December is historically a month full of celebration and this year is no different! All of us at FSUCML are celebrating the success and graduation of two of our students, Ph.D. Candidate Alex Hooks and MSc student Nika Blank! Although they will be deeply missed at the lab, we are so excited to watch them both continue to flourish in the next steps of their careers. Read below to learn about Alex and Nika’s FSU journeys and find out where they are headed next.
Alex Hooks (BS, University of South Carolina; MSc, Stony Brook University) began her Ph.D. program in 2016 under the advisement of Dr. Scott Burgess in the Department of Biological Science. Dr. Hooks’ interests lies in the field of marine evolutionary ecology, and her research combines molecular genetics with experimental ecology. Intrigued by the reproductive biology of invertebrates, she focused her Ph.D. dissertation on “Multiple Mating and Larval Biology of the Florida Crown Conch (Melongena corona).” Females that mate with multiple males is common throughout the animal kingdom, and Dr. Hooks tested the importance of this mating strategy on the reproductive output of females in the oyster predator, the Florida crown conch. She found no obvious reproductive gains of females by mating with multiple males and this mating strategy is likely driven by males wanting more mates.
While at FSU, Dr. Hooks was active in a variety of organizations. She was a counselor for Saturday at the Sea (SATS), including the summer camp SATS program, and an outreach technician for the marine lab itself. She regularly worked with middle school and high school students, while also participating in many community events teaching them about the local marine communities. She also was a member of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee in the Department of Biological Science and also devoted her time as a mentor for The Florida Georgia Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (FGLSAMP) in Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) at Florida State University. She received numerous awards including: an American Association of University Women Dissertation Fellowship, a FSU Biology Gramling research grant, an FSUCML Research Grant and Research Assistantship, and a PADI Foundation research grant.
Her favorite FSUCML memory is walking around the oyster bar at low tide and seeing all the animal activity and beautiful sunsets as she finished up field work. Dr. Hooks will be continuing her career as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Rhode Island where she will be studying the impact of anthropogenic stressors on oyster larvae and how these stressors can shape the genetic makeup of future oyster populations. Results from this work will help predict how oyster reefs will adapt to future climate change and increased human population growth.
Nika Blank (BS, Florida State University) stayed on at Florida State to work on her Master’s under the advisement of Dr. Sandra Brooke in the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences. While in undergrad, Nika was a member of the Women’s Swimming and Diving team, and she transferred those skills into her research studies by becoming an American Academy of Underwater Sciences (AAUS) certified scientific diver. Scientific diving supported her Master’s thesis on “Spatial and Temporal Variation in Hardbottom Coral Communities on the Coastal West Florida Shelf (WFS).” This study surveyed the stony corals, gorgonians, and sponges of hard-bottom communities in the Florida Panhandle and the central Florida Gulf coast. She found significant differences between the communities in the study area with respect to species presence, density and size. The hard-bottom habitats of the WFS are considered "essential fish habitats" and this study provided data in an under-studied area which increased our understanding of these critical habitats.
As a graduate student, Nika received various awards including: the AAUS Foundation research award, the Southern Association of Marine Labs travel grant and the FSUCML Board of Trustees Research Scholarship. Nika will miss spending time around the lab and in the field with great people, even on the days when the waters were choppy, murky, and not ideal to dive in . As for next steps, she plans on teaching marine science in high school and potentially continuing her research on coral communities in a Ph.D. program.