Student Spotlight: Nick Marquis

Nick Marquis poses next to his oyster samples.
Nick Marquis poses next to his oyster samples.

This week’s Student Spotlight post features Nick Marquis.  Nick is one of the REU students working at Bigelow Laboratory this summer.  He is working with Senior Research Scientist and Molecular Biologist, Dr. José Antonio Fernández-Robledo for the summer on an independent research project involving oyster parasites.  Read on to find out more!

by Sonia Vargas
Science Communications Intern
Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences


 Q: I’ll start with a standard interview introduction question, where are you from?

A:  I live in Portland Maine, and I’ve been living there for the past 14 years.  I was born in New Brighton, Connecticut, and I lived there until I was about 8.  I had my childhood mostly in Fort Kent, Maine, near the Canadian border.  So I would say I’m from Maine.

Q: Was it different living near the Canadian Border?

A: It was interesting because most people speak kind of a combination of French and English. Almost everyone is bilingual, including myself.  It’s kind of interesting because before 9/11, going to my grandparents house was like a 15 minute drive from my house in the states. It was nothing- just a 2 minute stop at the border. Now, to visit my grandparents, it usually takes about 45 minutes because I have to stop at the border and answer questions.  When I lived in Fort Kent I could see Canada from my house, but other than that it was like any other Maine town. There were a lot of moose, though. They would walk right down the street sometimes.

Q: Where do you go to school?

A: I go to school at SMCC, Southern Maine Community College.  I also was a student at the University of Southern Maine (USM), and the University of Fort Kent.

Q: What is your major or concentration?

A: Marine Science at SMCC.  My concentration at USM was Philosophy and English.

Q: How did you move from Philosophy and English to Marine Science?

A: Well, there was a 10 year gap between the two.  For me, the transition was easy.  It was almost like there was no transition because it was starting over.  That was a different time in my life.  I was more interested in creative and artistic endeavors.  I’m a musician as well, so I still am very involved in the arts, but when I started to pick up hobbies like beekeeping and fishing, I started to become more interested in Biology.

Q: Do you feel like that 10 year gap was good for you?

A:  I definitely feel like I am more focused as a student.  I have to make this count. The gap could have been shorter, but it allowed me to have a lot of different life experiences.  I lived a few different places and worked a couple different jobs. It took me that long to realize the value of getting a decent education.  I spent a lot of time struggling, trying to get something that really… people who don’t have an education won’t get.  In terms of pay and opportunities, I was hitting a lot of dead ends.  I would get a job and be a model employee, do my work well, and get along with customers… but you can’t work for 5 years at a 12 dollars an hour job.  There is no room for advancement.  Those 10 years basically solidified it for me that I had to go back to school.

Q: How did you get into keeping bees?

Nick and one of his bee hives.
Nick and one of his bee hives.

 A:  I really like raw honey.  It’s as simple as that.  I started reading up on bees, and talking to bee keepers in Maine, and found that Maine is a really good state to keep bees.  I ordered a hive and just went at it.  I now have five hives, and I sell my honey to earn extra income.

Q: How did you find this program?

A: I was accepted to a short course at Mount Desert Island Biological  Laboratory.  While I was there, they sent out a couple emails about scholarship and internship opportunities. This was one of the programs I applied to.  I listed on my application that I wanted to work on a project that had to do with DNA, DNA extraction, genetics, molecular biology… I’m very interested in stuff like that. Now I’m working with Dr. José Antonio Fernández-Robledo.

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about your project?

A:  We are using molecular techniques to survey 10 coastal Maine oyster bed sites for four different protozoan pathogens, those being two oyster pathogens (Perkinsus marinus ”Dermo” and Haplosporidium nelsoni “MSX”), and two human pathogens (Toxoplasma gondii and Cryptosporidium
parvum). There have been surveys for T. gondii and C. parvum conducted in oysters from Italy, off
the Mississippi Coast, and in the Chesapeake Bay, but to our knowledge never in Maine.  Both P. marinus and H. nelsoni have already been studied in Maine; but this would be the
first survey with multiple study sites that includes natural and commercial oyster beds. In short, we are using DNA analysis to see if we can find specific pathogens in Maine oysters.

Q: What happens if you do find these pathogens in the oysters?

A:  At this point we can’t predict what we will find with the survey; this study will provide the
first epizootiological map for two human pathogens in oysters from Maine. If we find T. gondii
and/or C. parvum we will report it to the competent authorities and expand the study to other
coastal areas in Maine to see if there are hot spots for the parasite.  We would also try to sample other times of the year to see if seasonality has an effect on where the parasite is found. We would also like to conduct studies on how many parasites are the oysters carrying, if the oysters can clear them, and if they pose any threat for human consumption. With Dermo and MSX, it would also be important to know how common the parasites in different areas of Maine are… since these parasites can be transmitted from oyster to oyster, unlike Toxoplasma and Cryptosporidium, which only accumulate in the oysters.

Q: What drew you to Bigelow Laboratory?  Has it lived up to expectations?

A: Well, I’ll make an analogy.  As a musician, I have found that the best way to become a better player is to play with people who are better than me… that are on a higher skill level.  So, with me being two years deep into an associates degree in Marine Science, I thought that it would be beneficial for me to immerse myself in an environment where there are a lot of people who are at that higher skill level.  I wanted an environment where I would be challenged and I would get to learn from people.  I have learned a lot since I’ve been here, everyone has been very helpful.  Scientists, research scientists who aren’t even my mentor, have offered their help and advice.  For example, Dr. Nick Record has offered to help me develop some modeling programs to streamline some calculations and data analysis, Joaquín and his lab have been really helpful to me throughout my project, David Fields has been great, and Peter Larsen offered me some advice on where to find wild oysters.  It also has shown me how far you can take marine science as a career, and why it is important.  When I get asked why I am interested in Marine Science, I get questioned a lot because some people feel like Marine Science isn’t a valid career path… but I think they just can’t see why it’s relevant.  There are so many projects going on here that have to do with climate change and public health… and I can’t see how anyone would come to that conclusion.

Q: Can I ask about your tattoos?  Did you get them for a special reason?

Nick in Lab
Nick Marquis next to his lab bench before beginning his morning lab work.

A: This [gesturing to right arm] was kind of a gift to myself for kind of… turning myself around and putting my life on a better track.  It started with the shark and the squid happened later.  The fish all came in pieces.  The idea with this [gesturing to left arm] is that there is a tear in my skin and I’m made of honey.  People tell me I’m sweet sometimes, so that’s kind of the joke going on with that.

Q: Where do you see yourself in the future?

A: I like Maine a lot, and in ten years I hope to still be working in Maine in the Marine Sciences.  Between now and ten years, I wouldn’t mind doing some work abroad.  I like traveling.


That’s all for Nick’s interview. Nick Marquis is a student at Southern Maine Community College and will be earning his Associate’s degree in Marine Science next year.  Be on the lookout for next week’s student spotlight!



Student Spotlight: Nick Marquis