Swimming with Sharks in the Name of LEADership


Did you know you’re more likely to be killed by a vending machine than a shark? “Yeah, you’re more likely to be killed by a cow or a bolt of lightning, too – there’s all these fun statistics,” shared Lizzy Glazer (Robertson ’26). Lizzy would know. She spent part of her winter break researching sharks in the Maldives on a Robertson LEAD Grant.

Leadership Enhancement and Development grants or LEAD Grants are ways for Robertsons to explore their curiosities outside of the classroom. “It’s an incredible resource to be able to take part in something you wouldn’t normally do. A LEAD Grant allows you to take that step and do something that really furthers your leadership and pushes you out of your comfort zone.” For Lizzy, a double major in Neuroscience and Marine Science & Conservation, that meant swimming with sharks.

“I took a gap year after graduating High School to study marine science and I loved it so much, and missed it a bit my first year in college. So, for spring break last year I used a LEAD Grant to go to Hawaii and do some marine conservation work there. I realized what an awesome resource LEAD Grants are, and I was excited to use one again this year.” Robertsons have access to up to $1,000 each academic year for a LEAD Grant. When Lizzy was searching for marine research opportunities she found a once-in-a-lifetime workshop based in the Maldives looking into sharks.

“Most of my research experience has been whales and dolphins, but I don’t have much experience doing shark research. But I do scuba dive, and I knew that was something I wanted to incorporate into my scientific research. This particular workshop did a lot of scientific diving, which is utilizing scuba diving to be able to gain information about sharks and other marine animals.” Each day of the workshop, Lizzy would complete three dives with her teammates – fellow students from around the world interested in marine science.

“I was the only undergrad, but there were quite a few Masters students and PhD candidates – a lot of them were from an Italian university, but I also got to meet people from Germany, and Slovakia, and Mozambique. It was really cool to get to meet people from around the world and learn about their research.”

During the workshop, Lizzy and her fellow researchers lived aboard a dive boat for two weeks studying sharks. In between dives, they’d listen to lectures and work on team projects to help drive the research forward, “I learned a ton, everything from proper juvenile shark handling for tagging to underwater research methods of laser photogrammetry, which is a method where you have two laser beams a certain distance apart and while you’re diving you raise your laser beams up against a shark’s body and it tells you how big the shark is.”

In addition to getting close to the sharks, Lizzy was able to connect with some of the world’s most renown shark experts, “I think something that is a bit unique about the marine science world is that even the experts and professionals are very humble and calm, and very willing to communicate with students. We would joke around, we would eat at the same table, and it didn’t feel like there was a hierarchy, which I think is pretty special. I really got to know these really well-known researches pretty well, and now I can consider them my friends. One of the shark researchers was actually my dive buddy, so you know I had to trust them with my life. It’s pretty cool to have that different kind of connection rather than just a regular student and professor relationship.”

For Lizzy, this LEAD Grant experience helped her gain confidence as a leader, “I was around people who were much older than me, and if you compare resumes obviously they’re much more experienced. But I was able to help lead our team in different ways, we all were stepping up into unique roles, helping each other, and learning.”

“I’ve always been passionate about marine science, but it wasn’t until recently that I thought it could be more than something I loved. I didn’t really think of it as a career, but being able to take courses here at Duke and traveling abroad has allowed me to see that there’s things I can do utilizing my marine sciences background and I can make a difference,” she reflected.

She credits her LEAD Grant experiences for helping her make that realization, “I would just encourage younger Robertsons to use LEAD Grants as a way to step out of their comfort zone – especially when it comes to travel. I think you can gain so much through travel and it was really life changing to be surrounded by different people and experts, even though I was probably the least experienced it was the best thing I could do. I was able to learn so much from the people I was surrounded by, so I really encourage everyone to push themselves into uncomfortable situations. I think that’s where you learn the most.”