We had the good fortune of connecting with Hannah Medd and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Hannah, can you walk us through the thought-process of starting your business?
I had often said in the past, the world doesn’t need another nonprofit until I decided to start my own. I had heard the horror stories of all the organizations that failed despite being started and run by the most dedicated and passionate people. I was terrified, which is probably why it took me so long to make the American Shark Conservancy official (not to mention my fear of commitment in general). But I knew I had a way to help make our oceans healthier through studying sharks and I knew that teaching other people to think critically about environmental issues would really make an impact. In fact, it was all I could think about. I had worked for a large nonprofit for a few years where I never felt I had a voice, my ideas were largely ignored and my skillset as a scientist was downplayed. They were the most frustrating years of my life. I was doing my dream job and yet I knew I could do more with people that I respected and wanted to work with so I left that job and took a little break. I volunteered with other groups, I reached out to organizations that I admired, I thought long and hard about what I could really contribute. I didn’t and still don’t, want to waste time or resources to do anything that doesn’t actually contribute to making our future a little brighter. With the support of amazing colleagues and friends and family, we established ASC 4 years ago because I realized that if we were smart about asking for help, as an independent research and outreach organization, we could build bridges between the industries and individuals that rely on the ocean and sharks for the livelihood and recreation. We could navigate the motivations of many very different groups to ensure a sustainable future for sharks and our oceans. We are constantly reevaluating how we do this but that is what makes us valuable. I guess the world did need another nonprofit after all.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
It may not be common knowledge but working in science is hard. Schooling is getting more and more expensive and competitive and the job market in the US is a tiny pool of state and federal government positions. After years of studying and engaging in the reality of my subject matter, marine biology focused mainly on sharks, outside of academia I also began to realize that working in science as a woman is extra hard. My masters thesis supervisor warned me not to get pregnant when in grad school because it would ruin my career. He went on to publish my work without me and in general, prove to be a pretty crappy person. I have been lucky to avoid some of the very worst of the prejudice against women in this field, but there is something insidious about constantly being asked “Who do you work with?” by mostly males who are not satisfied until I provide some name of a Dr. XXX that satisfies their disbelief that women could be engaged independently in the type of work we do. I have been a professional for 12 years, and yet I still face another obstacle…I do not have a PhD, I ONLY have a Master’s degree. I have been overlooked as a subject matter expert on the subjects I study because people want to hear from a “Dr.”, whether or not they have any real knowledge. I have noticed this in media inquiries, in academia, and mostly in interactions with the public. So, this is where a little maturity helps as I stand firm and insist that although I do not have a Ph.D., I can provide solid insight into certain issues. And all of this fuels me to keep moving forward with our work. The proof is in the pudding, as my mom would say. Our work, researching the apex predators of the ocean, working with fishermen and divers, providing data for regulations, all speaks for itself. That is what we are proud of and we continue to support the recruitment and retention of women in STEM through our internship and mentorship opportunities.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
All of south Florida is a playground for those that love the ocean. I would plan a week of diving, snorkeling, fishing, kayaking, paddleboarding and just snoozing on the beach with a cold drink.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
A huge part of our recent growth has had to do with the support of Cassandra Scott and Shara Teter from Fin Alliance. Their encouragement and dedication to collaboration for the sake of doing what is best for our planet has not only been an inspiration but has been critical to the development of some of our community projects.