Translating scientific research into discoveries that impact people’s lives is what truly excites me. From using my Ph.D. research on scallop reproduction to assist the commercial fishing industry, to serving as a producer at The Story Collider, a weekly, science-oriented storytelling program, to teaching college students at the University of Maine, I’m on the lookout for compelling scientific narratives that help people realize that they are also part of the story.
High schoolWayland High School, Wayland, MA, 2004
Graduate EducationMIT/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute Joint Program, M.Sc. in Biological Oceanography, 2011; University of Maine, Ph.D. in Marine Biology (expected 2017)
It’s hard for Skylar Bayer to remember a time when she didn’t want to be a scientist, drawn to the field since childhood by the qualities that scientific discovery shares with good storytelling: mystery, suspense, wonder, magic, humor, and unexpected twists. “I've been fascinated with what lies within the ocean since I was a little kid. The Little Mermaid, Seaquest, and Robert Ballard’s Exploring the Titanic all get credit for helping me fall in love with the mystery of exploration.”
Now a Ph.D. student in Marine Biology at the University of Maine, Skylar brings that same love of storytelling to her career as a researcher, teacher, blogger, and podcast producer. “Over the years, I’ve realized that translating scientific research into discoveries that impact people’s lives is what truly excites me. From using my Ph.D. research on scallop reproduction to assist the commercial fishing industry, to serving as a producer at The Story Collider, a weekly, science-oriented storytelling program, to teaching college students at the University of Maine, I’m on the lookout for compelling scientific narratives that help people realize that they are also part of the story.”
This weaving together of science and story took some time, discernment, and a bit of chance to emerge. As a college student, Skylar envisioned herself pursuing a research career that would have had her exploring firsthand the watery deeps she dreamed about as a child. Six months into her Ph.D. program, however, she was diagnosed with a heart arrhythmia that required the implantation of an internal cardiac defibrillator (ICD), ending her science diving career. “My diagnosis disqualified me from doing things like being a certified scientific diver or obtaining my coast guard license from sea time, but I could still do research, I could still teach and I could still get my Ph.D.” But there are other, more profound implications, such as having to rely on others to dive on her behalf. “My ICD is a constant reminder of the limitations I deal with, but becoming less self-reliant and more connected with others has been a healthy thing. We are social animals, and interconnectedness is an important touchstone for those of us working to have a positive impact on the environment. Convincing others of your point of view happens best in the context of communities that share values and experiences.”
It is that search for commonality that animates Skylar’s current endeavors. “Earlier this year, Google released a report on teamwork which showed that that the best teams aren’t necessarily the ones that have the smartest people or best structure. The best teams are those that have developed strong relationships and intimacy with one another. Spending time together and sharing stories is in some ways more important than the particular gifts of those in the group. I find that fascinating.”
Ever quick to interject some humor into her own story, Skylar likes to joke that beneath all of the serious research, her day job is to “study the secret sex lives of scallops” (a characterization that The Colbert Report riffed on when it profiled Skylar in 2013). It sounds a bit outlandish, but at the heart of it is the insight that everything in nature, even the humble scallop, has a story to tell that we can all relate to.
Skylar conducts fertilization experiments on giant sea scallop egg and sperm. Photo credit: University of Maine.