Deborah Bronk

Class of '92

Current employer: Professor of physical sciences at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, College of William and Mary (since 2000); Department of Physical Sciences chairwoman 2016 to present.

Degree: Marine-Estuarine-Environmental Sciences (MEES), PhD, 1992

Lab: Horn Point Laboratory

Adviser: Pat Gilbert 

What do you do in your current job? Today, instead of being a student in the classroom, Deborah is at the front of the room, teaching physical sciences at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science at the College of William and Mary. She also serves as division director for the Division of Ocean Sciences at the National Science Foundation. Her students inspire her, which is important because Deborah says “the ocean is facing a lot of serious challenges and needs bright scientists to face those challenges.”

How did your time at UMCES prepare you for your career? Deborah learned one of her most important life lessons while at UMCES: never give up. For the first three years that she was a student, all her experiments failed. Deborah was trying to develop a new chemical method to isolate dissolved organic nitrogen from seawater, but nothing seemed to be working. Deborah turned to her advisor, Pat Glibert, who told her to keep trying and not give up. Pat was the reason that Deborah was interested in UMCES. Her reputation inspired Deborah to apply to the program—and to work at the Horn Point Lab—and Deborah doesn’t have any regrets. At UMCES, the faculty challenged her and gave her confidence, and she felt a sense of community within each of the labs.

What’s your advice for current and prospective students? As a professor herself, Deborah advises students to really get to know the faculty and get their help and input every chance you get. “At the end of the day, the faculty is really the institution,” she said. “The more people who see your work and talk to you about it, and question it, the stronger it will be.” She tells students to take advantage of the great facilities they have access to at UMCES.