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Grit – Flow – Home: Elias Pitasky ’17 at Florida Institute of Technology’s Marine Laboratory in Vero Beach, FL

During our first cooperative education experience, the co-op office presented us with the ideas of grit and flow. They asked us what roles they played in the workplace and how we could change how we act there in order to make it more sustainable. Looking back, I am surprised to find that I had the same critiques regarding work and flow then as I do today. Why should I aim to “flow” through my job, when I should be enjoying every minute of it? Today, as my dad likes to remind me, a person has three homes—the house, the place of work, and the place of play/socialization. In my father’s idea of the world, the house is for sleeping, the place of work is for earning money, and the place of play seems to be code for the bar or coffee shop where one can go to socialize and unwind. In this world of three homes, a person would ideally spend his time in each home equally; sleeping in the house, gritting your teeth and flowing through the workplace, and finally enjoying oneself with friends and a beer/coffee.

As most things do to a twenty-one-year-old, this separation of homes seems questionable. I constantly find myself asking how I can enjoy being at my place of work as much as being in my place of play. Should there be no separation? What should I need to work on for it to be as enjoyable as my free time?

My theme for this co-op seems to be the question: how can I be happy? Throughout my life, my loved ones have constantly told me, “be sure you are doing something that you are passionate about,” so, for this co-op, I decided to work in marine research and conservation.

I am currently working with the Florida Institute of Technology’s Marine Laboratory in Vero Beach Florida. The lab’s mission is, “to develop new strategies for responsible aquaculture and educate the community about aquatic organisms through research demonstrations and hands-on learning programs.” The lab is conveniently placed directly on the beach, where it has direct access to seawater. This surprisingly unique property attracts many contractors who are interested in raising marine life. These contractors work on “unlocking the lifecycle” of many aquarium fish, such as the beautiful Blue Tang (Paracanthurus hepatus)—which many may know by the name Dory. Others work on producing algae known as Spirulina (Arthrospira platensis), which is used as a protein supplement around the world.

The lab is also conducting its own research. Currently, we are working on three main projects, one of which is studying how certain probiotics affect the growth of seahorses. My role in this project has been to learn how to use the software “Image J” and use it to measure the size of the seahorses. Once we collect enough data we can then use software like “R” to analyze it and see if there is a significant difference in growth rate.

In another one of our projects, we are attempting to gather more information on the elusive Diamondback Terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin). Florida law states that it is legal to consume two of these reptiles per day. We want to be sure that there are a sustainable number of terrapin in Florida waters. For this project, we are setting traps around Indian River County and counting the number of Terrapin that we find.

Our third project is the one that I am most excited about. I am currently leading the project to collect the gastrointestinal contents of lionfish from their non-native waters in-order to determine what they are eating. In order to do this, the Lab has had many stomachs sent to it, where I am currently photographing and preserving their contents. Once I have finished with this, I will take samples of tissue, and attempt to identify what species are being consumed based on the DNA.

As you can see from my rambling, I am incredibly excited about the work that I am doing and the people I am doing it with. I guess my parents were correct when they told me to find something that I am passionate about and pursue it. My place of work is slowly turning into my place of play.

Photo credit: https://www.fit.edu/

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