PhD Student Candace Fields Turned Her Love of Sharks into a Career

January 19, 2023

By Brandie Course

Candace Fields

One of Candace Fields’s favorite sea creatures is the great hammerhead shark. She can’t tell you why exactly, only that she’s always been fascinated by them. That initial fascination has expanded into a full-blown career in marine science.

“I always knew that I wanted to be a marine biologist, however, it wasn’t always clear exactly what I wanted to study,” Fields says. “I knew I loved being in or around the ocean, and I wanted to spend my career doing something related to the ocean. I have, however, always had a fascination with sharks for as long as I can remember, and I think it is very fitting that I am now pursuing a degree which allows me to learn more about and spend time with sharks!”

Fields is originally from Nassau, Bahamas, and spent most of her childhood there. She came to the United States for school when she was 14 and traveled back and forth between New England and The Bahamas until she was 22. She says that growing up in The Bahamas was one of the most influential parts of her interest in marine science.

“The ocean was only a few minutes away, so I spent a lot of time as a kid swimming and exploring,” Fields says. “Many Bahamians rely on the ocean for their livelihoods; seafood like conch and Nassau grouper are culturally important. I think that growing up surrounded by the ocean and understanding the importance of its inhabitants was made clear to me very early on.” As Fields grew older and became more serious as a scientist, she realized how few Bahamians were actually doing research in The Bahamas. Of those who were, few, if any, were focused on sharks.

“This inspired me to become a top tier scientist so that I could be a Bahamian voice speaking on the status of sharks and rays and their conservation and management,” Fields says.

After earning her B.S. in Neuroscience from Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, Fields spent two years at the Cape Eleuthera Institute in The Bahamas where she was a key member of the pelagic research team. She started as an intern and worked up to becoming a research assistant. While there, she assisted with several field- and lab-based projects, including sea turtle abundance monitoring, sea turtle diet analysis, deep sea baited remote underwater video station (BRUVS) analysis, and projects involving coastal and pelagic sharks.

“I really owe my career to CEI,” Fields says. “It was there that I was able to develop and continually improve my shark handling skills, my data management skills, and how to navigate the world of scientific research.”

Fields’s research focuses on population dynamics and geographic population structure of large predators, including oceanic whitetip sharks in particular. A passionate conservationist, she plans to use a combination of genetics and tracking to understand more about the critically endangered species with the hope of aiding in the recovery plan.

In her spare time, Fields likes spending time with her dog, Walker, and her nieces and nephews. She also enjoys SCUBA diving, snorkeling, playing golf, and watching television.

Fields thinks it’s important that people know that they don’t have to follow a specific trajectory or pursue a specific degree to have a career like hers. She advises those who are curious about a career in marine science to seek out opportunities to get hands-on experience in the field to see if their idea of the job and the reality of day-to-day experience in the field align.

“Each individual’s journey is different, and you have to take it in stride,” she says. “Most importantly, if you really think this is the career for you, don’t give up on your dream. And remember – only you know what’s right for you.”