For Alicia Shepard, the road to Texas A&M began when she met Dr. Heath Mills, an assistant professor of Oceanography, at a conference in March of 2008. Mills, new to Texas A&M himself, was looking for a Ph.D. student, and Shepard was the perfect match.
“I hadn’t even thought about coming to Texas A&M then,” Shepard explained. “At the time I was doing research for the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, looking at the microbial ecology of coral reefs. So I had a little bit of background at doing environmental microbiology, and we were just talking and he was looking for someone and I was looking for a school, and so I decided to apply. “
To call the move to Texas a change might be an understatement. Shepard grew up in Vermont and Connecticut, and got her undergraduate degree in biology from Roger Williams University in Rhode Island – a school of less than four thousand students. After only about six months on campus, however, Shepard hasn’t looked back.
“Texas A&M is fabulous,” she said. “It’s very different than any school I’ve ever been to. It’s enormous. There are so many resources and so many things to do. From sports to the library, it’s just exponential compared to what other universities provide for their students.
“The College of Geosciences has also been great. They give a lot of opportunities to do field work, which is something that’s essential when you’re a grad student. There are lots of cruises and chances to be able to go to scientific meetings; they provide a lot of funding for that, which I think is great. So all in all I’ve been pretty impressed.”
Shepard also found her research situation ideal, thanks in part to Mills.
“I was able to come in and start a project right away,” she said, “which was partly my advisor – Heath is just a go-getter. I got here and about three days later I was already doing extractions and getting stuff going.”
After working with Mills and learning about subsurface microbial biology, Shepard has decided on the focus of her career.
“The subsurface is an enormous amount of space, and we as scientists and oceanographers don’t know much about what’s going on down there,” she said. “The running joke is that we know more about the surface of the moon than about the ocean floor. It’s basically unexamined. So I definitely want to continue researching subsurface sediments because there is so much to do. So I’d like to really go at it and make a name for myself.”