michelle johnston professional headshot and a photo of her scuba diving while holding a clipboard with a data sheet

Michelle Johnston | Research Ecologist

Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary

What does a typical day look like for you?

The past couple years have been abnormal, but in the summer, a typical day includes planning cruises for field work offshore at Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. As scuba diver and scientist, I then go offshore to collect data on coral and fish species, as well as water samples, to assess the health of the marine sanctuary. In the winter, I analyze the data that was collected in the earlier months and work to publish the data in reports and peer reviewed journals.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?

Being able to scuba dive and see the beautiful coral reef that NOAA is responsible for protecting is incredible, but I also enjoy outreach and sharing information about this special place. Conducting educational lionfish dissections with students is always rewarding and fun for everyone.

What if any challenges have you faced as a woman in an ocean-related career?

Overt bias against women in science is less common today than in decades past, but implicit bias remains a major challenge for female scientists. Trying to balance advancing your career while also being a good mom has been extremely challenging for me since becoming a mother. I am very lucky to have support from my family as I attempt to balance work and home-life.

What is one piece of advice you would share with someone who might be thinking of pursuing your career path?

I get asked this question often, and growing up in the land locked state of Ohio, I did everything I could do to get experience, such as becoming scuba certified at the age of 14, and volunteering at the local animal shelter to get animal care experience. While in college in North Carolina, I volunteered at the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital, got involved with the marine mammal stranding network, and did as many internships as possible to get experience. In short, get involved, work hard, and volunteer your time when you can.