Margaret Morrison, M.E.M.
Environmental Management N'22
Current PositionPolicy Analyst, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
What did you do on your research team?
Our team was multifaceted: one subteam was assessing plastic pollution in the ocean, while another investigated potential ways for bacteria to break down that plastic. I was more focused on the “why” of our work — what are the impacts of plastic pollution and what is the value in addressing the problem? In particular, I studied the effects of plastic on human health — taking a human approach to the issue and showing its urgency by relating it back to people.
More specifically, our subteam looked at the chemicals present in particular plastic additives. During my first year with the team, we completed a literature review to compile a list of additives, which turned out to be a surprisingly hard task! When we ran chemicals through different databases, we discovered a serious knowledge gap. Many of the chemicals we investigated weren’t even in the databases! This helped us demonstrate how much the scientific community doesn’t actually know about plastic additives and how much there is to gain by further research.
To start filling this gap, we began studying specific chemicals to see if they have the potential to cause cancer. We ultimately published a paper on the harm done by plastic pollution to the biological functioning of humans and animals, which also highlighted how many plastic additives have yet to be studied.
How did you get involved with Bass Connections?
I found out about Bass Connections at the very end of my undergraduate career at Duke. Fortunately, I realized that I could participate as a Master of Environmental Management student and hone my research and teamwork skills. As a graduate student, I was excited to be part of an interdisciplinary team and to have the opportunity to mentor undergraduates. I also felt fortunate to be collaborating with doctoral students and faculty in an array of research fields.
What was special about your Bass Connections experience?
I really enjoyed taking on the role of mentor and working directly with the undergraduates on the team. That being said, the undergraduates I worked with were really impressive, and I learned a lot from them, too! I also benefited from interacting so closely on a small team with Ph.D. students and faculty and got to learn from their career paths and management styles.
In my second year, I served as a project manager on the team. That was a valuable learning experience for me, because it wasn’t a role I had played in the past. Learning how to track projects and keep people organized and on deadlines was helpful.
Beyond basic research skills, the project also helped me practice synthesizing information and writing. I had never published a paper before, so it was a good process to understand when working with scientists, even now that I’m on the policy side. Overall, what has impacted my career the most are the people skills I learned and the relationships I formed.
What are you doing now?
Before starting my current position, I worked as a research fellow for the Urban Ocean Lab doing ocean and climate policy work at the city level. I was primarily focused on costal resiliency issues and ocean farming. I definitely used the research and writing skills I honed through Bass Connections.
Now, I’m completing a fellowship with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the office of the under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere, helping with the implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act. The faculty leader on my Bass Connections project team was actually the person who wrote me the recommendation for this fellowship!
My biggest takeaway from my project team experience was those connections that I made by working closely on a small team. It was truly an invaluable experience for me.