Alumni Profile: Kate Mansfield

Posted: March 24, 2014

Dr. Kate Mansfield TCI Spring’ 91 is a marine scientist and sea turtle biologist at the University of Central Florida. She and her team have recently published a paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society B on the whereabouts of baby sea turtles during their “lost years”—the time spent between hatching on the beach and adolescence, when they turn up again in the waters around the Azores and Madeira Islands.

To track the tiny turtles through the open ocean, they developed a clever (and safe) solar-powered transmitter tag that allowed for long-term monitoring (of up to 220 days!). Satellite mapping showed fast speeds in the currents of the North Atlantic Subtropical Gyre and stop-offs in the Sargasso Sea. Read more on the study here.

How did an SFS experience contribute to Kate’s education and her career as a marine biologist? Read our interview below!

Why did you choose SFS as a study abroad program?
I learn best when I’m not sitting at a desk or expected to regurgitate information. I knew I was interested in marine biology and management and wanted to get some hands-on experience. My college had a great Biology program, but at the time, they didn’t offer classes that focused on marine science. SFS helped fill that gap!

What is your most profound or lasting memory from your SFS program?
I have so many memories from the SFS program on South Caicos! I used to really enjoy watching the ocean around the time of sunset when all of the spotted eagle rays would jump out of the water. Our class also had the fun opportunity to meet and interact with Jacques Mayol, the famous free diver. He brought his home movies to show the students and then would swim with us in the mornings (I think some of the students challenged him to a race, but he out-swam everyone).

What did you gain from your SFS experience?
Field skills. Aside from improving my SCUBA skills, I learned so many field sampling techniques, particularly underwater sampling techniques, which really helped me when I was applying for internships and jobs after college and even after I received my Master’s degree.

Are you professionally connected to other SFS folk?
A couple of my collaborators on a turtle tagging project in Brazil were SFS instructors and interns on South Caicos after I was there as a student. Small world!

What advice do you have for other SFS alumni looking to get into your field?
Build up strong field (or laboratory) skills—this is what helps make you marketable to field-based programs. Gain “life experience”, too. When considering taking on graduate students, I look for those who have more practical “outside of the classroom” experience.