Statement of Purpose for Graduate School

From: Katharine DeVilbiss

Date: 12-15-2009


    Our world’s fisheries are in a decline and I would like to learn and develop ways to preserve and sustain this vital natural resource. For most of my childhood my father and I fished on the Saint Lawrence River. The abundance of pike, perch, and blue gill declined substantially in those fifteen or so years. While we would still love to visit that area, it just wouldn’t be the same if we couldn’t catch fish.

    It is an immediate goal to obtain a research assistantship for a Masters of Science degree in fisheries.  After I obtain my MS degree, I may decide to go on for a Ph.D. or I may find a suitable position in a state, federal, or international fisheries management agency or non-governmental organization.  I obtained my bachelor's of science degree in wildlife and fisheries biology from Clemson University in December 2008, with a 3.68 GPA, and a 3.89 in all WFB courses. I plan on beginning Graduate school in the spring or fall of 2010.

    As I have furthered my education, my fascination with this field of study has continued to grow. As I’ve mentioned, I grew up fishing and have grown to love eating, watching, dissecting, and learning about fish. I don’t have to fit the mold- I can think outside of the box. That’s what scientists are encouraged to do. I want to solve problems, and hopefully see direct results. If asked what my top three qualities are, I would say I am focused, organized, and conscientious. The qualities of loyal and inquisitive are top contenders as well.

    Unfortunately, while my degree is in Wildlife and Fisheries Biology, there have been few courses in fisheries available to me. However, I have developed a strong foundation in biology and ecology. Some of the relevant courses include vertebrate biology, evolutionary biology, fisheries biology, and conservation biology, organic chemistry, and freshwater ecology. Fisheries biology consisted of fish identification, a good deal of electrofishing practice, and material on sampling methods and habitat characteristics. Freshwater ecology highlighted the chemical, physical and biological processes in various bodies of water. This included diverse topics such as disease, hydrology, nutrients, and ecosystem assessment. Evolutionary biology focused on population genetics as well as principles of speciation, adaptation, and phylogeny.

    To gain additional experience in fisheries, I assisted Dr. Jeffery Foltz, a professor of fisheries with his turquoise darter (Etheostoma inscriptum) population restoration project. Six Mile Creek is a site where natural populations of this darter have diminished due to a variety of factors. I worked with two other students to gather habitat quality measurements to determine habitat suitability of different reaches of the stream. We would determine the current populations of each reach by using electrofishing. When populations were low, we would supplement these populations with darters of the same species from a nearby stream. To monitor and evaluate the success of this program the same procedure was repeated the following year. I became familiar with equipment used to collect dissolved oxygen readings, temperature, and flow. I also learned the different ratings of substrate and areas of streams (pool, riffle, or run) as well as preferred turquoise darter habitat. I received a few introductory lessons on GIS software. We were successful and a stable population of the turquoise darters in Six Mile Creek was re-established.

    During my collegiate career I acquired an independent internship in Australia.  I volunteered for the Queensland Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries as a technician for one semester. Of the many jobs in the lab, I performed otolith extractions on yellow fin brim, mullet, whiting, pearl perch, amberjack, snapper, and mackerel. I learned to identify species and sex. I learned a procedure for using night trawls to capture blue swimmer crab: Tying a cod-end, handling by-catch, controlling a winch, and taking salinity and temperature measurements. Other sampling methods I learned were boat ramp surveys, commercial catch sampling, charter catch sampling, and some fishery-independent sampling (i.e. in fish markets). I was amazed by the variety of by-catch species and became quite proficient at otolith extractions.

    I have specific interest in fisheries including both marine and freshwater especially edible species of finfish including salmon, trout, tuna, and cod. The broad areas of fish ecology, life history, population dynamics, genetics, and nutrition, excite me. I am very interested in learning aquaculture techniques for these species. I am especially interested in projects pertaining to higher efficiency fish cultivation, be it through higher yields, cost control, or reduction of nutrient loading for instance.

    As a graduate student, I would like to pursue a research program that will provide in depth skills and knowledge of fisheries management and/or aquaculture. I am eager to learn and seek a program that allows for specific training in fisheries as well as to spend the majority of my graduate time in the field, gaining valuable experience and applying my classroom knowledge to real situations.

    I hope to attend a university with a program that matches my interests where I can learn and grow into a competent professional. I am an excellent candidate for graduate school because of my strong work ethic, my commitment to this field, and my ability to work both independently and with a team. After graduate school I am interested in living in the Mid-atlantic, Great Lakes, west coast, or New England area.  I would be thrilled to work with NOAA, or a federal or state hatchery.