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Women's History Month: Talking with Gillian Phillips

March 06, 2024

Celebrating Women’s History Month with ecology technician Gillian Phillips—her science journey, what she loves about her job, what advice she has for the next generation of women scientists, and more!

Two people wearing blue hard hats and orange winter work gear maneuver an oyster aquaculture cage on the back deck of a research vessel. The water is calm and the sky is blue and cloudless.

Gillian Phillips is a community ecology technician and deckhand for our science center’s Aquaculture Systems and Ecology Branch . She’s a member of the GoPro Aquaculture Project team that uses GoPro video cameras to study how fish use aquaculture gear like oyster cages as habitat. Gillian works with a field team to collect the underwater video and then counts fish and documents fish behaviors around the oyster cages and natural rock reef habitats. Her home base is at our Milford Laboratory in Milford, Connecticut.

Can you tell us a little about yourself—where you grew up, how you got interested in science, where you went to college?

Gillian Phillips wears a navy blue shirt and poses with a hawk standing on her gloved hand.
Gillian Phillips poses with a red-tailed Hawk. It’s one of many birds she worked with as a zookeeper at Zoo Atlanta. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Gillian Phillips

I was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. My interest in animals began at Zoo Atlanta . I started as a volunteer, became an intern, and eventually a seasonal zookeeper in the Wildlife Theater leading animal encounters and free-flighted bird shows. This department had a strong focus in animal training and behavior as well as animal husbandry and outreach. I studied animal science and pathobiology of veterinary sciences at the University of Connecticut . After graduating in 2013, I continued at Georgia State University where I earned a master’s degree in public health in 2015. I studied how environmental, human, and animal health all intersect. This work included studying interactions between invasive and native crustacean species in North and South America, impacts of sound/sonar on crustacean behavior, and parasitism of invasive crayfish species. My experience with animal behavior has helped me in my current role with the science center.

What do you love most about your job or your career?

The part I love most about my job is having the opportunity to be out on the water. While growing up, seeing the ocean or other large bodies of water was something that only happened on vacation. I have very fond memories of deep-sea fishing with my grandparents as a kid. Being able to record what happens underwater is like getting a view of what it is like to be a fish in Long Island Sound.

I really enjoy that our project is a large dynamic team. I've never been a part of a more productive team that works so well together. I remember being frustrated while doing group projects as a student, but this is nothing like that. We all have our pieces or expertise and we come together with a common goal. A helping hand is always available to forward the mission.

What advice do you have for the next generation of women scientists about a career in fisheries and/or marine science?

Gillian Phillips wears a camouflage-pattern baseball hat and an orange life vest while clutching a handful of clams. There is water and boats in the background.
Gillian Phillips holds hard-shell clams collected from Greenwich, Connecticut, as part of an aquaculture shellfish nitrogen removal study. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Renee Mercaldo-Allen

Don't be afraid to try new or different things. I’ve had many opportunities to work on new things that weren’t exactly what I thought I would be doing—and that is okay! It’s great to find new passions and continue to grow as a person and a scientist. I never thought that I would work as a marine biologist, but it has been such a fulfilling endeavor. I’ve learned so much and have brought my unique perspective to the GoPro aquaculture project. I think all teams benefit from having diversity in their composition.

I also think it’s very important to have hobbies or activities that are outside of your science or work. I like to do a variety of crafts and am new to playing video games! I’m currently working on crocheting and quilting projects. I also try to stay active in music with my marching band community. I played the flute and piccolo from middle school through college. I love science but I find doing things creative helps me with my science and solving science problems!

Last updated by Northeast Fisheries Science Center on April 03, 2024