Centennial Story 86: Carolina V. Minte-Vera (PhD, 2004)

My career in fisheries started after I finished my degree in Ecology in Brazil (State University of Sao Paulo, UNESP) and decided to change my research field from myrmecology to fisheries. Although working on ant ecology under the great Harold G. Fowler sparked my scientific curiosity and brought me joy, I soon realized that very few people in the world ate ants… Also, as an undergraduate, the quantitative ecology classes of Miguel Petrere captivated my interest. Miguel is a mathematician, philosopher, and ecologist, one of the most brilliant fisheries scientists in Brazil, and a vivid story teller. His stories about the people behind the mathematical models and statistical methods, as well as the tales about his work in the vast rivers of the Amazon basin and his PhD studies in Lowestoft caught my imagination. I obtained a master’s degree in ecology at the State University of Campinas (UNICAMP), under Miguel’s supervision, fascinated by the possibility of using math and statistics to study one of the last hunter-gatherer activities performed by modern humans: fisheries.

Miguel used Hilborn & Walters 1992 (Quantitative Fisheries Stock Assessment: Choice, Dynamics, and Uncertainty) as the main textbook in his population dynamics class. By the end of my master studies, when I was discussing my options with Miguel, he told me, “Carolina, you should do a PhD either with Hilborn or with Walters.” I was uncertain whether I could pursue such a PhD, as I would have to start by improving my English, but Miguel was convinced that I could do it, and that gave me courage. My friend and I decided to tour the USA and Canada to interview with Ray and Carl, visit SAFS and the University of British Columbia, and take the TOEFL/ GRE to be able to apply for the PhD program. Sometimes it takes a little push for a shy and inexperienced student to take the next step.

SAFS was a place to make life-long friendship: Billy Ernst, Juan Valero, Jody Brauner-Lando (PhD, 2004) and Ivonne Ortiz (MS, 2002; PhD, 2007) on the SAFS front lawn after my first snow day in Seattle. I took this picture from the window of our office in the Hilborn Lab at the 3rd floor of the School (circa 2003).
SAFS was a place to make life-long friendship: Billy Ernst, Juan Valero, Jody Brauner-Lando (PhD, 2004) and Ivonne Ortiz (MS, 2002; PhD, 2007) on the SAFS front lawn after my first snow day in Seattle. I took this picture from the window of our office in the Hilborn Lab at the 3rd floor of the School (circa 2003).

When I met Ray Hilborn, I knew that SAFS was the right place for me. He received us with open arms and such a warm smile that I completely disregarded the miserable Seattle weather. I knew SAFS would be a place where the human element would compensate for the days and days of uninterrupted showers, drizzles, and rains. This is precisely what happened. I merged into the festival of nationalities of the SAFS student body. I met wonderful friends, who enriched my time at the SAFS enormously, became my colleagues and with whom I interact personally and professionally to this date (three of them where witnesses at my wedding: Estelle Balian [MS, 2001], Juan Valero [MS, 2002; PhD, 2011] and Billy Ernst [PhD, 2002], but that is another story…). One day, the clouds cleared and the rain stopped, and I woke up to the lush forests, wide lakes and the Puget Sound. This is when I learnt the American saying, “work hard and play hard,” mixing studying for STAT 572 and STAT 573 with sailing vessels of the UW yacht club (thanks to Billy Ernst who introduced us to it!).

SAFS allowed for countless opportunities to learn, some derived from the tight collaboration with both the Alaska Fisheries Science Center and the Northwest Fisheries Science Center. In 2002, Jim Ianelli, (PhD, 1993) one of my committee members, came to the Hilborn Lab and announced, “who wants to work for me during the summer?” I quickly jumped up and said, “me!” This was my first experience working in real stock assessment research. The following year, Jason Cope (PhD, 2009) and André Punt approached me to propose another summer job, this time working on the assessment of cabezon. I happily took that opportunity, where I programed the model André and Jason developed in AD Model Builder. We used to “race” our model against Kevin Piner’s model done in Stock Synthesis, which at the time Rick Methot (BS, 1975) had only in FORTRAN, and we “won” (19 seconds versus 2 minutes).  By then, I had learned the fun of coding and customizing models and methods.

With my Lab mates, Arni Magnusson (MS, 2002; PhD, 2016) and Trevor Branch (PhD, 2004), on the day of my defense (November 5th 2004) holding many draft copies of my dissertation, ready for recycling.
M.D. Souza Jr.
With my Lab mates, Arni Magnusson (MS, 2002; PhD, 2016) and Trevor Branch (PhD, 2004), on the day of my defense (November 5th 2004) holding many draft copies of my dissertation, ready for recycling.

I came to SAFS with four years of funding from the Brazilian government and on a leave of absence from a faculty position at the University of Maringa, Brazil. Those were two wonderful opportunities, which would soon grant me the privilege to pass on my recently acquired knowledge to cohorts of dedicated students. But that also meant that I was on a tight schedule to quickly finish my PhD and return to Brazil. My studies were delayed with the passing of my mom in 2001. I was two quarters short of finishing my PhD when my funding run out. I was honored and surprised to be awarded the first Marsha Landolt & Robert Busch Endowed Fund in Aquatic and Fishery Sciences. The endowment was established after the tragic passing of the couple in an avalanche.  Marsha Landolt was the Dean of the Graduate school when she passed and, just like my mom, was an inspiration— a brilliant, fearless and strong woman, who left us too soon.

When I was ready to return to Brazil, I knew that my focus there would be teaching and basic research in fisheries such as starting data collection programs. I mentioned to André that I feared I would drop out of the “stock assessment loop”. He reassured me that being a SAFS graduate, I was never to leave that loop. And here I am, working at the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission on the Stock Assessment Program under the leadership of Mark Maunder (PhD, 1998) and Alex Aires-da-Silva (PhD, 2008), with William “Bill” Bayliff (MS, 1954; PhD, 1965), Martin Hall (PhD, 1983), Rick Deriso (UW Biomathematics, 1978), Michael Hinton (MS UW. Oceanography 1982) and Haikun Xu (Post-Doc fellow 2017) as my IATTC colleagues. Gratitude is all I have for this wonderful school that prepared me so well. Happy 100th anniversary and many more to come!

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