Francesca (center) with her mom (right) and husband (left) at her Ph.D. graduation ceremony
Recently, Francesca Forrestal of the F’99 semester became part of a very select group of Island School Alumni because she graduated from the University of Miami with a Ph.D. from the Marine Biology and Fisheries department studying the “Impacts of the tropical tuna purse seine fishery on the surrounding ecosystem structure and function.” Here at The Island School, we were curious to learn about Francesca’s journey from one of our students to a full-fledged Post-Doc; so we asked her!

Francesca attended the Nightingale-Bamford school in New York City. She had just returned from a semester abroad in Australia and was “having trouble getting back into city living” when she heard that a fellow student had just returned from The Island School’s first semester that spring. She learned that a friend of hers, Suzy Newbury, was applying for the Sp’00 semester so Francesca took a chance and successfully applied to join the F’99 semester.

Even before attending The Island School Francesca knew she wanted to study Marine Biology but she was not sure which aspect to focus on. She joined the aquaculture research group which “sparked my interest in sustainable fisheries”. While out on her 8-day kayak expedition Francesca spent time talking to a faculty member about her time at UC Santa Cruz “which is where I eventually attended and received my bachelors in marine biology”. Once Francesca had returned home from The Island School, she took on an independent study in her senior year of high school. Her project revolved around the concept of how much of an “impact SCUBA divers can have on the coral reefs they visit”. As part of this course, Francesca obtained her PADI Dive Master and Instructor training which she used to teach diving both in “Manhattan and then throughout the Caribbean after graduation (including at the Island School!)”.

After graduating from UC Santa Cruz, Francesca attended the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami for both her Masters and Doctorate degrees. Unlike her Ph.D. project, Francesca received her “master’s from the Marine Affairs and Policy department” studying the effects “of Bluefin tuna farming on an ecosystem in the Mediterranean”. When asked about what advice she would recommend to other Island School alumni looking to pursue their Ph.D, Francesca’s initial joking response was “run away!!” Monty Python style. On a more serious note, she has some very good advice for our alumni:

“It’s really only up to you if you finish your degree. This is of course true for any degree but is magnified in graduate school. There are not many clear milestones to mark your progress and unless you have a very involved advisor, it takes an incredible amount of self-discipline and faith in yourself to keep going. More concretely, a good way to be successful in a PhD program is to have a good idea of the lab and the advisor you’ll be working with before you begin. You also need to have a pretty clear idea of what your research project will be (even though your final dissertation will only vaguely resemble your proposal).”

Clearly the road to a Ph.D. is full of challenges but with dedication and a good advisor, it can be done! Now that Francesca has completed her degree, she is working “as a Post-doctoral Associate at the Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Science in Miami”. She very much enjoys the opportunity to work with highly migratory species “as there are so many interesting aspects to their biology and ecology”. Francesca hopes to continue working in this field for the foreseeable future.

In addition to studying for her degree’s Francesca was the first ever alum to join the Island School’s board and she has served continuously for 10 years. She has had an incredible journey from student, faculty member and now board member. Joining the Island School’s board was a first for Francesca and has given her “an incredible learning experience”. Each board member “brings such a unique perspective and set of skills. Its very enlightening to watch how everyone approaches the same challenge given his or her background and training”.  Incidentally, the board is looking for new membership at the moment. Check out this post if you are interested in applying!

When asked about a favorite memory from her semester at The Island School, Francesca says that her most vivid memory “is coming back to Eleuthera after we had evacuated to Florida for 5 days because of Hurricane Floyd. We had been on the island for less than a week before we had to leave and it already felt like a homecoming when we flew back into the Rock Sound airport”.

Francesca during thanksgiving dish crew in the F’99 semester.