Get to know Martina Mascioni

How did you get involved working with FjordEco and FjordPhyto? 

I started working on marine Antarctic phytoplankton when I was in the third year of the Bachelor’s Degree, particularly with diatoms taxonomy. Two years went by and then when I got my degree I was told, if I wanted to keep on doing science I would have to do a thesis to get a PhD (5 years in Argentina). By that time I was working at the Phycology Division of the Faculty of Natural Sciences and Museum at the National University of La Plata, with Martha Ferrario and Adrian Cefarelli. Martha an old friend/colleague of Maria Vernet an Antarctic phytoplankton researcher and Adrian, a former PhD student of Maria. They got involved in FjordEco project and the samples from both cruises were at the Division, ready to be analyzed and I was the first candidate to do that.

Then Maria became my thesis advisor and she asks to me to analyze FjordPhyto samples also, I didn’t know what she was talking about but when I started looking deeper at the samples and getting involved with the project I get more enthusiastic!

This year (2018) I took the Fjord Ecosystems and Climate Change at FHL (UW) and I was able to meet some of my project colleagues from the USA. That was not only a unique experience and a course with a lot of information, but also a key moment to get in touch with the study of Antarctic fjords.

I think from then I have been getting more and more enthusiastic about my study topic!

Why are you interested in phytoplankton?

I’m only can think about nerdy answers on why should we care about phytoplankton! But still, I do believe they are a key component of the marine food web and a really good way to understand marine ecosystems structure and changes. And I love them, I think these organisms are really cute, super diverse and in a certain way, they tell interesting stories of evolution.

What tools do you use for your research?

Microscope and computer, basics. And scientific, lots of them!

What is your earliest memory of being hooked by science? 

Well, I really don’t know exactly when, but my dad used to buy National Geographic magazines when I was a little girl and I used to read them all. I really enjoyed reading about biology and geography the most. I also remember I had a little microscope for the computer when I was young, so I think I was always attracted to the natural sciences.

Did you always know what you wanted to study before beginning?

No, I had no clue.

What inspired you to become a scientist? 

Teachers at University, they were always talking about being a scientist and I found that really cool.

What is your favorite thing/what keeps it fun for you when it gets hard? 

At work: Looking at the microscope is always fun. Just look for what is in a water sample. Yes, I am a complete phytoplankton nerd!

At home: Cooking. I love to cook, especially cakes, desserts, and sweet things, but I also enjoy cooking meals. I also like to do handmade craft; I’m always painting or drawing something. And outside I love to take care of my garden, just being with my plants makes me very happy.

Unwind the mind with a good cooking session!

And just to go outside and turn off my mind: Sports. I play field hockey in a team, so I train three times a week and play matches at the weekend. That’s always fun!

Martina playing field hockey

Do you have any unique challenges or highlights going to school and doing research in Argentina?

I think I didn’t have to go through big challenges, I mean excepting we all have our own challenges at home, but I really enjoyed my time attending classes and studying, hanging out with friends, everything!

And now, well to do science in Argentina is not that easy, to become a “scientist in progress” I had a lot of advantages, I completed my degree in 5 years (minimum time) and got a really high average score in my studies (9.4/10), I was working at my current lab at that time and with a topic really similar to what I work on now.

So I feel blessed a lot of times, listening to stories of people who work on things they do not like, with people who do not like them, having to meet hours for a salary, etc. and I love my work, my place of work, the people surrounding me, everything. I don’t have the best salary but still, I enjoy almost every day coming to work.

What do you envision for your future research or career?

Today I have no idea what I’m going to do in the next few years. I have to finish my PhD program in three years, but there is still a long time to go, time will tell …

I would love to continue researching Antarctic phytoplankton, but it is not the only thing I am currently working on. Within my laboratory we are working on the marine phytoplankton of the Argentine sea and I also collaborate with another laboratory that works with freshwater algae. I love algae, I think I’ll keep working with algae somewhere, sometime when I finish my PhD.

Martina (left) and Dr. Vernet (right) pose in front of glaciers in the Mt. Baker area of Washington.

More about Martina

Martina Mascioni is a PhD student of the Faculty of Natural Sciences and Museum at the National University of La Plata (Argentina). She recently received her Bachelor’s Degree in Biology with honors and is currently working on her PhD thesis entitled: “First research on the phytoplankton community of Andvord Bay (Antarctica). Composition and space-time dynamics”. She works under her advisors’ supervision, Dr. Gastón Almandoz and Dr. Maria Vernet, at the Phycology Division.

Martina studies Antarctic phytoplankton ecology and has previous expertise in diatoms taxonomy. Her current work is part of an International Project: “Fjord Ecosystem Structure and Function on the West Antarctic Peninsula – Hotspots of Productivity and Biodiversity?” funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).