Marine Bio Student Profile: Abby von Hagel

Abby von Hagel is a student from Seattle in the Interdisciplinary Honors Program pursuing a Major in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology and a Minor in Marine Biology with plans to graduate in 2019. We talked with Abby to find out what inspires her to study marine biology and to learn how an introductory course led to her researching at the UW’s marine field station at Friday Harbor Labs.

If you are interested in making marine biology part of your studies, fieldwork or research, contact the Marine Biology Academic Adviser Joe Kobayashi at

Sara Galer
Doing fieldwork at Eagle Cove, San Juan Island as a part of the spring ZOO-BOT quarter
  1. How and why did you come to minor in Marine Biology?

    • During my first quarter at the University of Washington, I was part of a FIG that included the Marine Biology 250 course. It was then that I learned about things such as Coriolis forces, shark reproduction, and bioluminescence, incorporating a broad range of disciplines and piquing my interest in the Marine Biology minor. The addition of the minor has allowed me to thrive in small hands-on courses, presented research opportunities, and allowed me to develop close professional connections to professors and other marine scientists.
  2. Why do you think marine biology is an important field?

    • In my opinion, most teaching examples used in biology classes at the University of Washington are based on terrestrial organisms. Given that the oceans compose 99% of the earth’s biosphere, I think marine biology research makes an important contribution to our understanding of life on earth. Whether discovering green fluorescent protein biomarkers in jellyfish, investigating the biomimetic potential of clingfish discs, or evaluating the effect of ocean acidification on marine invertebrates, scientists have learned much from studying marine organisms.  I am constantly amazed by how much there is still left to learn about life in the oceans.
  3. How does the minor in Marine Biology relate to, or inform your major?

    • By minoring in Marine Biology I am able to apply the broad conceptual ideas of chemistry, physics, or physiology to a specific study system. For example, I was able to use my knowledge of osmoregulation in marine and freshwater fish to conceptualize the effect of excessive sodium on the human renal system.
  4. What has been the most interesting course you have taken so far for the marine biology minor?

    • My favorite classes that I have taken so far for the marine biology minor were the courses that I took while at Friday Harbor Laboratories, particularly Biology of Fishes with Dr. Matthew Kolmann and Marine Invertebrate Zoology with Dr. Megan Dethier. Both these courses took full advantage of the opportunities offered at the labs, with small interactive lectures, multiple trips into the field, and access to lab sea tables filled with organisms.

      Hyejoo Ro
      Abby attending to outdoor mesocosm experiments at Friday Harbor Labs.
  5. How have you been involved with research in Marine Biology?

    • I have been involved with a variety of research projects that work with marine organisms. I was part of a student research team that designed and carried out an experiment dealing with trophic interactions in eelgrass meadows. I had the opportunity to present this research at the UW Undergraduate Research Symposium and to the Samish Department of Natural Resources. Currently, I am using micro-CT scanning to analyze how snailfish (Liparidae) bone structure varies along a depth gradient, which I plan to present at the upcoming Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology (SICB) conference. This summer, I have been working on fieldwork experiments with Dr. Megan Dethier examining Manilla clam recruitment and survival as well as working in the lab of Dr. Adam Summers generating CT images of fishes and creating a publicly accessible database of all CT scan data as part of the NSF-funded oVert project.

      A. von Hagel
      Micro-CT scan of the snailfish Allocareproctus tanix (lateral view).
  6. Do you have any recommendations for UW students interested in Marine Biology?

    • My first recommendation to other UW students interested in Marine Biology would be to find a way to become actively involved with a lab or organization focused on marine organisms. Gaining experience with fieldwork, outreach, or work in a lab setting provides useful connections and an idea of the type of work conducted by marine scientists. Don’t be afraid to talk to advisors, researchers, and professors about your specific research interests, the University of Washington has a many great of resources for those interested in marine science.
  7. What are your future goals after graduating from the UW?

    • My experience working in a research environment as an undergraduate has encouraged me to pursue a graduate program that would allow me to continue conducting research both in the lab and the field. Eventually, I hope to obtain a doctorate degree and explore questions related to functional mechanisms in marine organisms.