As a young girl growing up, Dena Restaino had an innate inquisitiveness about the marine environment that was the backdrop of her family vacations at the Jersey Shore.
When she entered Montclair State University in 2011 to pursue a Master’s in Biology, she found an academic outlet for her childhood fascination: a hands-on opportunity to assist Biology Professors Jack Gaynor and Paul Bologna with Department of Environmental Protection-funded research on the Jersey Shore’s growing population of jellyfish. The work, which from the beginning included both lab and field research, engaged multiple aspects of Restaino’s scientific ambition and ultimately led her to the topic of her Environmental Management Ph.D. dissertation, which she is slated to complete in May, 2018.
“From the beginning, the jellyfish project was a blend of traditional bench work and field ecology,” says Restaino. “I got to spend a lot of the summers out on the bay, working in the field, collecting specimens and then I got to bring them back into the lab and do the molecular analysis on them. It was a great combination, and that’s what drew me into the program.”
Small class size, interdisciplinary curriculum and individual academic mentoring provided Restaino with the freedom to pursue her specific interest and helped her find her scientific niche. This, in turn, led to a natural progression from her master’s degree to her doctoral studies.
“Being able to go from a Master’s to a Ph.D. at the same university has enabled me to build relationships with the professors I work with, and they’ve been able to help me tailor my research and focus on what I specifically want to do.”