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Meet Ana Vaz, Assistant Scientist

September 14, 2022

As part of the Faces of the Southeast Fisheries Science Center series, meet Dr. Ana Vaz.

Ana Vaz at her computer. Ana Vaz works on computer model simulations and analyses of datasets. Photo provided by Ana Vaz

Where did you grow up? 

I grew up in Campinas, Brazil, a city in the countryside of Sao Paulo state. 

Where did you go to school and in what subject did you get your degree(s)?

Ana looking into a microscope
Ana Vaz participated in several research projects aboard vessels prior to primarily working with models and large-dataset analyses. Here, she is conducting experiments to test how temperature affects the embryonic development of opakapaka (Hawaiian pink snapper), as part of her dissertation research, at the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology. Photo provided by Ana Vaz

I received my Bachelor’s of Science and Master of Science in Brazil at the Federal University of Rio Grande and the University of São Paulo. My doctoral degree in Oceanography is from the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, where I studied larval dispersal around the Hawaiian Archipelago. This entailed the physical processes underlying connectivity and the impact of marine reserves. 

How did you come to work at the Southeast Fisheries Science Center?

I started a year and a half ago as an assistant scientist at the University of Miami’s Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies. I work in the Gulf of Mexico Fisheries Branch of the Sustainable Fisheries Division. Before that, I collaborated with center researchers as a postdoc and as an assistant scientist at the Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science. These fulfilling experiences led me to apply for my current position. 

What do you do at the science center?

My research aims to explore the patterns of red snapper larval dispersal and recruitment in the Gulf of Mexico. Specifically, we aim to explore how larval dispersal driven by the local oceanography, species behavior, and demographics can shape red snapper population structure and dynamics. This knowledge can improve our understanding of population rebuilding rates and potential sustainable exploitation levels, particularly when considering changes in exploitation levels in different management jurisdictions. I will be collaborating to investigate environmental drivers of poor recruitment of the snapper-grouper complex in the South Atlantic.

What do you like most about your position?

Ana with her family's cat, Meow, on her lap.
Ana’s family cat, Meow, is her “working buddy”. Photo provided by Ana Vaz

I thoroughly enjoy so many aspects of the work. I love the interdisciplinary, collaborative research, and the opportunity to engage with and learn from people involved in so many different aspects of ocean science and conservation. This includes researchers, managers, educators, and a variety of stakeholders. I particularly enjoy the applied nature of our work, emphasizing conservation of marine resources, fisheries management, and recovery. 

Finally, I find the work environment at the center to be incredibly fulfilling. I feel intellectually and professionally supported and stimulated. I also feel welcomed by a vibrant and diverse group of coworkers, which as an immigrant, woman, and mother, is encouraging and enlivening. 

What advice would you have for someone interested in a career at NOAA Fisheries?

I feel I am still too new to the center to offer advice. But I would say that building connections to NOAA researchers is an important step. As a student—undergraduate or graduate— there are several opportunities for internships, fellowships, and scholarships around the country. Some of these are targeted to increase diversity in the next generations of scientists. I recommend checking them out. 

I am a hands-on learner. I started working as an intern in my first month of undergraduate studies back in Brazil. I firmly believe that working on your field of interest, learning tools and methods, building relationships with researchers (be it at NOAA, academia, or industry), can help you grow both professionally and personally.

What does Hispanic Heritage Month mean to you?

Ana at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, Colorado.
Ana at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument, Colorado. Photo provided by Ana Vaz

As a Latina in STEM I see representation as fundamental to inspire, build, and attract a diverse generation of scientists. So the visibility afforded by the Hispanic Heritage Month for the stories and experiences of the NOAA Latinx community can build a long-lasting impact by helping to change the perception of what we look like and how we got here. At a larger scale, hearing from the diverse, intersectional Latinx community in the United States can help dismantle dangerous stereotypes, which unfortunately are still commonplace, while celebrating our heritage, culture, and contributions to this country.

While I welcome this month as a time of coming together to learn and reflect about where we come from—and setting up the groundwork for where we want to go as a country—it also stirs some conflicting feelings. For instance, I don’t enjoy the commodification of my heritage, and I would like to see this month inspiring immediate concrete actions to support our community. I also favor using “Latinx Heritage Month” as it encompasses people from Latin America that do not speak Spanish (e.g. Portuguese, French, and indigenous language speakers), and the intersecting identities of our diverse community. 

Is there a book, quote, or person that influenced you to be the person that you are today? Tell us why.

Ana Vaz with her husband and two sons at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado.
Ana Vaz with her husband and two sons at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado. Photo provided by Ana Vaz

I am a first generation college graduate, raised in a blue-collar queer family. I decided I would be an oceanographer at 9 years old, which was a highly unusual choice, particularly in Brazil. The support of my two mothers, Angela and Lucia, was fundamental to get here, and I want to honor their memories. I also have been fortunate during my career to have exemplary female researchers as role models who pioneered spaces in male-dominated fields. Their example and mentorship was pivotally influential for me to continue pursuing a career in ocean sciences. 

Finally, in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, I want to give a nod to the many authors that not only influenced who I am today, but share important stories and voices from Latin America. I have a soft spot for magical realism, so Isabel Allende and the children’s author Ana Maria Machado are high on my list. But one of my favorite quotes about Latin America comes from Pablo Neruda’s poem Americas 

"Y no hay belleza como esta belleza/ de América extendida en sus infiernos/ en sus cerros de piedra y poderío/ y en sus ríos atávicos y eternos.” In English it translates to “and there is no beauty like the beauty / of America stretched out in her infernos, / in her hills of rocks and power, / in her atavistic and eternal rivers.”

Ana Vaz proudly holds and shows off her giant garlic harvest.
Ana Vaz proudly shows off her giant garlic harvest. Photo provided by Ana Vaz

What do you like to do outside of work?

Outside of work you will usually find me outdoors spending time with my husband and two sons—we love nature walks, hiking, water activities, traveling, and the National Park System! I am also an avid gardener, organically growing more than 70 varieties of fruits and vegetables in our backyard. My pets also claim a stake of my non-working time—our pandemic cat, Meow, our dog, Elvis, and our nine entertaining pet chickens. 

Contact Ana

Last updated by Southeast Fisheries Science Center on September 15, 2022

Diversity and Inclusion