Elizabeth Johns

Elizabeth Johns, Physical Oceanography Division, Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Miami, FL, USA

Libby (second from left) with her husband Bill and their three teenagers in front of their home in Palmetto Bay, Florida. Scott (19) is currently a sophomore at the University of Miami. Lisa (17) is a high school senior who will enter the pre-med program at the University of Miami in August 2005. Keith (15) is a high school sophomore who also plans to attend the University of Miami.

Mine has been an unusual career path, and I hope my story will encourage others to take “the road less traveled” (to quote the poet Robert Frost) and not be afraid of changing direction as one’s life evolves.

Having graduated from Mount Holyoke College in 1976 with a B.A. in English literature, my plan, although then vague, was to become an environmental lawyer. Serendipitously, I happened upon a small brochure entitled Careers in Oceanography. By the time I finished reading the brochure, I found myself seriously considering the field of environmental science instead of environmental law, and marine science in particular.

I was the recipient of a fellowship from the National Science Foundation, which covered my first three years at the University of Rhode Island (URI).There, I found that my primary interest was observational physical oceanography, and I enjoyed the challenge of pursuing my Ph.D. work on Gulf Stream dynamics at URI under the guidance of Drs. Randy Watts and Tom Rossby.

It was also there that I met my future husband, Bill Johns, another physical oceanography student.

Bill and I each defended our dissertations in December 1984, and relocated to the University of Miami (UM) as postdocs. A year later, Bill joined the UM faculty, and I accepted my present position as a physical oceanographer with NOAA/AOML, doing “blue water” studies of North Atlantic western boundary currents with Dr. Bob Molinari. Life quickly became very full for me, as Bill and I became the parents of three children in less than five years while simultaneously trying to establish ourselves in our careers.

By the time our third child was born, I realized that in order for me to balance the needs of my family and my career, something would have to give. I changed to part-time status with NOAA, although at the time this seemed somewhat risky in terms of professional credibility. I have now resumed a fulltime work schedule, and looking back I do not feel that my part-time years have hindered my professional standing. This is likely due to the positive changes in attitudes regarding the work/family balance that have occurred in our profession over the past two decades.

In 1995, after careful consideration, I returned to my original plan of doing environmentally oriented oceanographic research. I am presently studying the coastal waters and ecosystems of South Florida in collaboration with Drs. Peter Ortner (AOML) and Tom Lee (UM), and biologists and fisheries scientists, with particular emphasis on predicting the effects of the Everglades Restoration on Florida Bay, Biscayne Bay, and the waters of the Florida Keys. One of our highest research priorities is to develop a realtime network of physical and water quality sensors for the region. We also strive to make our scientific results accessible and relevant to resource managers so that our efforts can provide aid in their decision-making. This type of research is extremely rewarding for me. At last I feel that I have found my “niche,” and the right balance between my personal and professional life.