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Reagan Errera
Katie Valentine

Reagan Errera

Dr. Reagan Errera is a research ecologist at NOAA's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, where she serves as a primary investigator for harmful algal bloom research.  

What drew you to your current career or field?

I have enjoyed studying harmful algal species since my time as an undergraduate student. Phytoplankton often get over looked within ecosystems; however, they drive essential biogeochemical processes that provide ecosystem services and healthy environmental conditions.

Embedded in the phytoplankton community are a group that produce toxins, sometimes as a response to their environment. It is these species that I find fascinating and make me question why they make energy expensive toxins. My research is driven by a need to protect human and ecosystem health. Being a researcher for NOAA ties together both my passion for phytoplankton and promoting a healthy ecosystem for us and future generations.        

What projects or research are you working on now?

I’m relatively new to NOAA so my research is still getting started. However, I am working on establishing the Environmental Sample Processor (ESP) network within the Great Lakes. These autonomous “labs in a can” designed by MBARI are able to provide near-real time toxin analysis (microcystin), which can help track potential toxin movement and provide warnings to the public and municipal water managers within the Great Lakes System.      

From my previous position, I’m working with the community of Praia do Tofo, Mozambique and a research and community group All Out Africa to identify the temporal and spatial occurrence of toxic Pseudo-nitzschia spp. blooms within the region. I’m also working on a microfluidic device that can grow individual phytoplankton species within discrete chambers; however, the phytoplankton community as a whole can still chemically communicate. We are using the device to explore toxin and allelochemical production via different environmental conditions.   

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I enjoy scientific project design — designing experiments through the process of the scientific method is one of the things that drove me into the scientific field.  But I really enjoy the lightbulb moments that I have with people — that’s to say transferring my knowledge and research to the public. Any time I can share my passion for our aquatic systems and have the public join in the passion or understanding of a need is a highlight.  

What was the best advice ever given to you that helped you become successful? 

Take every encounter as a learning opportunity. I try to follow this within my career but also with life in general, as there are always new things to learn and new approaches to consider. If you are open to those opportunities you can develop an enriched solution to the challenge.   

What’s been your favorite (or proudest) moment in your career so far?

Graduating with my PhD and having my one-and-a-half year-old daughter attend.  

Looking back, what would you tell yourself when you were 12 years old? Or what advice would you give to a woman just starting out in her career?

Advice to a women starting out: You are more than just a woman, you are here because you are talented and you have earned your right to be successful and pursue your passions.  

Is there anything else you would like to share? 

Currently, I have a graduate student at Louisiana State University, and I am her primary mentor and advisor.  Her graduate committee is entirely female, consisting of four decorated female faculty members from the field of oceanography and wetland sciences. This was not our intent when we developed her graduate committee — our aim was to have the best scientific group to provide insight and mentorship through her program. Though I know this is becoming more of an occurrence in the field, it makes me proud to be a part of the group.  

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