BIMS guest blog – “My unyielding love of water ” by Leslie Townsell

Leslie swimming competitively during high school

This year, the ICB blog and BIMS, Black in Marine Science, will be collaborating to highlight scientists from the BIMS organization. We hope this collaboration will further foster connecting a phenomenal network of colleagues in marine bio and inform our readers about BIMS research as well as their continued work to not only create a network but also a safe space for their members.

This month, Leslie Townsell,Chief Operating Officer at BIMS, currently interning at The Georgia Aquarium shares with us:

As a small child I loved the water. I participated in the “mommy and me” program at the local YMCA and my dad took time to perfect my swimming strokes so I could excel as a competitive swimmer.  Growing up, I spent my summers at Candlewood Lake in Connecticut. Days were spent practicing for the swim team or eating candy on the beach. Growing up in Connecticut immersed me in nature. My backyard was a literal forest. I loved exploring outside and showing off my findings to my parents. My mother recognized early on my connection to nature and made sure to include aspects of nature in my supplemental summer learning. On each family vacation we sought out zoos, aquariums, and nature centers to foster my love of nature.

*Blue raiders* caption: an image of the Blue Raiders swim team at Candlewood Lake. 

Fast forward to my junior year in high school where my family and I had relocated to Georgia. My passion for marine science was ignited in a marine biology class. Little did I know, an annual pass to the newly opened Georgia Aquarium, a field trip to the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, and an independent research project would set me on a track to pursue a career in marine science. Although I loved marine science, I was convinced it was an impractical field to pursue and decided to stick with being a pediatrician.

*Aquarium* caption: An image of Leslie and her two friends at the fish wall entrance of the Georgia Aquarium in 2007.

I enrolled at Spelman College, the top ranked HBCU and decided to major in biology with a concentration in pre-med. I changed my mind about medical school a year before graduation and decided to pursue another independent research project, this time in a freshwater system to determine if science research was the right path for me. My parents were very supportive of this drastic change, and the independent research solidified my passion for research. I applied for graduate school, but unfortunately, I wasn’t accepted into any marine programs for the upcoming fall semester. I decided to enroll at Clark Atlanta University (CAU) to pursue an MS in biological sciences. 

I wasn’t able to find a lab willing to take me at CAU, so I sent a few emails and found myself doing my MS thesis research at Georgia Tech on the multicellularity of snowflake yeast. Although my project had nothing to do with marine science, I was determined to keep pursuing my dream! I applied for graduate programs again and was accepted at the University of Georgia, where I’m currently studying oysters and sharks!

My past field seasons have taken me to the coast of Georgia to investigate the impacts of pH manipulation, a climate change stressor, on oyster larvae. I’m currently an intern at The Georgia Aquarium researching zebra shark egg case morphology. My most recent field season has taken me back to the coast of Georgia to participate in shark surveys and continue my climate change and oyster research.

Image of Leslie on a boat pulling in a long line with sharks on it with a huge smile on her face.

While I’m currently working on my graduate degree, I’m also part of an incredible organization called Black in Marine Science (BIMS). You can read more about BIMS at this link (

If I can leave readers with one piece of advice it would be to never stop dreaming or going after your passion, as Dory says, “just keep swimming”.  Find people in those careers you dream about and ask them ALL the questions, we’re always happy to answer them!

Leslie swimming in high school

Connect with Leslie Townsell

as Chief Operating Officer at BIMS,

IG and twitter: @MelanatedMarSci

Connect with BIMS

Twitter: @BlackinMarSci and Instagram via blackinmarinescience

Author: suzannecrmiller

Author of Queen, Wage, The Selections on Amazon, Fly on site and soon to be Souvenir through @Inkdedingray publishing

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