Applying high quality science to facilitate accurate decision-making

Dr Melissa Gloekler - environmental engineer, oil spill modeler

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Dr Melissa Gloekler is an environmental engineer in RPS’ Ocean Science division, working as an environmental modeler for contaminants released into aqueous environments. She currently works on oil spill modeling, sediment transport modeling and water quality releases. She has recently gained her PhD in civil and environmental engineering from the University of New Hampshire.

QHow did you get into your field?

I got involved in the oil spill and disaster preparedness world through my advisor, Dr Nancy Kinner, she is an inspiring, groundbreaking woman! She presented a lot of opportunities for me, like going to conferences and helping conduct workshops. I was able to meet folks from all sides – industry, consultants, government and NGOs. Through Dr Kinner, I met and started working with Dr Deborah French-McCay [an internationally recognized expert in oil spill fate and effects modeling, who leads the development of RPS’ spill models].

Quick Q&A

Which women inspire you?

Tara Mounsey, an Olympic gold medallist who’s from New Hampshire like me – as a kid, it was great to see someone in a role that I could imagine myself doing.

My mom, who got her doctorate in Physical Therapy when I was in middle school, while raising a family and working a full time job. As well as Nancy and Kathy as they have been inspirational in my life.

Which female scientist or pioneer should people know more about?

Rachel Carson, who wrote ‘Silent Spring’. Her work is just so seminal, and the way she writes is very poetic. It's like a love story to the environment.

What did you want to be growing up?

Oh well, of course, a professional athlete, but I soon realized that wasn't going to happen. So I wanted to be a physical therapist, like my mom, which was a natural transition.

What do you do in your spare time?

Anything outdoor – running, mountain biking, snowboarding. And cooking and reading.

QWhat are some of your career highlights?

Finishing my PhD was one of my biggest achievements so far. And then shortly after coming onboard with RPS, Debbie gave me the opportunity to be a co-author on one of her papers. That was a big moment because she's one of the best in the industry.

QWhy is what you do important – and what does it mean to you personally?

I'm very much an environmentalist and do my best to be conscientious [about my impact]. Whether it's oil and gas or renewable energy, there's always an environmental cost associated with installation or production, and there's always a potential for some sort of contaminant release associated with those activities. I think it's very important to provide a high quality of science to evaluate those impacts and to have someone present those facts, unbiased, to a regulator, so that the decision-maker can make an informed decision that's grounded in science.

QWhat advice would you give your younger self?

Stay true to yourself, while understanding that the world is a dynamic place: your goals and aspirations should adjust and adapt accordingly.

Know that opportunities don't just come out of thin air. They’re created by hardworking individuals who put a lot of time and thought into things.

I’d also say to be appreciative of people who are willing to put time and effort into improving others’ lives.

QIs there anything you wish you’d known about entering the workplace?

If you’re into science or engineering, the technical side can be almost like your safe place, but it’s really worth investing in the people around you. You're not generally the first one to try and solve a problem. There’s a lot of experience and expertise around you, and it's almost more important to meet those people, ask questions and listen thoughtfully to their answers. There's a lot to be learned from them.

QCan you tell us about the best thing you did to further your career?

Keeping an open mind for opportunities. Also, cultivating relationships with people who inspired me to be a better person all round, not just a better engineer or scientist. I spent a lot of time with Nancy [Kinner] and Kathy Mandsager, who run a center at UNH where I was doing my graduate studies. It surprised me how grounded these two women were, so I clung to the energy that they brought; it sounds so clichéd, but every day they did things to make the world a better place.

QThe International Women’s Day theme is ‘Break the Bias’. Are there barriers for women in your industry and how could we change this?

Engineering can still be seen as a man's job. It’s important to show that women do hold these roles, and it's not insurmountable, either. Just because you’re not top of your math class, it doesn't mean you can't achieve something like this. You might also find a niche in a field you're really inspired by!

We need to credit the female scientists and engineers who came before. As more females have entered STEM fields, it’s become easier for young girls to imagine themselves in those roles. That's one reason why I came to the Ocean Science team at RPS – because I saw Kelly Knee as Director, and Dr Debbie French-McCay who is one of the most well-published, recognized people in oil spill modeling.

QWhat are you most proud of outside of work?

I’ve enjoyed spending quality time with my two nieces. It's been really fun to see how they grow, but also hear them say, I want to be a doctor or maybe be a musician – it’s important to have aspirations.

Having that openness to new opportunities has brought me a lot of places around the world, which has been really helpful in guiding my perspective.

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