Centennial Story 79: Jessica A. Miller (MS, 1993)

After completing a BS in Zoology at the University of Montana and working in Florida’s mangroves for a year, I was drawn to University of Washington’s School of Aquatic and Fisheries Science (SAFS) by its strengths in sound science and effective application. I entered SAFS in 1990 as an MS student. During a scoping visit the year before, I had been lucky enough to connect with Si Simenstad and learn more about his estuarine research and potential research opportunities. I worked with Si, Bob Wissmar, and a team of others, including Jeff Cordell (MS, 1986), Greg Hood (PhD, 2000), Cheryl Morgan (MS, 1993), and Laurie Weitkamp (MS, 1991; PhD, 2004), to name just a few. At that time, Si was in the process of creating the “Wetland Ecosystems Team” or at least creating the first logo and sweatshirts! This was a busy, challenging, and rewarding time for me that was made possible through Si’s unceasing efforts to increase understanding and management of estuarine systems as well as his academic, financial, and moral support.

My thesis focused on assessing the ecological function of created wetlands. After my MS, I went on to research positions at the Tillamook Bay National Estuary Partnership in Oregon and then at the Willapa Alliance in southwestern Washington. I am absolutely certain that these positions were available to me because of my degree from SAFS and due to the high esteem people held for Si.

Jessica deploying a light trap at the Oregon State University dock at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Oregon. Light traps are one method of collecting animals attracted to light (positively phototactic larval fish and invertebrates).
Jessica deploying a light trap at the Oregon State University dock at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Oregon. Light traps are one method of collecting animals attracted to light (positively phototactic larval fish and invertebrates).

However, several years of working at the interface of science and management were enough to propel me into a PhD program at University of Oregon’s (UO) Institute of Marine Biology (OIMB). Once again, I was fortunate to have a supportive, engaging, and creative mentor, Alan Shanks. After years of working with Pacific salmon in coastal systems, I wanted to examine the movements and transport mechanisms for non-salmonid fishes and invertebrates and understand how they influenced population connectivity. OIMB is a wonderful marine laboratory and, for anyone interested in marine biology, living and working at a marine lab is an experience not to be missed. During a post-doctoral position at UO, I was fortunate to be offered a tenure-track faculty position at Oregon State University in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. The position is also within the Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station and based at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Oregon, so I am lucky enough to continue to live and work on the ocean.

My current research focuses on understanding mechanisms and patterns of dispersal, movement, and mixing in marine organisms and quantifying aspects of life history variation in marine and anadromous fishes that are relevant to conservation and management. I often use biogeochemical markers to address basic questions in ecology that also provide information critical for management and conservation efforts. My position is exciting and rewarding because it combines my interest and training in fisheries science and marine biology in an applied research environment that involves effective collaboration with state, federal, and industry partners. I now mentor graduate students and also teach a course on the early life history of fishes. Throughout my professional career, I have often marveled at the size and the reach of the SAFS network. In my current position, I am fortunate to regularly interact with so many successful SAFS alumni. Congratulations on 100 years of education, research, outreach, and training!

Jessica on an ocean survey off the Oregon and Washington coast on the F/V Frosti to collect juvenile Pacific salmon with colleagues from NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center.
Jessica on an ocean survey off the Oregon and Washington coast on the F/V Frosti to collect juvenile Pacific salmon with colleagues from NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center.
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