Women in Science Member Highlight: Chantel Michelson

If you want to study penguins, you can’t be afraid of the cold or interacting with the public. As part of her research in Antarctica, Chantel Michelson, Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences, has to be both a scientist and tour guide on the ships to her remote research sites. We wanted to learn more about how she tackles these challenges and what it takes to be successful in STEM.

Explain your research in one sentence.

Investigating the underlying mechanisms driving shifts in the historical diets of Antarctic penguins in relation to climate change and anthropogenic harvesting.

Is there a female scientist that inspired you? How so?

As generic as this may sound, I have had a number of women inspire me in the last decade, all for different reasons. Seeing their success showed me that I can pursue my own passions and interest in science. A friend of mine who stands out as an inspiration to me is Dr. Nicole Michel, a quantitative ecologist for the National Audubon Society. We worked in the same lab during my M.Sc. She is exceptionally passionate, hard-working, and strong. Besides being a fantastic ecologist, Nicole is a great teacher who has an ability to empower and encourage female students, as she did with me.

What do you love most about living in Baton Rouge?

Baton Rouge is very different from my home in Canada and was more of a culture shock than I expected. I love the culture and traditions here which build a sense of community.

What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned from your research?

What is amazing about my current research is that I can see what penguins have been eating over the last 10,000 years. The analytical technique used in our lab, stable isotopes, falls on the term “you are what you eat”. The carbon and nitrogen in the penguin’s food is passed into their tissues which we can measure. Any changes in the carbon and nitrogen values in their tissues through time will indicate a change in their diet or a change in the environment, such as climate change.

What are three things you think women need in order to be successful in STEM?

A common theme in my answers, is passion. A good supervisor, potential mentor, or collaborator will always notice passion. It is important to always have a purpose and goal in order to move forward in research and in one’s career. I think women, including myself, sometimes doubt ourselves. It is important to keep pushing after some bad news. Speak up at conferences, meetings and in class without
apologizing. Scientists are constantly expanding their knowledge and if we don’t ask questions or engage in debate, that transfer of knowledge will be lost.

Source: LSU Women in Science, March Newsletter