Student Success Stories - Rachel Gettings
Where did you grow up?
I am originally from Watervliet, a small community just outside of Albany in upstate New York.
Where do you live now?
I currently reside in Bangor, Maine.
What degrees do you have from UMaine and what were your years of graduation? Majors and minors?
I graduated from UMaine in 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in marine biology. I also received my master’s degree at UMaine in 2010 in marine biology.
Current company and title
I am just starting a job as a membrane research scientist with GE Global Research in Niskayuna, N.Y. My first job out of school was with Orono Spectral Solutions in Bangor.
How did you get to OSS? Why did you decide to stay in Maine?
I was approached about a job at OSS by one of the company’s senior scientists (also a UMaine alum) right around the time I was finishing up my master’s degree. OSS was in the process of finding another research technician, and I decided to interview for the position. It appeared to be a great opportunity to do some meaningful research in a field that I was not too familiar with. I interviewed and was offered the job right after graduation. I decided to forego my search for other potential career options and stay in Maine because OSS seemed like it would be a great fit for me. I liked the idea of working for a small start-up company and being able to grow with it and be part of its success. Maine has really become like a second home to me over the past seven years. The University of Maine gave me the opportunity to fulfill my dream of playing NCAA Division I ice hockey while also receiving a solid education. Some of the best moments of my life were spent in Maine, and for me the choice to stay was an easy one.
What research initiatives or projects were you involved in at OSS?
I was involved in a number of Department of Defense contract projects focusing on development of materials and technologies for trace level detection of chemical and biological agents in air, land and water, including cyanide in water. Although I cannot be specific due to confidentiality issues with clients, I can tell you that most of my time at OSS was spent in the lab researching and testing new materials and methods to measure toxic compounds in water. We used deposition systems to make some of our absorbent coatings; we also engineered nanoparticles for some of our technologies using a Zetasizer instrument. In one particular project, I spent a lot of time developing a reagentless, portable sampling method for detecting cyanide in water. One of the things I loved most about the job was the OSS team’s ability to turn a challenging idea or concept into a working, reliable detection method by incorporating all of our unique skills sets and scientific backgrounds. Everyone at OSS brought something different to the table and that was what I think ultimately helped us come up with the best possible solutions to our customers’ problems.
How did UMaine prepare you for your career?
Academically speaking, the marine science program is one of the most intensive programs at UMaine in terms of credit hours and requirements. As a graduate, you are expected to be well versed not only in biology, but also in chemistry, physics and mathematics. I left UMaine feeling confident that I could take on a research role in any lab and have the skills to perform well.
What led you to choose UMaine?
I was initially recruited to UMaine to play ice hockey. I immediately fell in love with the campus and the people during my visit. I liked that it had that real university feel to it and wasn’t in the middle of a big city. I was very impressed with the number of degrees offered in the sciences and I ultimately felt like I could get a great education here while also playing college hockey.
When you were at UMaine, what was your favorite place on campus?
My favorite place on campus would have to be the Union. It felt like the heart of campus. It was always buzzing with students and professors, but there were places you could go to get away from it all. They also make a killer Winslow wrap!
Most memorable UMaine moment?
So many to choose from! My most memorable UMaine moment would have to be starting in my first hockey game at Alfond Arena and hearing the National Anthem play. There is no other feeling like it and it is something that I will remember forever.
While in Orono, I spent too much time:
At the hockey rink!
What, if any, research initiatives or projects were you involved in while at UMaine?
During my time in graduate school, I took part in three-week research surveys in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank as part of the NOAA funded ECOHAB-GOMTOX (Ecology and Oceanography of Harmful Algal Blooms) research program. The program’s objective is to improve our understanding of the toxic algal species Alexandrium fundyense and subsequent PSP (Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning) outbreaks that occur in Maine and along the East Coast each year. The data collected during our time at sea helped fuel my own thesis research, which focused on gaining a better understanding of the overall phytoplankton community structure on Georges Bank, and how competitive interactions in the phytoplankton community impact Alexandrium fundyense bloom dynamics.
Do you have any favorite professors or classes, and what lessons did you take from the professor or class that resonate today?
One of my favorite professors as an undergraduate was David Townsend. I took his Introduction to Ocean Science course as an elective my sophomore year. His passion for teaching and learning about the ocean really inspired me and I remember walking right to my adviser’s office after one of his classes and changing my major to marine biology. I knew that I wanted to do something in this field and love my work as much as he did. He later became my graduate adviser and we are still in touch. Something I learned from him that I still take with me today is to never stop learning and growing, both as a person and a scientist.
Was there a class that nearly did you in?
I think there may have been more than one, but a particularly painful class for me was physics. I do not think I ever had to work so hard just to get by, but I ultimately survived.
Were you involved in any extra-curricular activities at UMaine? If so, what were they and how did they benefit you?
I was a goalie on the women’s ice hockey team at UMaine for four years, which was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I think any student-athlete will tell you that in order to be successful, you need to be extremely diligent with your time and strike a proper balance between training and school. It was difficult and extremely overwhelming at times, but I could not imagine my college experience without that level of structure and pressure to perform. As an athlete you strive to be the best. You are constantly working to be better and stronger than you were the day before. You can’t help but apply this same type of drive and determination to the other aspects of your life, including work and school.
How did your UMaine experience shape who you are now?
I came to college feeling very unsure about myself and my capabilities, both as a student and an athlete. However, my years at UMaine left me feeling confident and prepared to take on any challenge, whether in the lab or in my personal life. I was surrounded by professors and coaches who wanted me to succeed in everything that I did and helped me to realize my full potential. I feel very privileged to be a two-time graduate from a university that cares so much about its students and their future. The work ethic I developed as a student athlete at UMaine has without a doubt shaped me into the person I am today.
Best UMaine tradition?
The best UMaine tradition would have to be the singing of the Maine Stein Song. Our team would sing it together every weekend, win or lose. It is something that everyone at UMaine knows and you really feel connected to other students when singing it at an athletic event or activity on campus. I still know the song by heart.
If I knew then what I know now, I would have …
Done it all the same. I am a firm believer in learning from the mistakes you make and the challenges you face. I am so grateful for every opportunity that has come my way and I think that I made the most out of all of them.
How does UMaine continue to influence your life?
UMaine will always play a huge role in my life. Aside from still having connections to some of the professors who have made an impact on me, I feel like the lessons I’ve learned and the skills I’ve developed both as a researcher and a person are continuing to help me in my career and personal life.