Charting the Course

Charlotte Hussain | Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Sciences Major

Class of 2024 | Minor in GIS Certificate | President of Fish and Wildlife Club

Omaha, Nebraska | CAS & CoF Leadership Academy | Honors College Student

Whale of a Thesis

I am currently working on an Honors Thesis on killer whale predatory interactions, which I hope to defend later this term. This year, I have been thrilled to be president of the Fish and Wildlife Club. Helping my leadership team put on events that support the professional development of students pursuing degrees in natural resources has been immensely rewarding. When I am not studying, working, or coding, I like to go birding, antiquing, cross-stitch, and spend time together with my friends.


Fur, Feathers, and Reflections

All Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Sciences majors are required to complete an intensive 200+ hour internship. In 2022, I managed to be accepted into an animal care internship in southern Oregon. I had always wanted to work directly with animals but never had the opportunity in Omaha. I was thrilled to finally have this dream come true and with wild animals, no less. That summer was an unforgettable and magical time in my life. I became very close with the other interns and staff I was living with. I raised so many baby birds and squirrels, worked with our bears, wolves, and big cats, and even learned how to handle hawks. I experienced all sides of animal care, the joy, the hardship, and the heartbreak. While I wouldn’t give up that experience for anything, it also allowed me to discover that intensive animal care is not something that I could withstand long term, let alone for a career. 

My Internship Journey

The next summer, I became an intern at the Fowler Lab here at the OSU Botany Department. The work was almost the opposite, I spent each day coding on my laptop to graph massive amounts of maize genetic expression. While it didn’t seem as exciting at first, I gained a newfound respect for Zea mays (the noble corn plant) as a model organism for understanding genetics, heredity, and adaptations. I also found joy in spending time with members of the lab, even if I was a bit shy at first. The coding skills I learned then have become paramount to my Honors Thesis. I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t learn Python.

Chomping Data

One opportunity that helped shape where I am now is undergraduate research through the URSA Engage program. I was selected to work with Dr. Alex McInturf at the Big Fish Lab. For 15 weeks, I would carpool to Newport to dissect salmon shark stomachs all afternoon, much to the dismay of the marine scientists in the cubicles just outside the lab. I had so much fun working with Alex, in part because she allowed me to revise and shape our stomach content analysis methods. Alex took the time to share her experiences in academia with me and teach me many important life lessons about grants, science writing, and getting published. The foundation she gave me early on in my college career is what has allowed me to feel confident in pursuing and publishing my undergraduate thesis.

Origins of Orcas

When I was about 14 years old, I watched the documentary film, Blackfish. I was introduced to the horrors of cetacean captivity and quickly fell down a rabbit hole. Beyond the walls of SeaWorld, I discovered the remarkable creatures killer whales are and their long and complicated history with human beings. I completely fell in love with the adventures of the original marine biologists who were among the first to study these animals in the 1970s. Ever since, I have been hooked. Today, I am thrilled to be writing a review paper on killer whale interactions with Lisa Ballance and Robert Pitman, a legendary cetacean research power couple.

Embracing the Unexpected

The biggest piece of advice that I wish I had been given more often when I was starting college is that your path to your goals will not necessarily work out how you have planned, and that is ok. If you are ambitious like me, you may set many long-term goals and work to achieve them step by step. However, some of these planned steps that you take may become dead ends while other actions that you didn’t plan out may be what leads you to that long-term goal. 

Mentorship Journeys

I knew I wanted to do a thesis on cetaceans and I expected to meet a potential mentor at a conference, school event, or during my internship at Hatfield. Instead, my current relationship with my mentors and my thesis topic all stemmed from one cold email I sent to a researcher I had never seen, let alone met at the time. I think this is important to share because when things do not turn out as we had expected, we often feel as though we have failed. I’ve often thought things like, “I couldn’t network with anyone at the conference, now it is too late for me to get an internship this summer.” The reality is that if you keep pursuing that goal, something will work out for you, it just may not happen in the way you expect. Therefore, I encourage students, especially those who are early in their journey, to keep an open mind when your plan doesn’t pan out how you expected.