ph.D. in oceanography, is one of the most traveled graduate students ever at Texas A&M, having been all over the world in search of her degree and the next items on her research agenda. She has earned her sea legs and then some – she’s been on 14 research cruises, with more scheduled.
After graduating from Cornell University, O’Hern was interested in pursuing a doctoral degree in oceanography, and after hearing from some advisers that Texas A&M’s program was among the very best, she headed toward the Brazos Valley and was soon boarding as many boats as she was attending lectures.
“I have always loved the ocean, and after just a few research cruises, I was totally hooked,” the 28-year-old O’Hern says from a cell phone moments after returning from yet another research jaunt, this one to the Ewing Bank located near the Flower Gardens Marine Sanctuary about 100 miles southeast of Galveston. She was part of a research group investigating reports of a large aggregation of whale sharks in the area.
Doug Biggs, professor of oceanography and O’Hern’s adviser, says there is no questioning her love for the water.
“I recruited her to come here from Cornell, she did and she got her master’s degree,” Biggs says. “She decided to pursue her doctorate, and she has become one of our most experienced grad students. She has been on quite a few cruises and already has some papers published, so she’s well on her way to a nice career in oceanography.”
In the past few years, O’Hern has made journeys that most other grad students could not fathom, so to speak.
She’s been to the Galapagos Islands, located about 525 miles from Ecuador and which inspired Charles Darwin’s theories, no less than five times, and each one has “been an incredible adventure. It’s like no other place – you literally step off the boat and right by the docks are large iguanas. Just an amazing place,” she confirms.
Another noteworthy trip was to Antarctica, which O’Hern describes as “just the best, a very surreal place. It’s hard to top it.”
Mix in other trips to islands in the Caribbean, numerous trips off the Atlantic Coast and stops all over the Gulf of Mexico, and O’Hern has enough memories to fill a dozen scrapbooks.
As for those whale sharks in the Gulf, those are part of her specialty – she is concentrating her studies on the habitat of marine animals. She hopes to complete her doctorate sometime next year.
In the meantime, it’s off to another adventure, this time to help faculty member Steve DiMarco measure the size of this year’s ‘dead zone’ in the Gulf, an area of oxygen-depleted water that stems from runoffs of the Mississippi River as it drains 40 percent of the U.S. before emptying into the Gulf of Mexico, picking up high levels of nitrogen and other chemicals used in agriculture. (See article about DiMarco and the dead zone.)
“What I love about this work is that the ocean is always changing, and because of that, you are always learning something new,” O’Hern explains.
“Every day on the water is different. I have had some amazing opportunities here, plus I get to work firsthand with some of the world’s leading experts in their fields. The faculty here encourages student participation whenever it’s possible. I have had some of the best learning experiences anyone could ever want.”
Contact: Keith Randall, News & Information Services, at (979) 845-4644 or
or Karen Riedel, College of Geosciences, at (979) 845-0910 or
Oceanography Graduate Student