Assistant Aquarist

Name of Hiring Contact:  Walter Hatch
Title of hiring contact: Professor of Biology               
Phone: 240-895-4368

Responsibilities and benefits to the student:

The fellow would serve as an assistant aquarist to faculty in the department of biology.  The basic responsibility will be to assist in the operation and oversight of the department’s marine microcosms and estuarine culture facilities.  Tasks would include the performance of basic water quality assays and the maintenance of an electronic log of the results.  This will include both wet bench chemistry and downloading and interpreting data from data logging computers.  The water quality parameters collected by the assistant aquarist would be used to adjust the microcosms to optimal conditions as well as to provide that information to anyone conducting research in the facility.  In addition, the assistant aquarist will conduct regular visual inspections of the facilities and identify and report problems or potential problems. They would also be responsible for basic animal care such as feeding and culturing food for the organisms, maintaining a log of visible changes in animal health and behavior, and providing written progress reports to the aquarist.  

The specific tasks will go far beyond maintaining a neat and orderly wet lab.  As training and experience increases, the fellow will be able to take on more challenging tasks such as learning how to identify and implement solutions to water quality problems, cloning animals, and assisting faculty and SMP students in setting up and conducting experiments. The fellow may be required to respond to emergency situations when faculty and staff are unable to respond, such as when the campus is closed for inclement weather.  In addition, the fellow will have the opportunity to interact with the public, especially during campus tours provided to prospective students. The fact that hands on experience like the PFP fellowship is available to prospective students does indeed impress them.

The assistant aquarist will gain professional experience in the maintenance of captive aquatic organisms. This experience will include the design, construction and maintenance of tropical marine microcosms as well as estuarine and fresh water systems.  The assistant aquarist will also improve their observational, critical thinking, and problem solving skills as well as learn the specific skills of an aquarist including determining salinity, oxygen, carbon dioxide, calcium, magnesium, and trace element concentrations.  The student will, in addition, gain skills in data acquisition using instrumental analysis and data logging.  Improving skills in graphing, interpreting and reporting complex data are additional benefits.  We offer the fact that two previous aquarist fellows were offered and have accepted jobs as aquarists (Nantucket Public Aquarium and University of Maryland) as evidence of the efficacy of their training.  Both of these students are currently enrolled in graduate programs and pursuing degrees in aquatic science.  In addition to learning marketable technical skills, the student will develop their interpersonal skills through interactions with student and faculty researchers who use this facility. Once trained, the assistant aquarist will share their knowledge with other students, and lead a core group of volunteers who help care for the animals and maintain the facility. As we have chosen our previous aquarist from among our volunteers, the dedication of our volunteers has improved. These volunteers now actively compete for the aquarist position even though they know that funding is tentative.   In addition, our 2010-2011aquarist Mike Studivan was awarded a Sigma Xi research grant in support of his SMP on the effects of oil spill cleanup on corals and this was due, in part, to his demonstrating sufficient experience in coral culture to carry out his proposed research on captive corals.   Finally, the assistant aquarist will gain personal experience. Aquarium keeping is a challenging and rewarding hobby. Its practitioners rapidly become life-long learners as they increase their knowledge and hone their skills.

Qualifications and unique application instructions:

The student should be dependable, have strong organizational skills, strong written and oral communication skills, and the ability to effectively interact with faculty, staff, and peers.  The ideal candidate would be a natural science student with some analytical and quantitative skills and a passion for aquariums and coral reefs.  However, in reality any good student from any discipline with some experience and the willingness to expand their interests and develop new skills would be a fine candidate.  Preference will be given to on campus residency as this would allow the fellow to respond quickly in the event of a microcosm system failure or other emergency in the wet lab. Students who wish to apply for this fellowship should submit an application form along with supporting materials. The application form is available on the Wet Lab Blackboard web site.  For further information about this position, contact Walter Hatch (Phone 240-895-4368) or Elaine Szymkowiak (Phone 240-895-4364).