Nonprofit Marine Research Organization
Meet Jasmin Graham – the 4th female scientist featured in our Women Doing Science blog series.
Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology
Bachelor of Arts in Spanish
Master of Science in Biological Science
Jasmin offers a unique perspective on being a minority in science. She supports women of color who are interested in shark science and works to find best practices to recruit, support, and retain minority students in marine science. Jasmin offers great advice and insight: “sharks aren’t just for boys”, “it’s ok to fail”, and “don’t dim your light for other people”!
INTERVIEWEEE: Jasmin Grace
INTERVIEWER: Lenisa Blair
LENISA: Hello?… Hi?
LENISA: Jasmin, can you hear me?
JASMIN: Yes, I can.
LENISA: Ok. How are you?
JASMIN: Just fine, how are you?
LENISA: Good. I gotta make sure I’m recording this. Yeah, it looks like I am. Yeah. OK. Anyways, I haven’t done this before. Usually Amy does it, so… (Laughs). Just bear with me, here.
JASMIN: Mmm hmm.
LENISA: OK. Let’s see, now, the target group that we’re usually… looking at the blog, is a Junior High, High School, early college women that are interested in science. So, if that gives you any help with what we’re talking about or anything like that, so…
LENISA: Alright. I guess, are you ready to start?
JASMIN: I am!
LENISA: Anything you want to know ahead of time, or…?
JASMIN: No, I think I’m OK.
LENISA: OK. And you can hear me alright?
LENISA: OK. I’m on an older computer so I have to use the little dealy-bops. OK. Yeah, I’ll start, and I’m going to be reading this stuff, so bear with me. Welcome to our women doing science blog series. This is our fourth interview in the series and today we’re talking with Jasmin Grace. She’s a shark biologist from Mote Marine Lab in Sarasota, Florida. Hi Jasmin!
LENISA: How are you?
JASMIN: Good! How you are?
LENISA: Oh, just dandy. So, what is your current job title and your position at Mote?
JASMIN: I am the Project Coordinator for a grant called MarSci-LACE, which stands for the Marine Science Laboratory Alliance Center of Excellence. And, this is a program that’s funded by the National Science Foundation and it’s focused on understanding and researching best practices to recruit support and retain minority students in marine science. So, that’s what I do at Mote. And, I also am the President of Minorities in Sharks Sciences (MISS), which is a group that’s designed to support women of color interested in shark science.
LENISA: Very nice! You wear a lot of hats, it sounds like.
JASMIN: I do! I do wear a lot of hats!
LENISA: (Laughs). Oh man! In a few sentences can you, like, explain what you do?
JASMIN: Sure! Yeah…
LENISA: I mean, you can use as many sentences as you want, OK?
JASMIN: (Laughs). So, the short version is that I, if there’s a Venn diagram of science, conservation, science communication and social justice, I’m in the middle of that. So, I do research on a critically endangered species called the Smalltooth Sawfish. And, I am researching their movement patterns so that we can understand how best to protect them. And, I also communicate the importance of protecting endangered species like the Smalltooth Sawfish at different events and speaking engagements and webinars and things like that to get people interested in marine conservation. And, I also really want to get people that historically have been underrepresented in marine science excited about science and marine conservation. So, that’s where MISS and MarSci-LACE come into play.
JASMIN: Because, I want to protect the animals and the marine ecosystem, but in order to do that we need all hands on deck. And, unfortunately all hands have not had the opportunities to get involved and so I’m focused on getting everyone to the table so that we can start solving some of these big problems that we have in our ocean ecosystems.
LENISA: Well, that sounds like fantastic stuff that you do. That’s wonderful. Now, when did you know that… Sorry… When did you know that you wanted to be a marine biologist?
JASMIN: As soon as I knew that marine biology was a job that you could do, which was…
LENISA: Me too!
JASMIN: …so, I always loved the ocean and I come from a family that’s really big on fishing. And, my dad’s side of the family is from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, so, that’s where…
JASMIN: …I spent a lot of my time growing up. And, so I was really interested in the ocean, and I really liked animals and science was always my favorite class in school. And, I went to a camp where they introduced the idea of marine science as a career and a field of science, which I didn’t know about prior to that. So, as soon as I found out, as soon as someone told me: ‘Yes! You could study ocean animals as a job!’ I was, like, Yes!
LENISA: Sign me up!
JASMIN: Stop right there!
LENISA: Absolutely. That’s great. Now, you do so many things with the organizations that you’re working with and the biology you’re doing. How do you keep a work-life balance with this? Do you have free time?
JASMIN: I do have free time!
JASMIN: I think people often look at my life and often ask: ‘How do you have so much free time?’ It’s because I am a person that believes in quality, not quantity, in terms of work hours. So, yeah. Why spend ten (10) hours doing something that you could spend two (2) hours doing? I focus in and I do little chunks of things. I do something and I’ll sit down and I’ll do that. I don’t look at my phone, or get distracted, I turn off my email notifications and I just do that for an hour or two and then I go do something else and switch gears. And I also schedule everything. Including my free time.
JASMIN: So, just like a meeting, my free time is… it’s on my calendar. ‘I can’t! I’m playing boardgames from seven (7) to nine (9) p.m., so I cannot do this thing.’
JASMIN: So, if something goes into my calendar, it is an immovable thing, and so I actually put my free time into my calendar so that people will ask me: ‘Are you free at this time?’ And I say: ‘No.’ They don’t need to know what I’m doing is watching Netflix.
JASMIN: But, I’m not free at that time. That’s what I have to do. I am watching Netflix at that time!
LENISA: (Laughs). That… yeah. That’s a really good way to do it. I’m good with the calendar, too. If it’s not on there then it’s not happening.
JASMIN: Yeah, exactly.
LENISA: Well, that’s great. Now, is there anything—or that, like, one thing you wish you would have known before you started perusing a science career?
JASMIN: Oh, there are so many things that I wish I would have known!
LENISA: You can list more than one.
JASMIN: Yeah. The first thing that I wish I would have known: I wish someone would have told me that it’s OK to fail. Because that was a thing that really, just, it would get me really upset whenever something happened. And, about a year or two (2) ago, I started really talking to other scientists and realized that people fail all of the time.
LENISA: (Laughs). Uh huh!
JASMIN: And, I think we always only see the finished product of science, we don’t see all of the failures. So, whenever I was going through grad school and things weren’t working, I was thinking to myself: ‘Oh, you don’t know what you’re doing! You’re bad at this. Blah, blah blah.’ But then when I started admitting to other people that things weren’t working and I was failing, then they’d go: ‘Oh yeah, me too!’ And, I was kind of taken aback. Oh! Everybody’s failing! OK! Good!
JASMIN: And, I never will forget when I went into talk to my advisor in grad school and he walks in and I say: ‘Hey! How are you doing?’ And, he goes: ‘Well I just got a paper desk-rejected.’ And, for those of you that don’t know, a desk-rejection means you send it in and they don’t even send it out for peer review. They take one look at it and they say: ‘No!’ (Laughs.)
JASMIN: So, yeah. So, he came in and he was like: ‘Yeah, I got a paper desk-rejected.’ And, this is the guy, that, you know, is my advisor and he’s been working in the field a long time and he submitted something and they just flat-out told him—No. (Laughs).
JASMIN: So, that made me feel good. OK. Alright. It happens. It happens to everyone.
LENISA: Oh yeah!
JASMIN: So, that’s one thing I wish that I knew, for sure. I would say that’s the big thing. I think everything goes back to that. I also wish that I would have taken a break between undergrad and grad school.
LENISA: Oh, OK.
JASMIN: That’s another thing that I wish I would have done. I think I would have been a lot more mentally stable in grad school. Grad school is hard. It is really hard. And, not having the break and going for… what is that… twelve (12), sixteen (16), nineteen (3) straight years of school, I did… (laughs).
JASMIN: I should have taken a break at some point.
LENISA: Yup. Have that, like, in-between year or something.
LENISA: Now, what is one of the challenges that you’ve overcome in your work or personal life?
JASMIN: I think… well, I’ll start with little challenges.
JASMIN: So, a little challenge that I have is: I’m claustrophobic.
LENISA: Oh no!
JASMIN: So, that was something I had to deal with a little bit. So, wearing a mask on my face to go snorkeling and things like that really messed me up for a little while.
JASMIN: I’m still super claustrophobic. Like, there are things that I’m never going to be able to do, and I accept that. There’s plenty of other things that I can study. I don’t need to go into the deep sea in a submersible. Other people can do that.
LENISA: There you go.
JASMIN: And… so, that’s one thing. The other thing is I get seasick.
LENISA: Me too.
JASMIN: So, when I tell people that I’m a marine scientist… a marine biologist and that I get sea sick, they’re like: ‘How?’ And, I’m like: ‘That’s why I studied coastal species and not things in the deep ocean!’ Because I’ll be sick the entire time. I’ll stay on, like, nearshore, I go slightly offshore, but only when the weather is good. When the weather is bad, I’m, like, dosing up on Dramamine to make it through. So, that’s a challenge. I also have the challenge of… I guess… feeling like I belong, and, like, imposter syndrome. Getting rid of that which kinds of goes back to the ‘other people fail’ thing and once I realized that, I was kind of like: ‘Oh, so it’s not just me.’
JASMIN: And then, I would say the last thing is getting used to… I don’t want to say getting used to… But, understanding how science works was hard. And then, I understood how science works and I decided: ‘This is bologna! Why does science work like this?’
JASMIN: And then, now I dedicate my life to changing the way that science works because it’s not… it’s not made for people like me to succeed and that’s silly. So, I was going through and I was like: ‘Why is this so hard? Why can I not comprehend science culture and understand things?’ And, I started to understand it, and, I kind of made it through the other side and then I looked back and I was like: ‘This is stupid. Why do we do it like this?’
JASMIN: So, now, I’m dedicated to trying to change that. But, you have to understand how something works to figure out what’s wrong with it. So…
JASMIN: I’m glad that I went through the process, but the process is garbage and I don’t want anyone else to go through it. It needs to be reformed. We gotta do better. So, that’s what I’m working on.
LENISA: So, revamping science a little bit.
LENISA: Absolutely. Now, what is one of the… your greatest memories of your career so far?
JASMIN: Greatest memories?
JASMIN: OK! I think it’s a tie.
LENISA: Or funniest!
JASMIN: Or what?
LENISA: Or funniest.
JASMIN: Or funniest. Oh! I have a funny one!
JASMIN: I think my two greatest are kind of a tie. The first one is—was—defending my thesis. That was a lot of work, blood, sweat and tears. Literal blood. Literal sweat. Literal tears.
LENISA: Uh huh. (Laughs).
JASMIN: (Laughs). And, yeah. So, that was a really big accomplishment. And I got to virtually meet Dr. Sylvia Earle and talk to her. And, she said… so, I got interested in shark science and started reading a lot about Dr. Eugenie Clark and, so, she was just a person that I really looked up to as a scientist and…
LENISA: Mmm hmm.
JASMIN: And one of the people, like, if you asked me if you could meet someone dead or alive, I’d probably say Eugenie Clark. But I was talking to Dr. Sylvia Earle and I said… I was telling her about how I got interested in sharks and learned all this stuff about Eugenie Clark and she said that: ‘If Genie were here, I’m sure she’d say she wanted to be just like you.’ And that was like…
JASMIN: I almost cried! I didn’t know what to say!
LENISA: Oh yeah!
JASMIN: One of the people that I really looked up to as a woman in marine science is telling me this about someone she knew very closely who was another woman in marine science that I looked up to and that was a really, really cool thing that happened.
LENISA: Oh yeah! Wow!
JASMIN: And then my funniest memory… which at the time it was not funny, but looking back it was hilarious… so I was on the boat. It was actually my first time driving the boat while we were setting our gear up, which is a very intense process because you got a lot of things to consider because there’s animals on the boat, and then you’re also trying not to run over your gear and, like, flip your boat over and sink and all this stuff.
LENISA: Oh yeah!
JASMIN: There are a lot of things you have to keep in mind. So, I was already in a stressful situation. And then we brought a lemon shark onboard. I’m at the helm driving. And, I hear my advisor go: ‘Oh no!’ And I turn around and this lemon shark has bit through our hydraulic steering fluid cable and there is just fluid spewing everywhere. It just latched onto this engine and just bit right through it.
LENISA: Oh my gosh!
JASMIN: It’s squirting everywhere. And, when we finally got it off the boat and my advisor said: ‘Well, it looks like we’re going to do the rest of this with one engine!’ So, we were driving with one of two engines my very first time driving. And then he told me: ‘Whatever you do, don’t steer.’ Because every time I turned the wheel it would just start spurting out!
LENISA: Oh man!
JASMIN: So, he said: ‘Whatever you do, don’t steer.’ And I said: ‘OK. So, I have one engine, I need to do all of these things that I was doing and I need to not steer. Alright. This is great.’ And I was so stressed! I was about to cry! (Laughs).
JASMIN: I was like: I don’t want to do this anymore! We’re all going to drown! Oh my god!
JASMIN: He’s a very supportive person, so, he’s like: ‘You got this! You’re fine! You’re doing great!’
JASMIN: And then we finally get back to our field site and he turns to me and he gives me a high five and he says: ‘You survived! You can do anything now… you can drive in any conditions now!’
LENISA: (Laughs). Oh man! Yeah, stuff like that happens when you’re playing with wild animals, doesn’t it?
LENISA: Oh geez. Let’s see—I’ve got a couple more questions for you.
LENISA: So, this one: Have you ever faced any gender related challenges. You know, gender discrimination, sexism. And, if so, how did you deal with it.
JASMIN: Yes. Yeah. It’s interesting because it’s really hard to identify, or verbalize, when things like that happen.
LENISA: Mmm hmm.
JASMIN: Because I always say there’s not a control version of me. There is not a white male version of me. So, I’ll never really know if the way that someone reacted or the things that they said were because of my race or my gender or the combination of the two.
LENISA: Mmm hmm.
JASMIN: So, I’ve definitely had a lot of people thinking that I didn’t know what I was talking about, or questioning me or kind of putting me through the ringer because they didn’t think that there was any possible reason that I knew what I was talking about.
LENISA: Mmm hmm.
JASMIN: And, things, especially with, when I was in school, in academia… academia sometimes gets to be very competitive and people like to downplay everything that you do and say that… Oh, you only got that scholarship because you’re black. Or, oh, you only got that scholarship because you’re a woman.
LENISA: Uh huh.
JASMIN: And, they ignore all of the work that you put into writing the thing and you’re keeping your GPA up and doing all these activities and things like that. And, that’s really frustrating when that happens. And, also just walking around, and, at conferences and things like that and people not speaking to you or assuming that you’re not part of the conference and things like that. Pretty much that if I don’t wear my nametag at a new conference, no one assumes that I’m there for the conference.
LENISA: Huh. Oh yeah!
JASMIN: And that gets to be really annoying. Obviously once I’ve been to the conference a couple times people recognize me. But if I were to just walk into a hotel that had a scientific conference happening, people are not going to assume that I’m there for the conference, which is really frustrating.
JASMIN: But all of the white guys, they assume: ‘Oh! You’re here for the conference!’ No one asks me: ‘Oh, are you here for the conference?’ I am. Come talk to me! So, that’s annoying.
LENISA: Yeah. Definitely. Oh my goodness. Now, the last question I have is: What advice can you offer anyone, especially girls wishing to pursue this career or something similar?
JASMIN: I think my advice would be that you have to surround yourself with positive people. You have to find your group. Your network. And you don’t need negativity. Just go ahead and [MAKES SNIPPING MOTION AND SOUND] cut that out. I think a lot of times people think that they have to suffer through abuse and discrimination because: ‘Oh, well, I need this person to write me a letter of recommendation.’ Or, ‘I need this person to…’ blah, blah, blah.
JASMIN: And, I would say: Don’t ever think that you need somebody like that. You don’t need them. Go find… I promise you that there is someone else that could write the letter of recommendation.
JASMIN: There’s someone else that can be a reference. You do not have to put up with that kind of stuff. There are plenty of scientists that are really great allies for women and people of color and people in the LGBTQ community and people of disabilities. You do not have to go to the people that are not good allies. There are other people. And I think that a lot of times, people think: ‘Oh, this person is very important in this field,’ or whatever, ‘I need their approval. And, if no one else tells you: You don’t need their approval. You can validate yourself. You don’t need their validation. So, I definitely would recommend staying away from those people and surrounding yourself only with people that uplift you and support you. I’m really thankful for my network. I had to go through a lot of bad eggs to find them.
JASMIN: But I can say that I am surrounded by people that I know are going to support me no matter what. And are going to believe me if I say something. If I say someone made a discriminatory remark, they are not going to ask me: ‘Are you sure?’
LENISA: Mmm hmm.
JASMIN: And that’s what you need. You need someone that’s going to be in your corner, that’s gonna hype you up, that’s gonna to be really positive.
LENISA: Mmm hmm.
JASMIN: I mean, I have people in my network… I think: ‘Oh, I’m going to write this proposal.’ And, I’m thinking to myself: ‘This is crazy. This is like way bigger than me. I don’t even know what I’m doing. This seems like a bad idea.’ And I go and ask them and they’re like: ‘Why do you think that’s a bad idea? That’s a great idea! Why wouldn’t you be able to do that?’ And I’m like: ‘You’re right!’
JASMIN: Those are the people you need.
JASMIN: Those that are in there with your go-big-or-go-home proposal and they say: ‘Yes, I believe you can do it. Turn it in!’
JASMIN: That’s what you need.
LENISA: Yes. That is some of the best advice I’ve heard in a long time. And it’s absolutely true. But… so, that’s all the questions… specific questions we really had. Is there anything else you’d like to tell girls out there about being in science or any closing thoughts or anything?
JASMIN: Yeah. I guess I would say… So, people act like women are supposed to do certain things and men are supposed to do certain things and that’s bologna. That’s silly. And I think that starts at a really young age. I’ve been at events and I’ve had little toy sharks on the table and little girls have come up to get one and someone… their parents or whoever is with them has said: ‘Oh, well, don’t you want this over here? That’s for boys.’ Or something like that. And, every time, I stop them. I don’t care who you are! I will stop you! And I will say: ‘That’s not true! I like sharks! Sharks are my favorite animals. I study sharks. Sharks are for girls and boys and whoever wants to like sharks.’ And then I give the little girl a shark because…
LENISA: There you go. Yup.
JASMIN: … that’s madness. Do not tell people that. And, so, people will say things like that, or: ‘Oh, don’t do this. Don’t do too well in your science and math classes because boys will be threatened by you.’ Or, whatever. And to that I say: If they’re threatened, they need to step up their game. You do you!
JASMIN: If it happens that they are embarrassed, that they aren’t as smart, tell them to do better. Work harder. I don’t know. That’s not your problem.
LENISA: Yeah, exactly.
JASMIN: Don’t dim your light for other people. So, that’s what I would say. This is why I work with middle schoolers a lot, because that’s like the critical period where people start telling girls: ‘Oh, people aren’t going to like you if you do this… people aren’t going to like you if you’re too smart.’ And, ‘Oh, don’t say that, you sound bossy.’ No, she’s being a leader. If a boy did that, you would say that they had leadership skills; don’t tell a girl they’re being bossy.
JASMIN: So, I would say that… take what adults say with a grain of salt. Not all adults are right.
JASMIN: Don’t just take it at face value if some adult says: ‘Oh, you shouldn’t do this because it’s not girly.’ That adult is wrong. Adults aren’t always right. Don’t listen to them.
LENISA: Yeah. Hmm.
JASMIN: Do what you want to do and don’t let someone talk you out of something that you love because that’s really sad.
LENISA: Yeah.Yep. Definitely. You have a lot of good advice and I think a lot of the viewers are going to appreciate what you’ve had to say today! And, thank you so much!…
JASMIN: Thank you!
LENISA: …for spending… for putting us on your schedule!
LENISA: Yeah. OK. So, I think that’s the end of the interview, interview part. Like the part that she’s going to video. And, yeah, thank you for doing this. I wanted to chime in so many times! It’s like: Nope, I’m not being interviewed! (Laughs).
LENISA: But, I used to do powerboat races. Do the manatee and sea turtle watch and whatnot. And, every once in a while we would have the Smalltooth Sawfish on our list of watch animals.
JASMIN: Oh wow!
LENISA: It would up. And, during bridge demolitions I did several of those, and they would always be on those, because… do they hang out in the… like bridge footing areas or something?
JASMIN: They… well, they’ll hang out in shallow areas a lot.
JASMIN: Especially if there’s mangroves or canals around. They like to be in there.
JASMIN: Yeah. There’s been two that have been caught by anglers on our big bridge here in Sarasota. There’s been two that have been caught. So, they do kind of find the little shallow banks and they kind of lay up there and in the bank of the bridge…
JASMIN: Is probably nice and shallow and protected and so they want to lay up there.
LENISA: Oh, OK! Now is that the bridge from, like, Mote to Longboat? That big spanning one?
LENISA: Oh, OK. I used to… I was an intern at Mote.
JASMIN: Oh, OK. Cool!
LENISA: Many eons ago. (Laughs). But, yeah, OK. What else was I going to ask you? I think that was it. I can’t remember. It’s been a long day. I’m fighting a rock quarry. But, I just want to thank you very much for doing this and Amy wants to thank you, too. And, yeah. She’ll put… she’ll do some editing because, you know, I’m a stuttering mess. And… (laughs).
LENISA: She’ll be like: OK, we need to take her out of that clip right there because she’s… But, it will be on her… the Azura website in the blog section.
LENISA: And, I think it’s going to be out before Christmas, so.
LENISA: She’ll send you a link to it when it comes out, for sure.
JASMIN: Awesome! Well, I’m excited to see it!
LENISA: Yeah, well, thank you again. And…
JASMIN: Thank you!
LENISA: …have a wonderful evening and, you know, go do board games now!
JASMIN: Yes! I’m going to do puzzles with my friend!
LENISA: Yes! See, I need…
JASMIN: Online logic puzzles because I love puzzles.
LENISA: Oh. I do those… the logic ones, you know where they have the boxes and you have to figure out like who bought the apples from the guy on the second floor and their name was what? And what room were they sitting in? I love doing those. I don’t know.
JASMIN: Yeah, me too.
LENISA: OK. Well, that is all the time I’m sure you’ve got and thank you again and I guess we’ll get off here.
JASMIN: Thank you. Enjoy the rest of your day.
LENISA: You too!