When you pursue what inspires you, doors are bound to open

A class on the Oregon Coast sparked a passion for humpback whale research, which led to a dream internship.

At first, Lindsey Ellett thought she wanted to pursue a career in the medical field. Then fate stepped in and directed her toward her true calling: animals.

The first door that opened for this biology major was at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. During an eight-week summer course, Ellett studied whale mammology and embarked on field trips to log whale behaviors. She says having the opportunity to live minutes from the ocean with access to hands-on research never made her studies feel like work; they made her want to learn more. So she did.

That’s when the second door opened. Faculty and graduate students became mentors for Ellett’s Honors College thesis project — analyzing video footage of foraging humpback whales. The footage captured feeding techniques including sub-surface lunging and bubble-net feeding (a hunting strategy where humpbacks blow bubbles to corral prey). The video was then used to analyze humpbacks’ role in group feeding with birds, sea lions and other marine life. Ellett’s findings will support further research on animals’ dependence on humpbacks and how their absence could impact the ecosystem.

Ellett says she particularly enjoyed this research because marine mammals are so different than everything she encounters in her daily life.

“Growing up I was so fascinated by animals like this,” she says. “This research makes me feel like a kid again.”

That research experience opened yet another door. Ellett landed a summer internship at the Whale and Dolphin Conservation in Plymouth, Massachusetts, where she collected behavioral data on whales and educated the public on marine life and conservation.

Now she is planning to either pursue a graduate degree in marine science or an MBA with an emphasis on nonprofit management and public outreach. Regardless, she recommends students take a broad range of classes and get outside experience to figure out their academic and career options.

“Don’t give in to the pressure of being what other people think you should be,” she says. “If you have a plan, that’s great. But be open to new opportunities that might come your way.”

Out of everything she’s learned, Ellett says one of the most important things was finding a career she would never tire of — one that would fuel her curiosity for years.

She did. And she’s open to whatever comes next.