John Hlavin (me)

“The Sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.”

Jacques Cousteau

This quote strikes home for a couple of reasons. First, it’s relatable. I am under its spell. But second, it’s ironic. While the Sea holds us in a figurative net of wonder, our literal nets see to its destruction.

I am currently a junior biology major at the University of Notre Dame, aspiring to pursue a graduate degree and career in marine biology conservation. How did I end up here you might ask?

My first real encounter with the environmental crisis that we face today occurred during my senior year of high school when I was selected to participate in the my school’s Jackson Scholars Senior Thesis program. After some deliberation, I arrived on my topic: humanity’s relationship with it’s local ecosystem. My final product was a 40-page thesis titled Comprehensive Evaluation of Personal Environmentalism. To summarize it in a (perhaps run-on) sentence I would say that I demonstrate that environmental neglect of the local ecosystem is immediately detrimental to the individual human inhabitants of that ecosystem, and conversely, by each individual taking even the smallest pro-environmental measures, the local population is immediately benefited, through improvements to health, mental and spiritual well-being, and the economy. I used my own local ecosystem, the Chesapeake Bay Watershed as evidence. That paper can be found under the interesting content tab if you so wish to read it.

Like many aspiring conservation biologists, I grew up in love with the outdoors. As a young kid, I would catch whatever creatures I could find, care for them, and study them. When my mom refused to let us get another dog, I settled for an aquarium. Over the years my aquariums got bigger and more numerous. Fast forward to senior year, I am writing this thesis, still love my fish, yet I have no idea what I wanted to study in college. I was leaning towards business and entrepreneurship when my brother suggested that since I love fish so much, I should become a marine biologist. I had never even considered it as an option. I immediately knew that’s exactly what I should do.

Image source: UNDERC

So why choose to attend Notre Dame in South Bend, IN? Two reasons. First, I knew that a graduate degree would be necessary anyway, and two, I knew that I would receive a very holistic foundation to my future as a biologist through the education I would receive at Notre Dame. On campus, I have been involved in aquatic ecology research in the lab of Dr. Stuart Jones. The summer after my freshman year, I worked for Dr. Jones as a field research assistant at the University of Notre Dame Environmental Research Center (UNDERC) in Land O’ Lakes, WI.

This past summer, I finally got to dive (quite literally) into marine research when I was selected as a National Eagle Scout Association World Explorer to travel down to San Cristobal, Galapagos, Ecuador as a student marine biologist. There, as you can probably guess by the picture above, I assisted in sea turtle tagging and identification research. And the path to my dream continues. I was recently selected as a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Hollings Scholar. Included with the Hollings Scholarship is an internship for the summer of 2020 to conduct an independent research project under the mentorship of a NOAA researcher. I am currently exploring opportunities in Seattle, Saipan, Woods Hole, and others.

Image source: NOAA
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