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Rip Current Awareness Week: Spotlight on South Carlina Sea Grant Extension Specialist Michael Slattery

South Carolina Sea Grant Coastal Processes Extension Specialist

You are a Coastal Processes Specialist, what is one thing everyone needs to know about rip currents?

Many beach visitors believe that rip currents are easy to spot and may rely on their perceived ability to avoid getting caught in a rip current to deal with the threat.  However, it’s more important to know that rip currents cannot pull you under water if you can relax.

What is something cool you learned while working on rip current outreach?

Rip currents can be formed in several ways.  They can be formed by nearshore sand bars, reefs, long-period waves or your typical surf waves.

What drove you to work on coastal hazards outreach?

There is so much more information available in the scientific community than what is effectively conveyed to the public.  All the hazards information in the world does the general population no good if they have to read scientific journals to find the information.

What is your favorite part about being a Sea Grant Extension agent?

There’s nothing more exciting than to help foster the application of scientific findings.

What is the biggest challenge you face at your job?

It’s often difficult to start lines of communication with the general public.  When you’re dealing with coastal hazards, your target group is, potentially, every person in the world (through recreation or residence).  It’s a daunting task to come up with new and effective methods of communication.

What part of your job did you least expect to be doing?

It never occurred to me that so much of outreach in connecting with the public could cross-over with industry and politics.  It’s been fascinating meeting publicly elected officials.

How did you get involved with Sea Grant? When did you join Sea Grant?

I first got involved with Sea Grant during my Ph.D. program when Sea Grant funded a portion of my research into rip currents.  Specifically they funded applying the SWAN wave model I was using for rip current work to hindcasting past storms that impacted the Long Island southshore in New York.

When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in science?

I had always leaned towards the sciences even as a small child.  I had decided on a career in science by the time I was 8.  By the time I was 11 I had picked out a college and a major.

What’s at the top of your recommended reading list for someone wanting to explore a career in science?

That’s an interesting question.  It really depends on what kind of science a person is interested in pursuing.  If you have a general interest in “where we all came from,” Stephen Hawking’s book A Brief History of Time is great.  If you like genetics The Beak of the Finch by Jonathan Weiner and for cellular biology The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot are both great.  I don’t recall reading much in the way of “real” science growing up, but I did love Gary Paulson, Jack London and J.R.R. Tolkien. 

And how about a personal favorite book?

I first read the Lord of the Rings when I was 12 and have read everything from Tolkien since (including re-reading LoTR a couple of dozen times).  I also really love Grapes of Wrath.

Do you have an outside hobby?

I guess it could be considered an unfortunate stereotype, but I collect/read comic books (DC mainly, I got my first Green Lantern comic when I was 5), do some online gaming, play the flute and some assorted percussion and collect coins.

What surprised you most about working at Sea Grant?

The vast network of personnel resources among the 33 Sea Grant agencies was shocking to me.  I couldn’t believe how many people they have dedicated to not only cutting-edge scientific research, but also focused on guaranteeing those results get packaged in a way that creates actionable plans for the general public.

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