In celebration of Women’s History Month, we are highlighting Jin-Si Over - an intelligent, effervescent, and downright awesome geographer with the USGS Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center.
Researcher Spotlight: Jin-Si Over
Jin-Si is part of the USGS Remote Sensing Coastal Change Project. This research team uses remote-sensing technologies, such as aerial photography, satellite imagery, structure-from-motion photogrammetry, stationary video cameras, and lidar (laser-based surveying), to measure coastal change along U.S. shorelines. The knowledge gained from this research will improve computer-derived simulations of coastal flooding and shoreline change that communities can use to identify hazards in areas vulnerable to storms, chronic erosion, and sea-level rise.
Jin-Si's personality and passion shine through as she answers a series of questions pertaining to her career and provides a message for the next generation of STEM scientists. Enjoy!
How did you get into the career you have today?
By trying everything, working hard, finding the right mentors, and taking breaks. I grew up land-locked and wanted to be a marine biologist, so I left NY state for North Carolina and did everything the school and local area could offer - volunteered at the aquarium, took a bunch of oceanography courses, and applied for internships in fields I had little to no experience in. In one internship I spent a summer working on physical oceanography and hated it but it introduced me to the world of coding, where as the other internship was in coastal geology and I loved it, I hadn't even known this was something I could study (also it was in Hawaii so extra wow). Overall I changed my major to Geology when I realized biology wasn't for me and had two amazing women in the Earth and Ocean Sciences Department help me go to conferences, take on research projects, and think about graduate school. I graduated early and traveled around the world for 6 months WWOOFing and working, just meeting people, and looking at cool rocks before driving across the country to start a Masters in micropaleontology/paleoceanography at the University of Victoria, BC, Canada. There I taught labs in geological oceanography, geoscience field course, learned how to drive a school bus and passenger vans, surfed and paddle boarded, volunteered at themuseum, and got involved with Surfrider. In between research and classes I took time off to drive to California, go to Panama, andexplore Vancouver Island as a whole. Then I panicked about post-graduate life because I missed the direct applications of coastal science (and sandy beaches) and in a quick 180 of career trajectories applied to the Geoscientists-in-the-Parks Program (Americorp and Geological Society of America) and accepted a coastal geomorphology/GIS technician position at Gateway National Recreation Area at Sandy Hook, New Jersey with the U.S. National Park Service and Rutgers University where I worked for about 9 months surveying beaches and doing coastal analyses. Then I applied for the position I am in now - Geographer - working at the USGS Woods Hole Coastal and Marine Science Center on Hurricane coastal work and I have not looked back since!
What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?
Being part of a group (Remote Sensing Coastal Change) that collects and provides data (elevation and imagery) to a bunch of other groups that use it in their analyses, it's so nice to be able to identify a need and be able to provide data for a specific place, and even rapidly if it's a need based on a natural hazard. Also just spending hours looking at beautiful beach imagery. So relaxing.
Why did you choose to get into your career field? What impact does your work have?
The "real world" application. I was struggling with my background in paleontology to find a way to apply it to real world needs outside of education, and here in the realm of coastal science we have hurricanes and sea-level rise that we are monitoring and providing data for that gets used immediately or at least is incorporated into policy/best-practices for coastal hazards as they affect public beaches, parks, and animals using the coast. I also love maps. Have always loved maps, and to get to make maps professionally is a dream come true.
How does it feel/what does it mean to be a woman in the science field?
It means when we go out in the field that I'm extra self-conscious about pulling my own weight. None of this "more delicate sex" thing. But also realizing I probably shouldn't lift that super heavy thing by myself. Otherwise I have been very lucky to have always had woman mentors/colleagues to look up to and use as support and I am excited to be able to hopefully fill that role for others when they need it. I don't think I have had the experience of needing to be anything different than who I am in the workspace and I think that is a sign of progress for the science field! (and I know that is definitely not always the case)
Did you encounter hardships to get where you are today? How did you overcome them?
As a woman in science? Just being stereotyped when you have first encounters with others for being a woman, but it's never been a problem once I start working with them and they can see I am capable. Having the confidence and ability to speak up about it has made a difference, and I am fortunate to have always been in a place where doing so has had no repercussions.
Hardships with my career path? So many. Starting over in a field was pretty tough (paleontology to coastal geology). The culture of ‘failure is unacceptable’ in the sciences and in life is very real. “If you start something you have to finish it, even if you are miserable” mentality is very hard to overcome. I had just finished a Masters in tiny dead things and then had to take a huge step backwards (in pay, knowledge, connections...) to get back on track doing coastal related science, but it was worth it! And it was really helpful that all my mentors in the paleo realm supported this field transition. I see now that the experiences I had were all still valid – you learn so much just in the miscellaneous life skills department from doing anything for a few months or more that you can easily transfer to a new science. They don’t usually tell you that - its not a start from scratch, it’s just a different recipe for making bread and you already now how to turn on the oven.
What message would you like to give to the next generation of STEM scientists?
Man creates dinosaurs. Dinosaurs eat man, woman inherits earth....other than being my favorite Jurassic Park quote, it tells me perspective is so so so important. Failure is only failure if you don't learn anything from it. So, dream big, be open to change, treat everyone with respect, and don't worry about the things you can't control!