Avery Paxton

Avery Paxton is a marine ecologist, conservation biologist, and doctoral candidate at the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences. Her research uses a combination of field, laboratory, and analytical methods to address fundamental, mechanistic questions in marine ecology, such as how species use their habitat and how communities are structured.

avery-paxtonPhoto courtesy of the Institute of Marine Sciences
August 3rd, 2016

When you were a little girl, what was your response to this question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

At career day in second grade, I dressed up as a dog breeder! Later, I dreamed of being an archaeologist or a paleontologist. My answer switched again in middle school when I decided I wanted to be a marine biologist.

Describe your research in five words.

“How to protect fish homes.”

Share the pivotal “moment” in your life that helped you choose research as a career path.

While diving on a shipwreck from World War II, I noticed a bright yellow fire hose strewn across the stern that had been used by other divers to illegally excavate and remove historic artifacts. This disturbed me because the shipwreck was a war grave and a reef for fish. I thought that if shipwrecks were viewed as valuable cultural and living resources, conservation may be more successful. So, as an undergraduate student, I decided to study how fish use shipwrecks for their home.

Photo courtesy of the Institute of Marine Sciences Paxton prepares to release a loggerhead turtle that traveled all the way to the North Carolina coast from Monterey Bay, California.

Photo courtesy of the Institute of Marine Sciences
Paxton prepares to release a loggerhead turtle that traveled all the way to the North Carolina coast from Monterey Bay, California.

What’s a crazy thing that happened while you were doing research?

Seeing an 11-foot great white shark underwater. It was certainly an unexpected and humbling treat to see such a magnificent animal. I consider it a testimony to how the shipwrecks that I study are truly oases for marine life. They form homes for tiny fish all the way up to top predators in the oceans.

What advice would you give to up-and-coming female researchers in your field?

Do what you love! Find what you’re passionate about and work to turn it into your career. I wake up every day and am excited to get out of bed to go to work. At times, it was a tough road to get here, yet one of the biggest lessons I learned was that you can do anything you set your mind to.

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