Graduate Alumni Highlight | Caroline Benfer

Caroline Benfer

“I’m grateful for the opportunities I had while attending Hood; I couldn’t have asked for a better program.”

Caroline Benfer, M.S.'23


  • Environmental Biology (M.S.)


  • Biology

Caroline Benfer, M.S.’23, is a recent graduate of Hood College’s master’s in environmental biology program. Benfer is currently a research technician at Penn State University under Brad Cadinale, Ph.D., head of the department of ecosystem science and management. During her time in the environmental biology program, Benfer completed research in lobster sciences in collaboration with the Maine Department of Marine Resources, New Hampshire Fish and Game, Maine Maritime Academy and the Atlantic Offshore Lobsterman’s Association. Benfer also holds a B.S. in environmental science from Juniata College, and she is hoping to continue working in lobster sciences in the future. 

Could you briefly describe your career and educational background?

I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in environmental science from Juniata College in 2021. I immediately began my career at Hood College in the summer of 2021, working as a graduate research assistant while pursuing a Master of Science in environmental biology. I graduated in August 2023 from Hood, and now I’m working at Penn State as a research technician in the lab of Brad Cardinale, head of the department of ecosystem science and management.

I started my project working in collaboration with the Maine Department of Marine Resources, New Hampshire Fish and Game, Maine Maritime Academy and the Atlantic Offshore Lobsterman’s Association through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Grant that funded the project I was on. I also participated in an in-depth zooplankton identification course with Normandeau Associates.

What inspired you to study at Hood College?

I actually saw the position posted on the Ecological Society of America, which I was a part of in the local chapter level. I liked the feeling of the smaller school and the opportunity to earn my master’s while traveling to and working in Maine. A lot of opportunities came to me through working in the graduate research assistant position. I’m grateful for the opportunities I had while attending Hood; I couldn’t have asked for a better program.

What sort of environmental biology research do you specialize in?

While I was at Hood, my thesis project was on the large-scale distribution of lobster larvae and their distribution on the coastal bank of Maine. It gave me a really good insight and perspective on the lobster industry, fishing community and scientific work in the area. It could be summed up as “crustacean biology.” The information I learned at Hood has transferred over to this position at Penn State due to it still being applicable here.

How did you get invited to do a presentation on your research? What was it like?

I was able to present my thesis three times. The first time was in February 2023 in Portland, Maine, at the American Lobster Initiative Regional Lobster Research and Outreach Summit. In April 2023, Professor Eric Annis took our whole lab to the 51st Annual Benthic Ecology Meeting in Miami, Florida. Three of us did oral presentations, and one of us did a poster. I also went with Professor Annis to present at the 12th International Conference & Workshop on Lobster (and Crab) Biology and Management in Freemantle, Australia.

I was able to present in large part thanks to Professor Annis. He was excited to have me experience the conference, and I am truly grateful for his encouragement. Presenting went really well for me. Public speaking isn’t one of my strong suits, but you get better at it the more you do it. I felt pretty prepared, so I was pleased with how it went. I think I gave my best version of my thesis presentation in Australia. As they say, practice makes perfect!

What all did your thesis defense entail?

There was a lot of prep work for it. The thesis defense was a 45-minute presentation on everything that I had studied. I covered why I was studying lobsters and why the topic was important. The project that I presented on was the first time that the broad-scale area of Maine had undergone a survey on lobster larvae. We were able to assess the developmental stages of lobster and the seasonal peaks and trends of the larval lobster stages. 

After the conclusion of my presentation, it was another 45 minutes of questions from the committee members. The presentation was done over Zoom, as two of the three committee members were in Maine. It worked out well because a lot of the people I collaborated with as part of the project were able to tune in, along with family and friends. I thought it would be more stressful, but it went well overall.

What goals do you have for your career?

A tough question, but I hope to work for a state agency. The real question is whether my heart will send me off to Maine or if I will seek a job locally. I plan to continue researching and learning as much as I can. I’m in a challenging spot at the moment because the job at Penn State is a one-year contract position, so I am asking myself the same questions on future career moves. I’m pretty open-minded to opportunities, and there will always be a need to study these important ecosystems.

Do you have any advice for students interested in the environmental biology field?

My biggest advice would be something that I had been told while in undergrad: always say “yes” to opportunities, even if you aren’t sure where you want to end up studying or working. All of the skills you acquire are applicable to various fields, and you’ll meet fantastic people no matter what you are doing. You might just get the chance to visit and work in some truly beautiful places. 

Also, don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions like “why?” and “how?” when you’re interested in a topic. To me, that’s what science is all about—observing and understanding how something works and then figuring out what we can do to either improve or protect it. 

Are there any fun facts or trivia about yourself that you would like to share?

I try to get outside as much as possible. I enjoy snorkeling, kayaking, swimming, hiking, camping and just being outdoors with friends. I’m not much of a cold weather fan, so right now you can find me painting or reading in my apartment while being entertained by my two cats.

Inspired by Caroline’s accomplishments and experiences in the field of environmental biology? Ready to #GOFURTHER in your career? Learn more about Hood College’s graduate programs, such as environmental biology, by clicking here.