Laura Hermanson works to keep people safe at the beach. She checks swimming beaches to make sure that they are not contaminated with harmful bacteria.
What do you do at Ecology?
I started working for Ecology in 2010 in the marine flight program. Using a seaplane, we flew to stations all throughout the Puget Sound and coastal bays, taking water quality data. This is a part of a long-term monitoring project that monitors the environmental changes in Puget Sound over time. In 2016, I transitioned to the Washington BEACH (Beach Environmental Assessment Communication and Health) Program. The BEACH Program keeps beachgoers safe during the summer by sampling high-use beaches for fecal bacteria, and warning people when it isn’t safe to recreate in the water. Swimming in fecal contaminated water can cause illness, so our job is to prevent this from happening. This is especially important for children and people with compromised immune systems.
What gets you excited to go to work in the morning?
I like knowing that my work has a direct impact on human health. When people visit the beach, they are just thinking about having fun, not about the health risks. Which is great! We want people to have fun. But we also want them to be safe and to become educated about the risks that potentially go along with recreating in a highly populated area. It is especially important for parents to be aware of these risks to keep little ones safe. As a parent myself, I certainly appreciate the fact that the BEACH Program and all of its partners are keeping beachgoers safe.
In my time spent here at Ecology I have seen most of Puget Sound, either from the air, by boat, or visiting different beaches. I greatly appreciate the opportunity to get to know our unique and beautiful environment in this capacity. I also work with some really great, smart people!
What advice do you have for women who want a career in science?
- As cliché as it sounds, follow your dreams and stay in school — whether that means a community college or Ivy League, international or in your hometown — it doesn’t really matter as long as you apply yourself and don’t give up on your goals.
- Keep exploring! If a class, project, job, teacher, etc., doesn’t resonate with you, don’t feel bad about exploring other options. Sometimes you have to fulfill commitments, but it’s valuable to know when to move on.
- Job competition in this field can be tough. It’s okay to start out modestly or even volunteer for a while. If you keep trying, you will eventually hit a nerve.
- Find someone whose job interests you and ask them how they got to where they are. This could be as simple as talking to your peers or teachers, or even sending an email to someone you have never met. Networking is always valuable. And in my experience, people are always willing to share their story and encourage budding scientists.