Science to Summits with Adventure Journalist ML Parker
Meet Marley, a professional photographer, videographer, writer, and adventurer. Marley utilizes her storytelling skills to promote science and the spirit of discovery through her company, ML Parker Media. Over the past five years, Marley has worked with a wide variety of people in all kinds of places—from southern Chile to the Galapagos Islands to the Canadian Rockies. She’s currently documenting marine scientists in Antarctica!
May this interview with Marley inspire you as it did me to live into the adventure, to pursue your passion, and to build an intentional community.
Tell us about yourself. Who are you? What inspires you? What drives you? What brings you joy?
I am most inspired by other strong women—people I know personally, and people I read about. I have bookshelves full of memoirs and non-fiction, and I find the most inspiration in stories of perseverance. Learning To Fly by Steph Davis is one of my favorites.
I also find a lot of inspiration in the people I surround myself with. When I first started rock climbing two years ago, a friend suggested I check out Progression. I nervously approached a really strong, intimidating-looking woman and asked if I could join her workout group. Two years later, that badass woman is one of my best friends.
Climbing at Progression has been transformative. We have an incredible community of people there. We host an organized workout every Wednesday evening (come check it out!) but we also push each other and support each other—in climbing and in life.
We are inspired by courageous women entrepreneurs! Tell us about your new business you just launched.
ML Parker Media is really similar to the work I have been doing for the past five years at UNC—helping scientists tell their stories and communicate technical, complex information in a way that anyone (not just people with PhDs) can understand and appreciate. It’s a great gig— I learn something new everyday, I meet incredible people, and I get to travel the world. So now I am taking all of those aspects and doing it independently. That means gearing up with everything I need and working with scientists and adventurers to help them communicate their work.
Right now I’m in Antarctica, documenting a team of marine scientists studying whales for the National Science Foundation. I’m maintaining a blog for the project (as well as publishing some cool stuff on my personal blog). I’m also posting lots of photos to Instagram - check out @insearchofminkes and @mlparkermedia for the latest!
I’ll be back in Chapel Hill at the end of March, then two months later I’ll take off again to spend the summer documenting oceanographic research on a ship in the South Pacific.
What motivated you to pursue an adventure lifestyle? Three years ago, I traveled to southern Chile to document a team of geophysicists installing seismometers on the Llaima volcano. It was my first time working as part of an expedition team, and it had a profound impact on the trajectory of my career. I had already been working in science communications for two years at that point, but there’s a big difference between reading a scientific paper about seismology versus holding volcanic ash in your hands. I loved the physicality of it—hiking up and down a volcano everyday is the best exercise you can get—as well as the intellectual stimulation of it—so many conversations about the science of volcanology and the forces of the planet.
I knew my life would be different when I got home from that trip. It was like a switch had flipped. I dedicated myself to anything and everything that could make me physically and mentally tougher, and more qualified for expedition work. I bought a pull-up bar, joined a rock climbing gym, got certified to scuba dive, attended a science writing workshop, learned to fly drones, and read massive books about geology and mountaineering.
What advice do you have for people wanting to pursue an adventure lifestyle?
Get out there, even if “out there” is your backyard.
When I got back from Chile, I knew I wanted to get into mountaineering—but the east coast is a bit devoid of snow-covered mountains. Instead of enrolling in a mountaineering course on the other side of the country, I signed up for a half marathon in the Smoky Mountains (I even convinced my best friend to do it with me!) We had run a full marathon together a couple years earlier, but this was way better—I loved the rocky trails and epic views. Afterwards, we sat around a campfire talking to the race director, Sean Blanton. I mentioned that I was a videographer, and told him about my work in Chile. That was all it took—a month later, I was back in the mountains filming for him. Meeting Sean was a big game changer for becoming more immersed in the adventure lifestyle—and I’m still filming races for him.
Little experiences can help fuel big dreams. Living in North Carolina means I can’t summit an ice-capped volcano every weekend, but I can drive three hours to hike some steep trails in the Black Mountains. Or if I don’t have time to drive out to the mountains, I can do a hill sprint workout in my neighborhood. Something—whether it’s running hills or trying hard at the climbing gym or doing a short weekend camping trip— is better than nothing.
What is your life mission?
If my gravestone can only have five words, I hope it will say: she was a good friend. As a young, single woman starting a business and pursuing all kinds of crazy adventures, I like to believe I can be totally self-reliant. But the reality is I couldn’t do half of the things I do if I didn’t have a bunch of incredible people supporting me. So a big part of my mission in life is to give back what I get from my community—an abundance of love and support.
What is one thing you’re proud of that you would never put on a resume?
I climbed Mount Shasta with my best friend last summer. Honestly though, I would put that on my resume. When someone is considering hiring me for a big expedition, I’m pretty sure summiting a 14,000+ peak in the Cascades qualifies as relevant work experience. I think I’m done with traditional resumes. When I left UNC, I left behind all the standard 9 to 5 business culture. Eventually I want my resume to consist of three categories—air, water, and land—with a list of experiences and skill sets that pertain to each element.
What are you excited about right now?
ANTARCTICA! Before this trip, I spent months wondering how I would feel when I finally got to the bottom of the world—seeing Antarctica for the first time! What would that be like? I’ve only been here for a few days, but the thing that has struck me hardest is the depth of this place. Antarctica is like the ocean—vast and seemingly infinite—and it hits you in waves.
What’s your favorite local outdoor place to explore?The Black Mountains! If you want to get away from everything, see the most beautiful mountains on the east coast, and meet some warm, welcoming people, drive west on I-40 until you hit exit 86, then follow the signs to Mt. Mitchell State Park. Instead of turning left on the Blue Ridge Parkway, continue straight for another three miles until you reach Albert’s Adventure Inn. Tell them Marley sent you :)
Bonus question: What is the most daring thing you have done in the last 6 months?
Quit my job and start my own business. Being an independent media producer is not an easy path, and I know I’m going to encounter some challenging learning experiences over the next year or so. I’ve told several people that I’m going to give the whole self-employment thing a good go of it. And if a year or two down the road I decide I’m not happy—if it’s too stressful or not enough money or whatever—I can always go apply for another traditional job.
But in my gut, deep down, I feel like this is it. I know it won’t be easy but I have a feeling I might end up doing this for a long time.