November BLaST Scientist of the Month

BLaST Scholar Sarah Dempsey preparing to assist in telemetry tracking in Togiak National Wildlife Refuge.
Photo by K. Hilwig
BLaST Scholar Sarah Dempsey preparing to assist in telemetry tracking in Togiak National Wildlife Refuge.

Since 2016, the Biomedical Learning and Student Training program at UAF has highlighted scientists from all biomedical fields through its Scientist of the Month articles. BLaST Scholar and UAF biology undergraduate student Sarah Dempsey was selected as the November 2023 BLaST Scientist of the Month. To read more about BLaST's monthly Scientist of the Month series, visit their website.

Sarah Dempsey, a third-year BLaST Scholar and senior at UAF, is pursuing a Bachelor of Science degree in Wildlife Biology and Conservation with a minor in Marine Science. She grew up in Maryland and plans to move back to the east coast to attend graduate school to study marine ecology. Some of her hobbies include baking, reading, film photography, fishing, hiking, and playing rugby.

For the past two years, Dempsey has been working in Shawn Crimmins’ lab in the U.S. Geological Survey-Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at UAF. Their research team performed a resource selection function on twenty years of moose telemetry data from Togiak National Wildlife Refuge in southwest Alaska.

Dempsey shared, “using this data, we tested for a relationship between cow’s habitat selection and their lifetime calf survival rate.” Dempsey has presented her research at UAF’s Midnight Sun Science Symposium (2022), One Health, One Future Conference (2023), and statewide at the Western Alaska Interdisciplinary Science Conference (2023), and nationally at the Alaska Chapter of the Wildlife Society Annual Meeting (2023). Through this project, Dempsey has discovered a passion for quantitative research, and she is grateful for the improvement in her statistical analysis and RStudio skills. She is working with her mentors on finishing a manuscript for the research project and plans to submit to a national journal.

Dempsey has had the privilege of being mentored by multiple excellent people. “Sebastian Zavoico (UAF Ph.D. student in Biology) has taught me a great deal about science and statistics, and I always enjoy our discussions. I appreciate Dr. Shawn Crimmins’ open door and his honest feedback. Both Sebastian and Shawn have been great supporters by continually pointing me in the right direction while allowing me to make my own mistakes.” Zavoico shared about Dempsey, "Sarah has a palpable passion for science and animals and is a voracious learner. She is a joy to mentor and I'm excited for all she has ahead of her."

Dempsey also thanked Emily Sousa, “who has been a great mentor and friend. She was my RAMP when I started at BLaST and was very helpful…everything from figuring out travel logistics to recommending a good camping spot. Ellen Chenoweth is my current RAMP, and I look forward to our weekly meetings. She has been incredible in planning for the future and finding opportunities.”

Dempsey also thanks UAF faculty of Wildlife Biology Dr. Todd Brinkman, and BLaST staff Jen Lu and Lori Gildehaus for their advice and continued support. Dempsey also provides peer-mentoring support through her position as president for the student chapter of the Wildlife Society at UAF. Dempsey shared, “I have valued being in a position where I can help other undergraduate students navigate college and in the world of research.”

Any questions about this or any BLaST Scientist of the Month articles, please contact Amy Topkok.