Chelsea Harms-Touhy 

(Florida Institute of Technology)

The Fish Biologist | 40 Under 40 Class of 2020

FAST FACTS

  • Style Icon
    The artist and outdoorsy woman, Rachel Pohl. I love her fit, comfy style!
     

  • Favorite Food
    Homemade flour tortillas
     

  • Vacation Destination
    Raja Ampat to dive!

GET TO KNOW CHELSEA

Chelsea Harms-Tuohy loves the ocean and has for as long as she can remember. By age 11, she decided she would dedicate her life to helping preserve it and its inhabitants. Today, she is living out her dreams as fish biologist, independent scientist and business owner in the waters of Puerto Rico. Read her extended interview to learn more about her unconventional journey. 

EXTENDED INTERVIEW

What inspired you to go into this line of work?

I am an empathetic person, and I fell in love with the ocean and decided I wanted my career to be centered around what I could do to help preserve it. I have always believed that every single person can make a difference. This was my calling to do so.

 

What challenge did you overcome to get where you are today?

Well, after graduating, I had to figure out what exactly I wanted to do with my career. Throughout graduate school, I had thought my goal was to become a professor. After discussions with my advisors, I learned I should take a second look at that to understand if it would really fit my goals, especially because it would mean I would have to move away from the life I had built in Puerto Rico (the one where I got to spend the majority of time in the ocean). So instead, I had to learn how to use my skillset to create my own job — a very non-traditional job in science — which also meant that I had to learn how to run a business, market myself, understand finances, use social media, design my own website and advertisements, videos, etc. It was a lot! But once I got into the groove, it’s like second nature and that hard work has paid off. My career as an independent scientist continues to evolve, but I now know exactly what I want that to look like, and I can direct my future projects and interests to best support those goals.

 

Did someone help you get to where you are today, like a mentor?

First off, I have to say that my family was always extremely supportive of my career choice, even though they knew the moment I went away to school in Florida meant I would never be moving back to Texas. From there, I moved to Puerto Rico, even further away, yet they were supportive of that decision and have been my cheerleaders through it all. My master’s and Ph.D. advisors were also extremely influential in setting the course to get me where I am today. My Masters advisor especially, who became more like family to my husband and I, really helped promote our science business and encouraged us to take that leap of faith into uncharted territory in this field. My Ph.D. advisor and my committee were the ones that really asked me to consider what I truly enjoyed doing in science and to not limit myself to strictly academia if my goals and desires would not align with that position. I’m so grateful for their advice.

 

What do you love most about your job?

I love the opportunity to be in the field, working underwater is truly an amazing experience and you see something new every day! I also love getting to teach students in a nontraditional setting, training them in the skills they need to pursue careers like this, too.

Early Bird or Night Owl

Mountains or Beach

Cats or Dogs

Apple or Android

Stripes or Polka Dots

Describe yourself in three words.  

Creative, empathetic and perseverant.

 

Your life philosophy is…

It is inspired by a quote that I like by Oscar Wilde: “To live is the rarest thing in the world, most people just exist.” Over the years, I came to realize how true this statement is and that has really shaped my life in terms of what I value, how I developed my work ethic and how I choose to spend my time.

 

What is the best piece of advice you received?

Don’t wait for the right time to do something because that time will never come. Instead, go after what you want with all your heart and energy. Don’t let fear stop you from facing challenges and trying new things.

 

If someone handed you an airline ticket to a place of your choosing, where would you go and why?

Iceland to see the beautiful landscape and scuba dive between the two continental plates. I’d also go because I spend my life in warm places, but arctic countries are just as breathtakingly beautiful.

 

What’s something you cannot live without?

A sense of purpose and my faith, but also clean sheets – I love going to sleep on soft, fresh clean sheets.

 

Name a book you read that positively shaped you.

“The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho. I randomly reread it every year because the message seems to find a new way to influence me at different stages in life.

 

If you weren’t working in the industry that you are, what would you be doing instead?

I have several things that interest me, including graphic design, learning how to use medicinal plants and herbs, curating a biological collection, geology, interior design, biological illustration…

 

How do you unwind or relax after a long day?

Relaxing on my porch with a cold beer surrounded by my loved ones and pets. Moments like these usually transition into deeper discussions about defining life’s purpose, and I just love it.

 

The most rewarding aspect of your job is…

Communicating science to the public and mentoring students! I love the opportunities to explain what I do to a general audience, especially if I can physically show people the beauty of the ocean. And, I love to mentor students and help set them on the path they want in STEM fields, especially to be able to show them that there is life after the Ph.D., and it doesn’t always have to be in a traditional academic setting.

 

If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it – metaphorically speaking, getting a message out to millions or billions – what would it say and why?

“You are changing the climate. Listen, educate yourself, make a difference now!” Climate change is ultimately going to define the future of the entire human population, and it’s disgusting and depressing that we – the world united – don’t seem to care. It’s important that every person understand how connected we are with nature and how our every move impacts someone and something else as well as ourselves. I wish I had the influence to change people’s behaviors on a broader scale, but I understand that even just redirecting one person’s view about this can have a cascading positive impact.

 

In the last five years, what new belief, behavior or habit has most improved your life?

Mindfulness. When I started practicing yoga, that brought about a desire to learn to meditate, which brought me deeper in prayer with God. I learned patience, which was something I didn’t have before. I also learned to value and make time to do nothing. This has helped me countless times, especially in moments of financial stress or, more recently, in processing unexpected health issues of family members. This has also helped me define success in my career and value what I have in the present moment.

 

When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do?

When overwhelmed, I go to God in prayer. I find stillness and meditate. Or sometimes I just need to physically release all those emotions! When unfocused, I stop and go do something completely unrelated so I can use my energy elsewhere while I give my mind a break from whatever was needing my full attention. Then, I start fresh the next day.

 

What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be money, time, energy, etc.)

Yoga teacher training, because it gave me the background I need to foster my own personal practice and also, for the years that I was regularly teaching, I met some wonderful people and had some amazing opportunities to help men and women find what they were looking for through yoga. Also, my graduate education because it opened many doors of opportunity and allowed me to build a beautiful network of amazing colleagues that I work with regularly.

Name a confident woman of character who you look up to? Why her?

My friend Leslie Wade. She is the perfect example of a woman who has made the decision to limit her impact on the environment, and she influences others to do the same in a very respectful way by setting the example rather than preaching. She always has a positive attitude and always asks how you’re doing. She is truly caring and genuine.