International Day of Women and Girls in Science USA Sailing Spotlight: Rachael Miller

February 11thand is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. In celebration, US Sailing recognizes Rachael miller. Rachael is the founder of the Rozalia Clean Ocean Project, co-inventor of the Cora Ball, National Geographic Explorer and a member of the Explorer’s Club. It focuses on protecting the ocean and solving the problem of marine debris through cleanup, prevention through education, adoption of innovation and technology, and finding solutions in urban waters and coastal, from the surface to the seabed. Rachael holds a USCG 50 Ton Captain’s License and Captain of the 60ft Sailing Research Vessel American promise. She trains ROV pilots for VideoRay, helps write curriculum for US Sailing’s REACH program, and mentors students at New York Harbor School. His academic background is in marine studies and underwater archaeology. She lives in Vermont and enjoys skiing as much as sailing.

US Sailing had a quick chat with Rachael about what inspired her to get involved in science and why it’s so important for women and girls to pursue and explore STEM.

What was (or is) your favorite subject in school and why?

To me, that’s a trick question, and that’s because I’ve always loved the arts and sciences alike. At school, my favorite subjects were art, math (especially geometry) and, of all the sciences, I always liked physics.

When did you start getting actively involved in STEM? Do you remember a specific project or initiative?

I have to credit sailing with my interest in physics and science. I’ve been sailing all my life and started teaching sailing at 13. Of course, when you start teaching something, you have to understand it in a different way than if you were just doing it. Part of my learning about teaching sailing was learning to explain the why and the how, so from the age of 13 or 14 I remember thinking about how to explain lift and how it works veils to children not much younger than me.

How have your beliefs, motivations and aspirations changed over time? When did a STEM career become a priority or a choice?

I don’t think I’ve had much change in my attitude towards science personally. I’ve always been involved in something that was related to science – mostly science applied through sport, even from a very young age – sailing, competitive swimming and skiing. In sailing and the type of skiing I did (bumps), I generally outnumbered the guys.

I’ve done a lot of different things related to connecting people to water, and over the years I’ve become more aware of my role as a female scientist. When I started doing wreck tours with ROVs, I ordered the boat, assembled the robot, piloted it to a wreck, told the story of the wreck, then brought back alone. It was similar with our work on ROVs and marine debris. What I realized was that the boys don’t care who shows up with the robot – they don’t think about it. But I think young girls notice it. And although I don’t have a concrete moment in mind, I realized that as a woman in my field, I have the opportunity for my presence to sink into the minds of young girls. This is significant representation, especially in an area where there was little representation before. I was the only woman to attend a whole conference on underwater technologies and I realized that my presence as a woman, doing what I do and being very comfortable with it, is an opportunity to show people what is possible.

What is the coolest thing about your work/research?

I can collectively call what I do expedition science, and for someone like me, that’s the coolest thing. My job is to better understand and find ways to protect one of my favorite places, which is anything that is liquid or frozen water (oceans, lakes, rivers, etc.). Part of what I need is for every day to be a little different and have a heavy dose of being outdoors. In my work, I can move, navigate and apply science to understand our place in the world in order to improve it.

There was a point in my college career when I had to choose what I wanted to do. I participated in a semester abroad with the School of Field Studies and the University of La Paz in Mexico, which included very good hard science in marine mammal biology and conservation. But all the science we were doing there was the same every day. Accuracy depends on repetition, but there was no movement. In the work I do now, which I designed myself, we use precision through repetition in terms of methods, but we do it to explore and sample an entire river from the mountains to the sea, with Manhattan between the of them. There’s nothing repetitive about it!

How could you contribute your wisdom, expertise or ideas to empower other women and girls interested in your field?

I adopted a strategy that works for me and maybe it can work for other people. Personally, I’ll jump off the figurative cliff, but only after controlling the controllables. And I don’t mean that just in science, I mean that in life. I do my research at the start, and while I don’t necessarily have all the answers, I’ll have a pretty good idea of ​​what I think is going to happen. And then I move forward and I jump off the cliff. Otherwise, you won’t know what you are capable of.

I recommend people familiarize themselves with the fact that you can take a risk without it being a blind risk, but a calculated risk where you’ve done everything you can to make it work. Very few things are completely guaranteed to work. As long as you have some sort of parachute (for me it’s usually multiple backplanes) it’s worth taking calculated risks.

I don’t know if people have heard this often enough – failure is just part of a bigger process, part of the process. If you try something and it doesn’t work, that’s completely normal. It can be disappointing, depending on the magnitude, but it doesn’t have to be the end of your career. If you decide to invent something new, failure is part of the process. Failure is all around us. If you were controlling the controllable things, taking the risk of trying something new and it didn’t work, then that’s great. It’s learning!

I think the unknown can be quite exciting. If something piques your interest and you see a way to make it happen, do some research, create a few back-up plans, and then don’t be afraid to do it.

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