Developing the next generation of aquatic health scientists

Maya Groner is a researcher who recently finished her postdoctoral fellowship and has moved into early-career opportunities, thanks in part to support from a CERC research program. Her work on ecology of marine diseases has already received significant notice, including in Science (letter, 2015) and Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B (2 first-author and 2 co-author articles, 2016).

Grone was part of Ian Gardner’s research program as Canada Excellence Research Chair in Aquatic Epidemiology at the University of Prince Edward Island (UPEI). Gardner’s program emphasizes developing and mentoring postdoctoral researchers to prepare them for their early-career positions.

Gardner’s program provides a map of pathways for postdoctoral researchers. The researchers can receive mentoring from faculty on their research activities, as well as regular, ongoing workshops and individualized support on science and proposal writing, curriculum vitæ and cover letter preparation, communication skills, and conference presentations.

Groner started her ecology of marine diseases research during her first year as a CERC postdoctoral fellow at UPEI. Groner’s particular stream of collaborative research on sea-star wasting disease grew out of her participation in a Research Coordination Network (RCN), funded by the United States National Science Foundation. Led by Drew Harvell of Cornell University, the Network was focused on emerging, infectious marine diseases.

“I joined this group when I took their course on ecology of marine diseases at the Friday Harbor Labs in Washington, in 2012, my first summer at UPEI, and have continued to collaborate with them since,” says Groner.

Her letter in Science emerged from a brainstorming session at an RCN meeting in summer 2014. It was written in support of the Marine Disease Emergency Act, which was reintroduced to the United States House of Representatives by Congressman Dennis Heck in February 2015. The legislation would provide resources and funding for diagnostics, surveillance and forecasting, as well as rapid responses to infectious marine disease outbreaks.

The letter was followed by four articles in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B in early 2016. Groner was lead author on two of the articles, and co-author of the other two. One of the articles, “Managing marine disease emergencies in an era of rapid change,” was an extension of the call-to-arms letter in Science, and advocated for policy frameworks that support responses to, and management of, marine disease outbreaks.

The second article, “Lessons from sea louse and salmon epidemiology,” offered a review of mathematical and statistical models used to study the epidemiology of sea lice and salmon. The article highlights their value in guiding sustainable aquaculture management decision-making.

Says Groner, “I think [the publications] and the US collaboration have opened up a number of doors for me, including my current job with Jeff Shields and John Hoenig at VIMS [Virginia Institute of Marine Science], where I am working on the epidemiology of lobster shell disease.”

Gardner’s CERC program has, to date, prepared six postdoctoral researchers for their current careers, with another eight now in the program.