Matt Whalen


What sparked your interest in Environmental Science?

I’ve always been interested in the natural world, but I never thought about it as something I could study professionally. I had also done well in science and math classes in primary and secondary school (shout out to my amazing physics teacher, Deborah Roudebush!), but I had little sense of what I might be able to do with the rational view of the world I was developing. In college, I started off studying music theory and anthropology because I saw an opportunity to learn something completely different from what had been the focus of my academic upbringing. My exposure to hominid evolution and behavior, archaeology, and modern human cultures led me to think more deeply about how populations and societies evolved and continue to adapt to the environment. It wasn’t until I took several introductory biology classes that I realized that studying the natural world was my calling. I was inspired by the sheer diversity of life on Earth, by the huge and sometimes cataclysmic changes that have taken place over Earth’s history, and by the power of simple, elegant experiments for help us uncover patterns in nature and their mechanisms. My classes in aquatic ecology (Dr. Greg Capelli, RIP) and invertebrate biology (Dr. Cindy van Dover) advanced my knowledge of the worlds I had glimpsed during my childhood living on temperate, subtropical, and tropical coastlines around the Northern Hemisphere. I think it was a combination of a privileged upbringing and great public school teachers that opened my eyes to science.

 As an undergraduate, had you always imagined yourself attending graduate school? How did you make the decision to continue school and pursue your PhD?

 No. Even after graduating, I was skeptical about the possibility of finding a job in science. This was largely my own fault for not doing more research to learn what possibilities might exist, but I really didn’t think grad school was for me. Plus, most of the grad students I’d met at that point didn’t seem very happy or confident in their job prospects.

I took some time off after undergrad and started working full time at the same hotel I’d worked at during my last few years of college. Shortly thereafter, a good friend got a job working at the marine lab associated with our school – just like Bodega Marine Laboratory (BML) is part of UC Davis, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) is part of the College of William & Mary. Brian was working on a field crew that monitored the growth and survival of different experimental breeds of oysters that were growing around the Chesapeake Bay. I begged my friend him to drop my name and to let me know as soon as he heard anything about another job. A temp job opened up on the field crew a few months later and I landed it! One of my new co-workers, Adeline, and I remembered each other from a time I visited VIMS to collect organisms for the lab section of my invertebrate biology class. My interest in the tunicates that grew all over the mesh bags that housed her oysters had astonished her, so much so that she nicknamed me “Sea Squirt Boy.” Also, Adeline is French, so the nickname just rolled off her tongue. I loved working with this crew. While I admit that I felt badly whenever I had to knock tunicates off of the oyster bags with a broom handle or a power washer, which was almost daily, I really valued everything I learned on that job about field work, aquaculture, oyster biology, and Chesapeake Bay natural history. Tunicates be dammed! Just kidding…I’m really sorry, little guys!

While I was working with the oyster aquaculture field crew, I heard about another job at VIMS that would end up being my entrée to graduate school. The advert was for a marine ecology technician job working for Dr. Emmett Duffy. His lab website mentioned crustacean biology, food webs, and the consequences of biodiversity for the functioning of ecosystems. I told myself I had to get this job because these were just the same topics that had so inspired me in my aquatic ecology and invertebrate biology classes. I pestered Emmett though email to ask about interviews, and I showed up to my interview in muddy jeans and a t-shirt after working with oysters all morning. Emmett and his lab manager, Paul Richardson, thought this was apropos, and also pretty funny because the previous candidate had worn a three-piece suit. The rest was a wild ride of lab and field work. I helped run experiments, I used scientific equipment to collect data that someone would actually use, and I learned to love amphipods. I still sometimes think about all of the amphipods that I identified and counted, how I dreamt about them, how I found them dried up in my pockets, and how I imagined all of the characters of Lord of the Rings being played by amphipods (I listened to the whole trilogy on tape while counting). In the end, I wanted more. I wanted to ask my own questions and run my own experiments. This is when I decided to go to graduate school, but I still wasn’t sure I needed a PhD to get what I wanted out of life. But, after finishing my Master’s degree with Emmett at VIMS three years later, I know I need to stay on this ride and see how fast and far I could go.

Your research is focused on stability and function of ecological communities, how did this become your main focus?

I think it goes back to my first ecology classes and to the impressions that Emmett Duffy and his lab left on me early in my career. Thinking about the natural world as a living system lets us ask how and why life evolves and interacts in the splendid mosaic that we see around us. Why are there so many species in some ecosystems and not others? How does the diversity of life on earth influence global cycles of water, carbon, nitrogen, and other elements that help regulate Earth’s climate, along with primary and secondary productivity that humans rely on for sustenance? Questions like this are fundamental to our understanding of planet Earth, and I think community ecology presents a major challenge to linking organismal biology to global phenomena because ecological communities themselves are so diverse and seemingly unique. Community ecology may also hold a key to understanding these linkages across these scales, and this becomes even more important as we think about the change that living systems experience as a result of globalization and climate change. Bottom line, I am endlessly fascinated by these questions.

I also have to admit the reason I focus on communities and ecosystems rather than on particular organisms is that I enjoy the stimulus of seeing new places and asking how they are similar and different. I moved every 3-4 years growing up, until I graduated college, and I was always exposed to new, far flung places each time we moved. How were the beaches I saw in San Diego different from those in England, and why did they have different things washing up on them? What about the mangroves I climbed and crawled through in the Florida Keys and later in Hawai’i? What about the invertebrate and fish communities I saw underwater in all these places? These early observations were not formed or even informed by an academic framework, but they provided the initial spark for me to think about species living in communities. 

If you could give any piece of advice to undergraduate students who are interested in Ecology and Marine Science, what would it be?

It’s likely that if you make a career path in these fields, it will not be very lucrative. However, there seem to be more and more jobs related to ecology and marine sciences these days, many of which are outside of academia.

Even if you don’t end up in a career directly related to ecology or marine sciences, I think these scientific disciplines are well worth pursuing as part of a well-rounded education. Both are highly interdisciplinary, pulling in principles and tools from many corners of science. In this way, you will be able to see the value and application of science in the real world. These disciplines also offer unique perspectives on nature, and our place in it, because they stress the interconnectedness of processes that operate on different scales to produce large scale patterns. These perspectives can be valuable whether your livelihood is in manufacturing, technology, trade, farming, medicine, or other service to huge manatees (I mean sea pigs. Wait, no, humanity).

James Sanchirico


James N. Sanchirico is currently a Professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy, and Associate Director of the Coastal and Marine Science Institute at UC Davis. His main research interests include the economic analysis of policy design, implementation, and evaluation for marine and terrestrial species conservation, and the development of economic-ecological models for forecasting the effects of resource management policies.

How did you first get involved with the Resources for the Future organization in Washington DC? 

When I was an undergraduate I was interested in Environmental and Natural Resource Economics. While doing my honor’s thesis, I stumbled across writings from various researchers at Resources for the Future (RFF) in Washington DC, and they really made an impression on me. Resources for the Future is an independent, non-partisan think tank that was created during Truman administration. My first job out of graduate school was at RFF where I developed a research program in marine resource economics. I was known as the fish guy. What attracted me to RFF was its balance of academic rigor and engagement in the policy process. I am currently a University Fellow at RFF and still collaborate with many of my old colleagues. 

Why did you attended the University of London when you were an undergraduate? 

I did a quarter of study abroad at the University of London because there was a pioneering professor in environmental and natural resource economics, David Pearce, whose research was intriguing and inspiring. 

What drew you back to Davis after you received your Ph.D.? 

I was drawn back to Davis because I was beginning to feel in Washington that I could only do so much with the current set of policy-makers and I felt like I needed a new challenge professionally. Returning to UC Davis, where I did my Ph.D, gave me an opportunity to address both issues. That is, I realized working with the talented undergraduate and graduate students at UC Davis would provide a wonderful opportunity to engage with the next generation of leaders. Also the high-quality of my colleagues at UC Davis would present me with new opportunities. 

Many people are concerned with the current rates of exploitation in the oceans; what does your research have to say about developing potential solutions for these issues? 

My research comes at this problem from many different angles in an attempt to address the many facets of the issue. For example, I investigate how demand for certified sustainable seafood in many developed countries, like the US and Europe, creates voluntary incentives for fishermen in small rural fishing communities to change their fishing practices. For example, I have ongoing projects in the Philippines and in Indonesia. Related work looks at how to develop management institutions in these communities to ensure that changes to sustainable practices are durable and benefit both the marine ecology and their economic conditions. Another strand of my research sets out to measure the impact of the current suite of policies being used to manage commercial fisheries; this research mostly focus on fisheries in the United States with projects in the Gulf of Mexico and in the North Pacific.    

What has been the most rewarding experience since you returned to UC Davis?  

There have been so many rewarding experiences since I came back. A couple of things that stands out are when undergraduates email me out of the blue and say that my classes have really helped them in the careers or when my graduate students receive honors for their dissertation research. 

Brady O'Donnell


Brady O’Donnell is a graduate student close to completing his Masters of Science in Geology. As well as a being a full-time student and Teacher’s Assistant on the UC Davis campus, he is also a member of The Hill Biogeochemistry Lab Group at Bodega Marine Laboratory.

How did you become interested in studying climate change biochemistry?

As an undergraduate, I was studying Environmental Science and Political Science, but as I shifted over to a graduate career, I became more focused on anthropogenic influence on marine environments. I wanted to study human impact on climate change, which is why I am now in the climate change biochemistry field. To me, studying climate change was the next step toward making a difference.

As a biochemist, I specifically research the carbon sequestration of California sea-grass beds (also known as California eelgrass). This topic of research occurs in other parts of the world like Australia, and parts of Florida, but it’s a rather uncommon field in California. I extract sediment cores that are about 20-30 centimeters long, and measure the levels of carbon within the cores, and compare and contrast the cores from different estuaries throughout California.

Why did you choose UC Davis for graduate school?  

I was interested in being a part of a graduate program in California, since my research is specific to California sea-grass. It was also the Bodega Marine Lab that became a major point of interest when I was looking toward pursuing my Masters. Ultimately, I chose Davis because of my adviser, Tessa Hill. The scientific questions her research presented intrigued me because not only does Dr. Hill have such a broad perspective and open mind, but she is also so engaged with stakeholders outside of her lab. This opportunity to cultivate connections with people outside of our research is how we can institute the change we strive to see.

What is it like to balance being a student pursuing your Masters in Geology while at the same time researching at the Bodega Marine Laboratory?

At times it can be challenging to balance the split between two seemingly very different academic fields: Geology and Marine Science. However, I have found that the benefits far outweigh the challenges. I encounter geologists and marine ecologists on the daily basis, and this broad network has presented me with many wonderful opportunities. I am able to discuss current issues or events with people of different fields which has definitely shaped me into a more well-rounded researcher, student, and individual.

Throughout your years as a team member of organizations like NOAA and Point Blue Conservation Science, are there any specific experiences that come to mind that made a significant impact on your life as a student and researcher?

I loved my experience with Point Blue. I was able to be a part of a couple different cruises that travelled around the San Francisco Bay and Sausalito, doing research that aligned with NOAA. At times it was surprising to see a non-profit organization and government program work so comfortably together. I remember there would be team of people on the back deck collecting data on plankton, while an entirely different team would be on the top deck observing and studying marine birds. I saw an excellent partnership between Point Blue and NOAA, and because of this, all of the individuals on the cruise were able to document current California marine issues while still remaining so passionate about marine science.

What advice would you give to a student who is interested in marine and coastal sciences?

Take advantage of any opportunity you can! Take a class trip out to the Bodega Marine Laboratory, or participate in research and labs on campus. The ocean itself is so vast and interdisciplinary, which means there are a multitude of topics and research opportunities. As a student studying marine and coastal science, always be open to listen to professors within your department that you might not regularly encounter. There is so much knowledge to be uncovered, so don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone to seek out information.


Ronald Tjeerdema


Ronald Tjeerdema is Associate Dean for Environmental Sciences in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. He completed his Ph.D. at UC Davis, and returned in 1999 to be a professor in the Department of Environmental Toxicology. 

Tell us a little bit about your background. How did you come to get involved in science?

Growing up, I was always interested in the great outdoors and loved spending time in the mountains both hiking and camping. Living in Orange County, my numerous days at the beach also fostered my love for the environment. Thus, I thought pursuing a career working outdoors would be ideal, so I attended a local community college with the intent of completing a degree in forestry. However, after transferring to Humboldt State I decided that I wanted to address the problems caused by pollution, with an emphasis on fish and wildlife. After graduating I moved to UCSB, where I studied pharmacology while focusing on the impacts of PCBs on marine invertebrates. Moving on to UCD, I pursued a doctorate in pharmacology and toxicology with a focus on environmental toxicology. 

How does your experience at UC Davis as an Ph.D. student compare to now as an Associate Dean of Environmental Sciences? What were some highlights of each?

As a doctoral student, my everyday activities were focused on developing my career. Thus in addition to completing coursework I was deeply engrossed in my dissertation research. As an associate dean my everyday activities are focused on assisting the environmental departments and programs both within our college and across campus. My focus is much more on helping others, and elevating the status and reputation of UCD at both the national and international levels.

What inspired your research interests?

My interests in pollution also began during my formative years, as growing up in Southern California in the ‘60s and ‘70s provided numerous opportunities to witness firsthand the impacts of pollution – both air and water. Not a day passed that I didn’t look up and wonder what a beautiful place it would be without the thick brown layer of smog!

Tell us a bit about your research. What are some of the challenges of your research and what is your favorite aspect of it? What are you most proud of?

My research has a general focus on characterizing both the fate and toxic impacts of chemicals in the aquatic environment. Chemicals are the tools of a high-tech society, so it is my goal to help determine how they may be best used safely. Therefore, I focus on describing how chemicals are degraded to less toxic products in the environment, thus reducing their risk. I also focus on the biochemistry and physiology behind the toxic actions of chemicals. My interests have included impacts on invertebrates and fishes, and have included pesticides, petroleum hydrocarbons, dispersants and natural marine toxins.

In terms of research accomplishments, I am most proud of two research directions: the development of the field of environmental metabolomics, where large magnets are used to determine the holistic metabolic effects of chemicals in aquatic organisms, and our development of standardized methods for assessment of the toxic actions of oil and dispersants (known as “CROSERF Methods”).

Why are you still interested in your field of research? What is your motivation to continue in this field?

 There are still so many environmental problems that are connected to anthropogenic chemicals, with new ones arising all the time. For instance, while pesticide runoff and oil spills were the focus in the past, now out of necessity we have turned our attention to ocean acidification and increasingly common hazardous algal blooms (both with roots in climate change). 

What are you hoping your research will accomplish?

My hope is that my research will address widespread chemophobia in today’s public. Chemicals are a part of everyday life, and most are useful tools – from drugs to detergents and everything in between. While most end up in the environment, they also degrade to basic elements and recycle in nature. My goal is to describe how they may be used safely, thus avoiding the environmental problems of the past. 

What do plan on seeing changed over the next decades in your field?

In future years I hope to see the field of environmental toxicology continue to move more toward what I consider to be the “black box” – the ultimate holy grail of the field of describing the specific molecular mechanism by which each chemical conveys its toxic action. Armed with this understanding, we can predict toxic actions in individuals, populations or ecosystems and potentially develop remediation strategies and/or programs.

Do you have any advice for future scientists who may want to pursue a similar field?

My advice would be to follow your dreams, and couple them with a solid foundation in the basic sciences – particularly chemistry and biology – as they will provide you with the tools necessary to make your dreams come true!

Eva Bush


Eva Bush is a graduate student on her way to completing her Masters of Science in Ecology. She finished her undergraduate studies here at UC Davis in 2012.

Tell us a little bit about your background. How did you come to get involved in science?

I grew up on the west coast of Sweden about 2 km from the ocean and with lots of open forest and land around, so I observed nature close up from a very early age. Sweden also started recycling in the 70’s which means you are raised with a respect for nature and the environment. This brought me to biology and environmental issues, which lead to conservation.

How does your experience at UC Davis as an undergraduate student compare to now as a graduate student? What were some highlights of each?

As an undergraduate the classes are much bigger, at least until you become a senior (maybe a junior), and you have less contact with your professors, though I always found the professors in my WFCB major and Oceanography minor to be very supportive and accessible.  As a graduate student in Ecology you are part of a small cohort and see most of the same people for most your classes the first year which builds a nice community both for studying and as a social network. I think the highlights of both have come from taking the opportunity for new experiences through classes, internships, conferences and fellowships.

What inspired your research interests?

My interest in both chemistry and geology. Being able to sample water to get a chemical signature created by the underlying geology to tell where fish have lived during what part of its life is really interesting. Since I work on Delta smelt which are too small to PIT tag, this is really the only way to track movements.

Tell us a bit about your research. What are some of the challenges of your research and what is your favorite aspect of it? What are you most proud of?

I would say the greatest challenge for me is that the species I work on, Delta Smelt, is a both federally and state listed species and unfortunately seems close to extinction at this point. This makes it a highly politicized issue in the Delta since it carries with it pumping restrictions for water exports to the Central Valley and Southern California. My favorite part (which also answers the second question) is that I was part of the work which established that Delta smelt use 3 different life history strategies.

What are you hoping your research will accomplish?

When I began working with Delta smelt I was hoping to find out more specifics about their migratory patterns and habitat use which could inform water management decisions and provide a better environment for the fish. After several years of drought however, I am hoping that we have learned just enough to help them survive.

What are your plans following the completion of your Master program?

Next year I will be a California Sea Grant State Fellow at the Delta Stewardship Council Planning Division which I am really excited about. It will be very interesting to see the policy and planning side and the many different fellowships through the California Sea Grant are great opportunities for new experiences.

Do you have any advice for future scientists who may want to pursue a similar field?

I would say no matter what field you chose to pursue remember that opportunities can surface in unexpected places. Isotope chemistry in particular is an interdisciplinary field so an understanding not only of the biology and ecology of the organism, but also potentially biogeochemistry and Earth sciences is important depending on what your question is. Isotope work can also be used to resolve many questions about food webs, nutrients, paleoclimates as well, not only migratory patterns in fish! 

Rachel Sniderman


Rachel Sniderman is a second year undergraduate whose major is undeclared but leaning toward Biological Sciences

What is it that you do for BML?

I’m responsible for BML student outreach, which means spreading the word about the opportunities available in Bodega Bay and helping students actually get out there! My biggest desire is to spread the word of the newly founded Marine and Coastal Science major and involve undergraduate students.

What are you involved in on campus?

Other than working for the Bodega Marine Lab, I am a panel member on the Campus Judicial Board, and a camp counselor for Cal Aggie Camp. I’m also currently involved in research in Andrew Whitehead’s environmental toxicology lab on campus, and hope to join the club ultimate frisbee team.

What is your most memorable experience at UC Davis?

My most memorable experience in college is definitely my stay at the Bodega Marine Lab the summer after my Freshman year. I took two classes; one focusing on Biological Oceanography and another discussing marine environmental issues. My 6 week program was filled with field trips, research, a few tests, and memories I will remember for the rest of my life. It was amazing to be able to live in such a unique environment and study it at the same time. I met some really spectacular people, from students, to teachers, graduate students and BML faculty. I was also given the oppurtunity to gain research and laboratory skills that will serve me in the future.

How has your experience at BML shaped what you want to do with your future?

At BML, I started to understand just how much more there is to learn. It was eye opening. It gave me the confidence to pursue research back on campus, and the skills needed to actually get a position. I got to get some hands on experience in Tessa Hill’s lab, and the best part was definitely being outside in the field, trying to deal with rising tides and slippery rocks and crashing waves while laying out transects and counting mussel shells.

What would be your dream project? What research question do you wish you could answer?

Tough question. I think if I could investigate any question at all, I would go into marine animal behaviors. I think the social interactions and the complex communities that form in the ocean are so cool, and I want to understand them better.

How do you want/plan to make a lasting impact?

I want to help educate people about their impacts on our home, and show them how to take better care of it. I’d love to help protect our planet from human impact, in some way, whether it be by teaching rural populations about the effects of their trash in the water, or by finding alternatives to fossil fuels for our cars.

Any advice for those who are just starting at UC Davis?

Do as much as you can- but make sure you have time for yourself. I love being involved on campus and being busy, but I also know that I have to understand my limit of what I can handle before I lose it. There are so many clubs and groups and activities to join on campus, it can be overwhelming, but stick to what makes you happy and you’ll find your group!

Find me tabling in the quad or shoot me an email ( to hear my spiel about why BML is the best ever!


Bodega Marine Laboratory


The Bodega Marine Laboratory (BML) is the primary field station of the Coastal and Marine Sciences Institute (CMSI) at UC Davis.

Perched on the iconic bluffs of Bodega Head, the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory (BML) has trained generations of students and scientists from around the world since 1966. This September marks the 50th anniversary of the lab, setting the foundation for a new era of delivering innovative teaching, research and outreach under the banner of the Coastal and Marine Sciences Institute.

BML is located in one of the world’s only four major upwelling areas - with the Bodega region and north to Point Arena - being known for unusually high biological productivity. It sits on the 362 acre Bodega Marine Reserve which provides protected lands for research and education.  The reserve is part of the UC Natural Reserve System, a vast network of 756,000 acres of protected natural areas throughout California, making it the largest university-administered reserve system in the world.

The BML enclave includes 100,000 square feet with 63,700 interior assignable square feet. The laboratory enclave includes 49 dry labs, 16 wet labs, 3 classrooms, 1 auditorium, and 2 conference rooms. There are 25 academic offices, 24 graduate student cubicles, a 20-station computer lab, and 30 carrel/stations in the Cadet Hand Library.   The 2 main laboratory buildings are joined by a public education gallery, that provide live exhibits that depict the local ecosystems, as well as interactive touch screens that enhance the visitors’ understanding of current research that is being conducted. Additionally, BML has 19,300 square feet of housing and conference facilities, which can accommodate up to 79 visiting researchers and students in a variety of housing options.

Utilizing its unique resources, Bodega Marine Laboratory has been fostering an interdisciplinary, collaborative approach to training students and addressing challenging questions at the rapidly changing land-sea interface in ecology and evolution; coastal oceanography; ocean health and water quality; physiology; conservation and climate change. Here’s to BML’s next 50 years of combining research innovation, teaching with community partnerships to solve the most pressing problems in the coastal ocean.

Learn more about BML at and go visit! Public drop-in tours are available most Fridays, 2-4pm and you can take a virtual tour of the lab at


John Largier

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John Largier is a Professor at the Bodega Marine Laboratory and an environmental oceanographer who is interested in ocean connectivity. 

As associate director of the Coastal and Marine Sciences institute, John Largier is known by many both inside and outside of CMSI, working in California as well as along the eastern boundaries of other continents. He grew up in Cape Town, South Africa, and attended the University of Cape Town for both his B.S. in applied math and physics, and his PhD in oceanography. He is a professor of oceanography and leads the Coastal Oceanography Group at the Bodega Marine Laboratory.

Dr. Largier has a passion for studying the California coast. When asked about what was his field of research, Largier explained it as the study of water motion and water-borne transport:

“I like to see how water connects things in the ocean—how it connects communities and people and ecosystems and organisms. The analogy, of course, is the blood circulation in your body. It connects all of your different organs, and if it stops, you wouldn’t be living very long. If the ocean stopped moving, it would also die pretty quickly.”

His research is often inspired by observations he has made in the field.

“One of the approaches I have taken to the science is to be an observer – a naturalist. Every day you see something in the ocean that is worth commenting on.”

Largier applies this mentality to his teaching as well. In the Coastal Oceanography class (ESP 152) that he teaches at the Bodega Marine Laboratory, students keep ocean journals where they record daily ocean observations. Largier then asks students try to draw analyses from their observations.

His research is also motivated by environmental challenges. He calls himself an Environmental Oceanographer, adopting an approach in which he uses oceanographic knowledge to help solve environmental problems.

“I will end up answering similar questions as other oceanographers, but the questions are always informed by an underlying environmental problem. This perspective is seen in my papers, but it is most evident in my engagement beyond academia. Engaged scholarship.  Being a scholar in a way that’s engaged with society. I spend a long time doing that, because our research is intended to relevant—for example—ocean acidification, marine protected areas, salmon and wetland conservation, stormwater pollution, wastewater, desalination, etc.”

Largier’s advice to aspiring marine scientists is simple, and something that we all should remember.

“Do things you find interesting and enjoyable. Once you pick up the skills you need, you can go with the flow a little bit – guided by your curiosity and enthusiasm. You don’t have to be a martyr to be a scientist. That way you will be more creative.”

Matt Robbins

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Matt Robbins is a PhD candidate in ecology and is interested in using social network data to inform decision making about the environment.

What is your background? When and how did you become interested in ecology and marine/coastal issues?

My interest in marine issues came relatively late in my academic career.  Growing up in Montana, the ocean was sort of a far off magical place that felt more fantasy than reality. I did, however, develop strong environmental values from the beauty of the mountains and wide open space of my home state.  It wasn't until after my masters program in psychology that I joined my fascination with human behavior with my passion for the natural world.  I volunteered for a summer with an environment advocacy group, an experience that made tangible the connection between human factors and environmental outcomes.  The UC Davis ecology group has been a great next step, providing top-notch training and the space to pursue the interdisciplinary study that's so important in understanding the complexity of modern environmental issues.  My connection to marine issues is in some ways the product of being in the right place at the right time.  The Global Fish Alliance contracted with my lab to assist with the evaluation of their conservation and development project running in the Honduran spiny lobster fishery, a case study that provides the opportunity for applied analysis and interesting theoretical development.  I jumped at the opportunity and haven't looked back.

Tell us a little about your research. How does your research intersect with coastal and marine science?

I study how humans organize, cooperate and structure their use of natural resources.  In particular, I use social network analysis to study the way organizations that have a stake in a fishery (fishermen, seafood processors, environmental NGOs, government agencies etc.) communicate and coordinate with each other, and how they identify threats to fishery sustainability and solutions to those threats.

What is the hardest part about the research process?

Designing and administering surveys in a developing country has presented some stiff challenges, including language barriers, navigating cultural differences and infrastructure failings.  Daily power outages were the norm in the office where I was stationed.  I was fortunate to be working with some amazing local staff and volunteers that made my life a lot easier.

What is your objective for this research? What do you hope this research will accomplish?

There is a large and increasing demand for certified "sustainable sea food" and the world's fisheries are struggling to keep up.  Around half of the global supply of sustainable seafood comes from developing country fisheries, where certification is difficult to attain on account of low governance and monitoring capacity. As a result, large retailers like Walmart have expanded their definition of sustainability to include fisheries that have developed formal plans to become more sustainable, without having shown any concrete progress towards that goal. 

My goal is to contribute to the development of methods to assess progress towards sustainability.  Such assessments are tricky in the early stages of sustainability interventions, before the implementation of policy and before we see improvement in habitat quality and fish stocks, but global market conditions are necessitating them.  There are a lot of development projects going on that seek to increase the capacity of fishery communities to coordinate their activities and move in sustainable direction, and hopefully my research can help us figure out whether they are working.

How are you involved with CMSI?

I'm a social media coordinator at CMSI.  I've organized a team of CMSI-affiliated graduate students with diverse areas of expertise to generate and curate marine and coastal science news content for the CMSI Twitter account.  The Twitter team has been a great way to extend to the online world theCMSI's mission of building and strengthening communities of folks interested in ocean science.

What has been your greatest accomplishment so far? What are you most proud of?

I'd say the accomplishments I'm most proud of have been related to training -- both formally and informally --  scientists to communicate their work to a policy audience.  This science-policy bridging work with CMSI, The UC Davis Policy Institute and the John Muir Institute for the Environment have provided a great complement to my academic studies.

What are your plans after this? 

I'm hoping to land a science policy fellowship at the state or federal level.  In order for us to make wise decisions as a society in a rapidly changing world, we need to inform our policy with timely science and I'd like to be part of that process.

Do you have any advice for recent graduates interested in ecology and/or marine science? 

There are many paths through graduate school, so be open to opportunities that you may not have anticipated but that are related to the issues you are passionate about. You'll be pleasantly surprised how these opportunities build on each other.

Avery Kruger

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Avery Kruger is a recent UC Davis graduate with a B.S. in evolution and ecology. 

If there was an undergraduate at Davis who truly embraced all CMSI has to offer, Avery Kruger was it. Kruger just graduated in the beginning of June, but will be leaving behind quite a legacy in his wake. He has taken two summer sessions of classes at the Bodega Marine Laboratory, spent an additional summer working as a research assistant there, currently works in the Stachowicz Lab, and this summer will go out on the research vessel EV Nautilus as an assistant science manager. He was president of the SEEDS club (an ecology club on campus), next year he is going to Japan to teach English, and then he plans to pursue a PhD in ecology once he returns to the States. Quite an impressive extracurricular resume to go along with his 2016 UC Davis Outstanding Student in Evolution and Ecology Award he very recently received.

Kruger is very candid about his path to success. While obviously highly driven, he wasn’t always sure in what direction he wanted to go. “I came to Davis undeclared, but I have always liked animals. Senior year of high school I discovered I also really liked calculus, so I decided I wanted to do something more ‘hard sciency’ and chose decided to choose evolution and ecology over something like wildlife, fish, and conservation.”

Kruger also isn’t completely sure what he wants to pursue going forward. When asked about what he would like to research, he said “That’s tough. I really like marine ecology, but I also really like terrestrial ecology. But every time I got back to the Cadet Hand Library in the Bodega Marine Lab, I am re-inspired to do marine research, just because that library is so cool.”

To Kruger, however, it is more than just the Cadet Hand Library that makes the Bodega Marine Laboratory (BML) special. Kruger’s single advice for aspiring marine scientists is incredibly simple: “Go to BML. When you take a class on (the Davis) campus, you don’t get nearly the same type of experience as you do at BML. It exposes you to this whole other world that you didn’t really understand existed. It immerses you…  go to BML for a summer session. If you can’t do that, go visit. BML opened a lot of opportunities for me—I think taking classes there is how I managed to get my position on the EV Nautilus.”

Megan Elizabeth Hill

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Megan Elizabeth Hill is an undergraduate in the Marine and Coastal Sciences Major and is a peer adviser in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences.

Can you please introduce yourself, including your field, research, and anything else you want people to know about your background?

I’m an undergraduate student working as a peer adviser in my department and an intern in a fish stress physiology lab on campus. I also intern off campus at a local high school for my UC Davis MAST class. I am interested in the future of benthic marine invertebrates in the face of climate change. My main goal is to earn my PhD and then teach at an institution like UC Davis where I can continue to pursue my research interests.

How did you get into your field, and what motivated you?

I grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, and moved to San Diego when I was fifteen in order to receive in-state tuition at a UC. Both locations were near the ocean, so I spent a lot of time exploring my local territory. My grandmother lived in St. Thomas, USVI, throughout my life and still does to this day. I frequently snorkeled, sailed, SCUBA dived and visited the ocean whenever I got the chance in both St. Thomas, Florida and Southern California. I always knew I wanted to be a marine biologist, but it wasn’t until my AP Environmental Science class in high school that I discovered my real interest in conservation and biological oceanography. My interest in ecology and marine conservation was confirmed while exploring the tidepools in Encinitas, California, my junior year of high school.

Do you have any memorable UC Davis marine/coastal related experiences?

Every marine-related course that I have taken at UC Davis has been an amazing experience. The first oceanography course I took was during my freshman year. I didn’t think it could get any better, but it definitely did when Marine and Coastal Science was introduced as a new cross-college major. My previous major was Wildlife, Fish and Conservation Biology. I enjoyed every ocean-related course I took at UC Davis because each was taught incredibly well, especially those at the Bodega Marine Lab. Last summer, I spent around 6 weeks in Bodega Bay taking 10 units of oceanography courses (including independent research units).  There, I worked for the president of the Marine Conservation Institute with one other student. Using the Global Ocean Refuge System criteria, we analyzed marine protected areas (MPAs) around the world to determine their overall effectiveness at conserving the oceans and its biodiversity. We examined management plans, contacted local officials, and compiled information on specific MPAs. Through the completion of a comprehensive investigation, we classified the area’s conservation efforts and uncovered potential “paper parks”. It was a priceless experience that I will cherish forever. At the end of my 6 weeks in Bodega Bay, I felt more confident in where I was going as a marine scientist and more comfortable exploring possible research opportunities.

What would be your dream project? What research question do you wish you could answer?

I have always been fascinated with the unknown. My dream project would be to explore the ocean floor in the mid-Pacific. I will always be interested in uncovering new ecosystems and studying how they survive in such harsh living conditions contrary to the sea surface. Somewhat more realistically, but not by much, my dream project would likely be to explore the reproduction of Manta rays and their social constructs.

Do you have any advice for aspiring marine scientists?

Research everything you are interested in while you’ve got time, get your research diving certification finished in one of your first summer sessions at UCD (if interested/available), and don’t pass up any opportunities to explore the ocean and dive deeper!


Jay Stachowicz

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Jay Stachowicz is a Professor of Evolution and Ecology and studies biodiversity among marine ecosystems.

Can you please introduce yourself, including name, department, and anything else you want people to know about your background?

I’m Jay Stachowicz. I’m in the department of evolution and ecology at UC Davis. I have been at Davis for about almost 16 years. I grew up in New England and I’m a lifelong east-coaster- the first time I came out to Davis was for my job interview. I guess it went ok, because I’m still here. I’m a marine ecologist, so I study the patterns—both the causes and the consequences—of biodiversity in nature. I’m interested in what causes there to be more species in some places and fewer in other places. Also, I’m interested in what the consequences of that variation and diversity are for ecosystems. I’m curious as to what are the consequences of loss of species. I don’t necessarily mean extinction per se, but, functional loss of species—where a species is so low in abundance that it doesn’t do much in that ecosystem. Does it matter? Can we get by with just a few? Do we need a lot? And under what conditions do we need a lot versus a few?

I now teach invertebrate zoology, but I have been teaching marine ecology and introductory biology here on campus for quite some time, and enjoy both of those. I try to have as many undergraduates working in my lab as I can. For the on campus work, a lot of that is just plowing through bunches of preserved samples, so it’s certainly not super glamourous work, but I do take a few undergraduates out to the marine lab every summer. They spend the whole summer out there with me in my lab doing research, sometimes doing independent projects, and also helping us out with ongoing projects and getting some cool experiences. I wish I could do more of that, but, the ocean is just far away enough from Davis that it’s hard to get undergraduates involved in fieldwork during the academic year.

How did you get into your field, and what motivated you?

As an undergraduate, I knew I liked biology, and I knew I didn’t want to be a doctor. Those two things were certain from a pretty early age. In high school I had this very cool class—my bio class as a senior—where we went outside and did a lot of sampling of local forests and I learned about forest succession and how you can discover how old a forest is by what species are there. I thought that it was really neat that the organisms on the landscape weren’t static—that there would be different species over decades or over generations and that there was an ordered biology to it. That sort of set me up to be interested in species interactions. As I went away to college, I knew I liked biology, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go towards the environmental science and policy route or the ecology, field science route, so I took classes in both areas and just found that the science did it for me and policy didn’t.

I did a study abroad program where we went to Costa Rica and basically they would take us to national parks and drop us there for a week, give us a half a day lecture, and then say “ok, go find a research project and present it to us in three days.” It was really daunting, but actually it was great because you really learn how to make observations, learn how to ask an answerable question, and then answer it, and you just keep doing that over and over and over again as you go to more and more parks. The projects were all baby projects, but just going through that exercise of asking questions and answering them—I realized that this was what I want to do. I hadn’t really done any marine research at that point though—mostly just forest research, so I got interested in plant herbivore interactions. One day I was talking to one of my professors and he said, “you know, if you like marine stuff (which I did, even though I hadn’t really done much of it) and you like plant-herbivore interactions, you should go work with this guy”. So I called him up, had a great conversation with him, and ended up going to work with him. The rest is sort of history from there. I am really interested in how ecological systems work, how they are put together, and how tinkering with them messes with them.

What would be your dream project? What research question do you wish you could answer?

I have become really interested in microbial communities associated with marine macroorganisms—especially seagrasses and their root symbionts. Unfortunately, it just isn’t easy to manipulate them. You can’t really easily add or subtract microbes (that we currently know of), but if we could, that would be really cool. I would love to do an experimental project on the microbiome of seagrasses. We have known for a long time that seagrasses play a huge role in ecosystems, but how much of that is because of the microorganisms, and how much is just because of the plant? How much of all of the variation that we see in seagrass beds and seagrass communities has to do with microbial ecology rather than macroorganism ecology? I would love to know these answers.

I have a project right now where we have sampled seagrass microbiomes in 50 locations all over the world. We’re comparing the patterns in the biogeography of the microbes, the biogeography in the genetics of seagrass, and the biogeography of the animals associated with seagrass to see whether there are sort of common drivers of diversity across all of these systems and whether community assembly proceeds the same way in microbes, plants, and macroinvertebrates. This is the closest that I am to answering my question about marine microbes, but I feel like we are at the dawn of the time at which we can do real ecology with microbes, and it’s going to open up this huge window into ecology.

Do you have any advice for aspiring marine scientists?

I would say to find out what your passion is. Find out what excites you and follow it. But also, don’t get paralyzed by thinking that you have to find the one thing you are interested in alone—some people are really passionate about a particular group of organisms or an ecosystem, and it’s clear that that is just what they are going to work on, but I think many really good scientists aren’t like that. They probably would be happy working on a lot of different things. What they end up working on will probably end up being a product of where they go to graduate school or what strikes their fancy when they happen to be looking for a project. I think sometimes you can stress too much about exactly what you want to do before you go off to graduate school, so it’s ok to be a little uncertain.

Also, I would recommend picking up some technical skill (whether it be in mathematics and modeling, statistical analysis, genetics, biochemistry, etc.)—some technique that you have that is distinct and that most people don’t have, because it will open some doors for you. I don’t necessarily mean as an undergraduate, but as you develop your career as a marine scientists, think about things that you can do that involve more than just counting stuff. Anyone can count stuff—what else can you do? 

Woutrina Smith

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Woutrina Smith is an Associate Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology in the School of Veterinary Medicine at UC Davis. 

CMSI is incredibly unique (and fortunate) as an organization to be able to unite so many distinguished researchers in such a variety of disciplines. Along with ecologists, oceanographers, hydrologists and many others, CMSI draws upon UC Davis’s world renowned veterinary school to incorporate leaders in the field of wildlife medicine and ecosystem health. One such researcher is Dr. Woutrina Smith, an associate professor in infectious disease and epidemiology. Dr. Smith conducts research on sea otters along the California Coast to better understand their diseases and their role in ecosystem health, and she also has research projects on zoonotic diseases in East Africa that investigate the disease transmission interactions between the pastoral herders and farmers, their livestock, and the local wildlife.

Dr. Smith grew up in Alaska, where she was surrounded with wildlife and coastal issues even as a child. After college, she followed her wildlife interests to UC Davis for Veterinary School, while simultaneously getting involved in volunteer sea otter research by helping with necropsies (like autopsies) on otters. While it was terribly stinky work, Dr. Smith found that she loved the discovery process of figuring out why each animal had died, a bit like a vet CSI.

“Sea otters are really amazing in how much disease they can put up with—anything from nose trauma from mating, to parasites, to boat strikes—all these different things, and most of the time they just keep on going. It was fascinating learning about why the animals died—because it would teach us what was happening to them when they were alive, and how to keep them healthy.”

“Sea Otters are really special, because they are like a canary in the coal mine for coastal ecosystem health. They live right along shore, eat 25% of their body weight every day, and feed on filter feeders that concentrate pathogens and pollutants that people inadvertently wash into their ecosystems. We are interested in sea otter health because they are a threatened species and are very charismatic, but also because they teach us about potential problems that might be occurring on land and in the sea.”

Dr. Smith has been at Davis since 1997, and, in addition to her sea otter ventures,  has focused her research on zoonotic disease—diseases that can transfer between wildlife and people – in other parts of the world. She tries to understand what risk factors and transmission routes can make humans and animals sick, where water is one of the many potential vehicles of disease transmission.

“One Health research is a team effort, where you have a group of researchers and experts from different disciplines all coming together around a common problem. I found that you really can develop a career in wildlife medicine and ecosystem health if you find the right network of people to work with and show them that you bring a useful area of expertise to the team.”

When asked about what advice she had for aspiring marine scientists, Dr. Smith stressed the importance of getting out there and experiencing the research or potential career paths.

“Jump in and get involved! Sometimes the job might not be as glamorous as you think it is—sometimes the hours are long, or the job is stinky (sea otter necropsies come to mind), but once you get out there and find ways to volunteer or get involved, you might just find your passion.”

Madeline Kinsey

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Madeline Kinsey recently completed her Master of Science degree with the Animal Biology Group where she was a part of the Dr. Anne Todgham Lab! Her thesis examined the effects of temperature predictability on limpet thermal performance under natural tidal cycles.

What is your background? How did you get involved in marine and coastal science?

I grew up in the Midwest, but I was always fascinated by the ocean. I decided to go to the University of South Carolina for my bachelors degree in Marine Science to fulfill my passion. At the University of South Carolina, I got involved in a research lab focusing on the ability of marine organisms to adapt to climate change. I decided I really enjoyed the research aspect of marine science and I continued on that path into graduate school where I joined the lab of Dr. Anne Todgham.

Tell us a little about your research as part of the Todgham Lab. How do you combine animal biology with marine science? 

In the Todgham Lab, my thesis work focused on the importance of stochastic thermal environments on the physiology of intertidal limpets. We were interested in understanding how unpredictable temperature regimes that are found in nature modulate the upper temperature tolerance and temperature sensitivity of the intertidal limpet Lottia digitalis. My research was able to combine both animal biology and marine science by studying the stress physiology of marine organisms.   

What do you hope this research will accomplish?

 Much of our understanding of the thermal physiology of intertidal organisms comes from unrealistic experimental conditions where the organisms were held in constant temperatures in the lab and/or exposed to a single heat stress. The intertidal environment is much more complex where organisms experience large fluctuations in temperatures with the ebb and flow of tides. My hope is that this research will contribute to climate change science by highlighting the importance of environmental complexity when determining the vulnerability of marine species to predicted changes in climate.

What is your favorite part about the research process?

My favorite part of the research process is problem solving. Along the way I had to figure out how to create realistic intertidal conditions in the lab, decide which cellular stress response mechanisms would be informative to measure, and troubleshoot new lab techniques. Being faced with challenges and having to work through them gives me the opportunity to learn!

How are you involved with CMSI?

I got involved with CMSI as a graduate student. It was a great opportunity for me to network and learn about other research in marine and coastal science at UC Davis. 

You have been selected as a 2016 California Sea Grant State Fellow and will work with the CA State Parks Natural Resources Division (Congratulations!). Describe the work you will do there. What are your plans?

Throughout my year as a California Sea Grant State Fellow with the CA State Parks Natural Resources Division, I will be refining strategies and policies to better address climate change within the coastal parks. My first project is to assess the vulnerability of the coastal state parks to sea level rise.

Do you have any advice for recent graduates interested in animal biology and/or marine issues as well as women in STEM?

My advice for recent graduates would be to work hard. Sometimes it might take a while to get where you want to be, but hard work and persistence will help to get you there. I try to always give my best, no matter what I am doing. I have been very lucky to have excellent women mentors along my path thus far that have set great examples for me. I hope that other women in STEM are able to find as wonderful role models as I have had and find support in their fellow women colleagues.

Tristan Burgess

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Tristan Burgess is a PhD candidate in the School of Veterinary Medicine. His research seeks to understand what features of the nearshore environment promote or prevent disease transmission from land to sea. 

What is your background? When and how did you decide to combine veterinary medicine with marine science?

I started out my academic career in Australia by getting admitted to two medical schools and then immediately skipping the country and moving to New Zealand to become a large animal veterinarian. Somewhere along the way I started working with wildlife. Some people call New Zealand the seabird capital of the world, and I also had contact with a number of the unique marine mammal species that inhabit the land of the long white cloud. Though I have continued to do some work with terrestrial species, since my first job after vet school working with pinnipeds in the Gulf of Maine, I have been hooked on working in marine ecosystems.

Tell us a little about your research. How does your research in the School of Veterinary Medicine intersect with coastal and marine science?

I work primarily on understanding the transmission and consequences of terrestrial-origin pathogens in sea otters living in coastal waters from Santa Barbara, California to Bering Island, Russia. The outcomes and end-points of this are animal health metrics, but the drivers and key processes are for the most part ecological, as in many cases are the risk factors.

What is the hardest part about the research process?

Working with large marine predators is pretty unpredictable, and you have to be prepared for a heady mix of adrenaline, blood, sweat, tears and, well, sometimes just intense boredom while you wait for an animal to cooperate with you. Other times finding funding can be the most difficult part. In wildlife medicine, we are about 200 years behind human medicine in terms of public and governmental understanding. The consequence is that on occasions when health and disease threatens the recovery or indeed the existence of a species or the health of an ecosystem, it is generally very difficult to obtain research and conservation funding until it is already too late to do anything about it. Particularly if the pathogen in question does not directly impact human health.

What is your objective for this research? What do you hope this research will accomplish?

My objectives for this area of research are to understand what features of the nearshore environment promote or prevent disease transmission from land to sea. The sea otter is a favored study system for this research because we can follow their movements and behavior extremely closely and we know more about the day-to-day life of the sea otter than any other marine mammal. Consequently we can do epidemiological research of a kind that is impossible in most marine species, which are often cryptic, wide ranging and perform many of their most important behaviors out of sight of researchers. We hope that studying sea otters will allow us to gain a broader understanding of the drivers and mechanisms of coastal pathogen pollution, as well as developing broadly useful tools for understanding the causes and consequences of disease outbreaks in wildlife.

How are you involved with CMSI?

I got involved in CMSI in late 2014, just a year after it was formed, as a member of the student committee. Consequently I’ve been involved in organizing a number of the recent CMSI events aimed at building this new cross-campus community of coastal and marine scientists. I have been particularly concerned with ensuring that School of Veterinary Medicine students and faculty are aware of and engaged in CMSI, if their interests veer towards coastal and marine science.

What are your plans after this? 

It’s beginning to look like I will have my plate pretty full with a mix of consulting/contract work and visiting scientist type gigs, which suits my position perfectly. Like many young scientists' families, ours enjoys the 'two-body problem’. I dragged my wife to California while I did my PhD, and now it is her turn to do veterinary specialty training in emergency and critical care medicine. So I will take my consulting company and non-profit activities with me wherever we go.

Do you have any advice for recent graduates interested in vet school and/or marine science?

Nothing very inspiring I suppose - just to say that if it’s what you want to do, then go after it. One way or another it will work out. There are increasingly great opportunities for marine scientists, vets and people like me who do a bit of both. 50 years ago, there were perhaps a couple of dozen wildlife vets in the world. Today there are around a hundred employed just by US state and federal fish and wildlife agencies. Though it is a very demanding field and competition for jobs is intense, there has never been more need for people to do this type of work.

Shay O'Farrell

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Shay O'Farrell, who hails from Ireland, is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy. His work focuses on movement tracking data to understand how and why people and animals choose to go where they go.

What is your background? Where are you from? How did you get involved in science?

Oddly for a scientist, my undergraduate degree was actually in marketing, which I studied in my homeland of Ireland.  But about 15 years ago, I started SCUBA diving in New Zealand and was just blown away by the underwater world.  I then began a fairly long (but very scenic) route into science, first as a volunteer on various marine science projects, and then as a staff member as my experience grew.  After a few years, I decided that I needed to formally improve my science knowledge, so I did an Master’s degree in marine environmental protection at the University of Bangor (Wales), followed by a PhD in marine biology at the University of Exeter (England) and the University of Queensland (Australia). I then spent a year at The Smithsonian Marine Station in Florida, and now here I am in beautiful UC Davis – and I’m terribly excited about it!

 Tell us a little about your research?

My PhD reseach was in coral reef fish ecology but I guess I would now call myself a movement ecologist – basically, I use satellite tagging data to understand how and why people and animals go where they go. In my postdoctoral research here at UC Davis, I am working with Professor James Sanchirico (the associate director of CMSI) in trying to understand how commercial fishermen decide where to fish. The most fascinating aspect of the research is that it spans a range of different scientific disciplines, including behavioural economics, cognitive psychology and machine learning, as well as my own field of movement ecology. I now like to think that my time spent studying marketing was not wasted after all – my favourite discipline during my undergrad degree was consumer decision making (‘Why do people prefer Product A to Product B?’), and I am now asking similar questions about fishing grounds, using the same theoretical foundations.

 What is the hardest part about the research process?

Criticism! You have to learn not to take it personally, though, as incisive criticism makes your science so much stronger. But it can take a while to thicken your skin - most of us are not used to people publicly criticising what we do.

What is your objective for this research? What do you hope this research will accomplish?

A common tool used in fisheries management is to ‘close’ areas of the sea to fishing, either permanently or seasonally. The work that James and I are doing will provide marine resource managers with a way of predicting the impacts that various management and policy options will have on the fishing fleets, and thus on the fish too.

 What has been your greatest accomplishment so far? What are you most proud of?

I spent quite a bit of time in the Philippines, which I loved, working closely with four neighbouring villages in helping them to create a small network of locally managed marine reserves. The reserves were designed with direct input from the fishing communities, and took a lot of negotiation and discussion. In the end, the fishers were the ones who were most proud of their reserve network, and are now using their experience to help other fishing communities set up networks of their own, which is very gratifying. A bonus to spending so much time in the Philippines is that I now sing a mean karaoke tune, too.

 What are your plans after this?

I’m excited by the idea of applying some of our spatial decision-making work to wide-moving animals, which have to constantly make decisions about where to go next. Each animal does has imperfect knowledge of its environment, such as the present location of prey, and the consequences of making a bad decision can be stark. Because of the direct impact on an animal’s survival, and thus the number of offspring it will ultimately produce, I think that evolution is likely to have favoured the abilty to make relatively ‘good’ spatial decisions using limited information, and I would like to investigate whether this is true, and if so, how does the process work.  Which animal would I study? Well, I’m open to ideas, but in my first ever project as a marine science volunteer, I had the privilege of spending a few months working with great white sharks in South Africa. I still have a soft spot for these awesome predators – and there’s an increasing amount of high-quality white shark movement data out there.

Do you have any advice for recent undergraduates interested in science and research?

It really does take both passion and tenacity to get a job in marine science, so figure out the thing you love doing best, and pursue it relentlessly!  And don’t forget there are many options for working in marine science that don’t necessarily involve doing research or studying – a lot of great work being done by conservation NGOs is more about application of tried and tested approaches than about developing new knowledge.

Pamela Reynolds

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Pamela Reynolds, who pursued her undergraduate degree at UC Davis, is a visiting postdoctoral scholar. Her current focus is on coordinating a large international seagrass research network called the Zostera Experimental Network. 

What is your background? How did you get involved in science?

I grew up in the Bay Area and was fortunate to have great science teachers and early exposure to the STEM fields. When I started my undergraduate degree at UC Davis I wasn't sure if I wanted to be a biologist or a writer. So, I double majored in Biological Sciences and an integrative program in English called Nature and Culture. I quickly learned that those two aren't mutually exclusive - science involves a lot of writing and communication!

As an undergraduate at UC Davis I worked in several different labs on campus - my first job was cleaning fossil shells with toothbrushes and other dental equipment and raising baby marine snails in Dr. Vermeij's geology lab. I also worked on a project in Anthropology using chemical signatures (stable isotopes) from shells which Native Americans used for trade to discover where the animals that made the shells were born and thereby learn the extent of the trading routes. I even spent a summer in Yosemite studying stress responses in white crowned sparrows (you can find those same birds on the Bodega Marine Reserve).

My marine science career really started when I began a position as a field research technician at the Bodega Marine Laboratory. I got my feet wet, literally, working on a long-term, rocky intertidal marine ecology experiment in Dr. Jay Stachowicz's lab and I've been passionate about marine biodiversity ever since. It was a tough job - long hours crouched on the rocks weeding seaweed with tweezers - but an incredible experience. Bodega is a beautiful place with lots of amazing researchers. One day I even had a seal haul out right next to me onto the seaweed in the experimental plot I was working on! To broaden my research experience I moved from California to North Carolina where I pursued my PhD at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. For my PhD I worked on the effects of changes in the structure of coastal food webs and how the behavior of predators and their prey influence these important ecosystems. During grad school I was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to Australia to see the Great Barrier Reef, SCUBA dive in Belize to help with coral reef health surveys, and study intertidal biodiversity in the Galapagos. I started focusing on seagrass biodiversity for my postdoc at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science on the Chesapeake Bay, where I helped found and continue to coordinate a large, international team of seagrass ecologists - including UC Davis CMSI faculty. I moved back to CA to study restoration ecology in San Francisco Bay for a short postdoc with Dr. Ted Grosholz at UC Davis, and have returned to focusing on the seagrass network as a visiting postdoc scholar at UC Davis. 

Tell us a little about your research?

Currently I'm coordinating a large international seagrass research network called the Zostera Experimental Network (or ZEN for short). We conduct standardized surveys and experiments simultaneously at many places across the world to test how stressors like pollution and fishing affect communities of the seagrass Zostera marina (also called eelgrass). We're focusing on eelgrass because it's the most widespread marine plant and is a critical, but threatened, coastal habitat. It provides services including nursery habitat for fisheries, improves water clarity and quality, stores carbon, and it buffers the coastline against storms. From our research, I've found that small crustacean grazers (which we call "mesograzers") are very important for eelgrass habitats. These animals act like housekeepers, preferentially eating the algae that grows on the eelgrass, thereby keeping the eelgrass clean and healthy. But what's really exciting is we're finding that a greater biodiversity of these grazers (having more different kinds and species of grazers) does a better job at limiting the algae. Lots of fish, crabs and birds eat these grazers, so they're also an important link in the coastal food web. And this role of biodiversity isn't limited to the animals - we're finding that areas with greater genetic diversity of the eelgrass itself may be more robust and that they have bigger grazer populations. These results aren't just from one place - we're seeing these patterns emerge across 50 eelgrass beds all over the Northern Hemisphere from Japan to Alaska and Mexico, Quebec to North Carolina, Norway to Portugal, and right here in Bodega Bay and San Francisco too. It's a really powerful way to do science, and a lot of fun as I get to teach undergraduates and involve them in research, as well as interact with scientists from all over the world.

What is the hardest part about the research process?

For my research, the hardest part is also what makes it the most fun - coordinating and communicating with people from all over the world. The strength of our network approach to marine ecology is conducting standardized experiments and so everything has to be done exactly the same way. But every place is different, and so the methods we develop in one place don't always work everywhere else. For example, our eelgrass is typically only a foot tall in Virginia, but that same species is up to 3 feet tall here in Bodega Bay, and it can be taller than 6 feet in Japan. So, sampling methods I develop to collect the eelgrass in Virginia or Bodega Bay aren't the most appropriate for those other locations, and vice versa. Because I can't be everywhere at once, I have to continually work with the scientists at our different sites to learn about these problems and develop solutions. That can sometimes be tricky because of language and cultural barriers (not to mention time zone changes!), but I'm very fortunate that all of the scientists in our network are very passionate about our science and conscientious about doing a good job. I also have to balance the time I spend coordinating the network and conducting fieldwork with managing, analyzing and writing results from the large amount of data we collect. This makes for some very busy summer field seasons!

What is your objective for this research? What do you hope this research will accomplish?

I have two main objectives for my research on seagrass biodiversity - to build and sustain a collaborative community of marine ecologists, and to contribute primary research to inform policy aimed at protecting seagrasses and other critical coastal habitats. My overarching goal is to contribute to a science literate society, and thus far I've accomplished this through communicating my research via teaching, mentoring and public outreach.

What has been your greatest accomplishment so far? What are you most proud of?

My greatest career accomplishment so far has been coordinating and growing our ZEN research network from 15 sites in 2011 to the 50 sites we have today. I've published my research in great journals and been fortunate to work on many wonderful collaborative projects and mentor talented students. But, my proudest moment is perhaps when one of my undergraduate students described me as a "great role model for marine ecology" on a course evaluation. I have high - sometimes too high - expectations for myself and hearing that I've made positive impacts on the next generation of marine ecologists is very rewarding!

What are your plans after this?

My dream job is one in which I get to engage with dynamic researchers and share my love for ecology and biodiversity through teaching and public engagement. Right now I'm really fortunate that I get to do this on a daily basis, but postdocing is a finite position and so I'm looking forward to the next step in my career. For my next job I'd love to teach and involve students in research at a university, or engage the public in research at a museum.

Do you have any advice for recent graduates or women in STEM?

I'd recommend all recent (or soon to be) graduates think about what you're good at and what you find most rewarding. Those two things might not always go hand in hand, so it's important to figure out how to blend them to be happy and productive. What gets you out of bed in the morning and you're still excited about at the end of the day? If you love learning about marine microbiology but hate sitting at a microscope, or you love working by yourself in the lab but don't like to be cold and wet out in the field, that's important to recognize when looking into different careers.  But it's also important to understand that no job will be perfect - especially in science you have to be prepared for the tedious tasks because it's those repetitive exercises that eventually lead to interesting breakthroughs.

I'd also recommend that recent graduates, and perhaps particularly women in STEM, focus on networking. Find people here at the CMSI and elsewhere who are doing interesting things and read about them or, better yet, ask them about it! Ask how they got where they are, what they did to prepare for their job, what it's really like on a day to day basis, and what they'd to if they had to start all over and pick an alternate career. It can tell you a lot about whether that type of job might be a good fit for you and, if it is, give you strategies to pursue it. It can be tough to break the ice, but I've made some lifelong mentors, colleagues and friends this way.

Last, travel! I know this is easier said than done, but working on the East Coast and traveling abroad for research and conferences not only broadened my knowledge of other places and marine systems, but it has fundamentally shaped how I think about doing science. Go somewhere new - whether it's a two hour drive up the coast or across the world. Look hard at your surroundings and listen to the people you meet. Their stories will tell you a lot about natural history, and how different people think about and interact with nature - which are important to keep in mind as a scientist if you are interested in producing research to tackle important regional and global issues.

Brittany Jellison

Brittany Jellison Portrait Jellison Chemistry

Brittany Jellison is a PhD student in Ecology in the College of Biological Sciences at Bodega Bay Marine Laboratory. Her research focuses on marine ecology, global change ecology, species interactions, ocean acidification, and animal behavior. 

Tell us a little about your research?

I am looking at the effects of climate change on species interactions. I’m particularly interested in how ocean acidification affects predator-prey interactions. Ocean acidification has been shown to affect fish behavior. Experiments on tropical fish have shown that reduced pH impairs their ability to home and detect predators. I am interested in whether or not similar impairments will occur in invertebrates, especially because invertebrates dominate the intertidal zone on our coast. Currently I am studying a predator-prey interaction between a keystone sea star predator and a snail prey. Many prey of the ochre sea star are able to detect the predator is nearby through chemical cues. Many of these organisms have different adaptations that help them deal with this predation threat. Once they detect that there is a risk in their environment, organisms respond in ways that reduce this risk. For instance, some organisms can grow harder or thicker shells while others will flee. In the system I work in, snails are able to detect that a predator is nearby and crawl out of tide pools to find refuge. I am looking at whether ocean acidification will disrupt this behavioral response and have community level consequences.

What is your background?

In high school, I took a community college course in Mexico and it was an incredible experience. I got to swim with so many different organisms and learn basic marine biology while being in the field. Though, at that point I still thought, “this is wonderful and I really love this, but I am unsure if I can make a career out of it.  So I went to UC San Diego and studied general Biology. However, after studying abroad in Costa Rica, working on deep- sea research in Lisa Levin’s lab at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and taking a year off to work for Fish and Wildlife, I decided I wanted to become a marine biologist and I chose to go to grad school.

What is the hardest part about the research process?

Once I have observations, coming up with novel questions and effective ways to test those questions can be difficult. Also, no matter what, something is going to go awry in every experiment. So thinking on your feet and coming up with solutions can be challenging but also rewarding.

What is your objective for this research? What do you hope this research will accomplish?

There is a growing awareness that humans are modifying and impacting marine ecosystems. Experiments are helping shed light on how ocean acidification will affect marine ecosystems in our lifetime and beyond. So my hope is that my research will help bring more awareness to this problem so that we can start to come up with potential short and long-term solutions.

What are your plans after this?

I really enjoy teaching, and especially enjoy mentoring students. I definitely want to include teaching and research in whatever job I have in the future.  

What has been your greatest accomplishment so far? What are you most proud of?

I am really, very proud of the work I did through a program called CAMEOS in which I went to a local high school once a week to teach the students about the scientific method and about marine biology. I was just so proud and impressed with the independent projects they did, and it was such a growing experience for me as an educator. I learned a lot about myself and about effective teaching methods. It also benefitted my research because the students would ask very insightful questions about my projects.

Do you have any advice for recent graduates?

I love grad school and it is a great experience for me. To figure out if it is right for you, I would recommend either working in a lab, or taking time off after college to make sure this is something you really want to do. You are going to be in that phase of life for 5 or 6 years, and it is a very big decision. It can be a wonderful time where you get to think deeply and do hands on research, but it can also be very stressful as well. My advice would be to find something you love to do that also challenges you and pursue it.

I realized graduate school was for me because I was spending so much time in the lab and still loving it everyday. Also at the end of the day, I still had so many questions that I wanted to study. This made me realize that I wanted to be a scientist. 

Howard Spero


(Photo courtesy of Howard Spero)


Dr. Howard Spero is currently a Professor at UC Davis. He was in charge of paleoceanography research during his time as Program Director at the National Science Foundation in Washington, DC from 2006-2008. In 2013, he won the UC Davis research lecturer award and became a fellow of the American Geophysical Union in 2014. 

What is your background?

I have my PhD in Biology, and I was very fortunate after I got my Master’s degree to have been in the right place at the right time. I was finishing up and didn’t know what I wanted to do, and I was giving a poster at an ASLO conference (Association for the Sciences Limnology and Oceanography). The guy next to me had a poster up about foraminifera and a sign that said, “looking for research assistants to go to Barbados for two years to scuba dive” and I couldn’t think of any reason not to apply for the position. So I wound up getting a job, living in the Caribbean, living the Jimmy Buffett life, and conducting research on these organisms.

 Tell us about your research.

I study the geochemistry of the shells that these organisms produce. They’re marine protozoa (single-celled organisms). I am also studying how the various aspects of the physiologies (things like respiration, photosynthesis, changes in the pH of the organism as it goes through its life cycle) affect the shell chemistry. It turns out that foraminifera shells are one of the most important microfossil in marine ocean sediments, so we use it to reconstruct the climate of earth in the past. We can do this because the chemistry of the shell changes with changes in environmental conditions. By measuring the shell’s geochemistry, we have the ability to reconstruct what the oceanic environment was like when this organism was alive. This means that there is a link between climate, ocean chemistry, and the fossil shells in marine ocean sediments. The big question is: how confident are we in converting those chemical changes to things that are happening in the atmosphere and the ocean? That’s where my research comes in. We are able to grow foraminifera in the lab and change specific parameters, such as temperature, salinity, light, pH, and chemistry of seawater to see how the shell chemistry responds. This allows us to develop what we call empirical calibrations between an environmental change and a chemical change. And with this, we can use the fossil record to see how different aspects of the microchemistry changes and then relate it directly to the environment.

Over the last several years my colleagues Ann Russell and Jennifer Fehrenbacher, as well as Tessa Hill, were funded to work on non-spinose foraminifera. These organisms live deeper in the water column, in the thermocline. We can develop empirical relationships of these deeper species, so we can link it up with what we know about the surface and we can reconstruct the upper 150 meters of water column environment instead of just the surface. This opens up a lot of important information about what is happening below the air-water interface.

Watch a YouTube video about his work on Foraminifera HERE

 Why planktonic foraminifera?

Planktonic foramifera have been around for over 100 million years. In effect, we can go back to the age of the dinosaurs and figure out what ocean temperatures were like and what the salinity was like, and what the pH was like back then. The more important question for today is abrupt climate change. Over the last 20,000-30,000 years we’ve gone from a glacial period to a warm inner-glacial like today and the transition has not been smooth. The earth warmed up quickly and cooled down quickly within a matter of decades. One of the questions that’s being asked by paleooceanographers and paleoclimatologists is, “what are the mechanisms that drive planetary climate to change so quickly?” This is a relatively new concept and discovery.

The fossil foraminifera that we work with play a major role in reconstructing and understanding the mechanisms of climate change and ocean circulation and how they have changed on these time scales.

These organisms form the foundation of information that allows researchers like myself and climate modelers to put a story together that explains what has happened in the past. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle.

 What have you accomplished since you’ve began this research?

The reason scientists do what we do (besides the fact that we love it, and we love working with students) is to have those “eureka” moments, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have 2 or 3 of them. When I started working on planktonic foraminifera in the late 70s, paleoceanography was a new field. Mass spectrometers were just beginning to be in use, and the community was beginning to understand the large-scale change in climate over thousands of years. What I saw as I progressed through this, is that we were able to start demonstrating with laboratory experiments.

As we ran our experiments, we began to learn how to calibrate ocean pH in our laboratories using foraminifera isotopes. The first calibration experiments were done in my laboratory with colleagues in Catalina.

One of the walls the oceanography field had come up against was that oxygen isotope composition changes with temperature and salinity, and laboratory experiments were restricted by these 2 variables. So you either had to guess salinity to find the temperature, or the other way around. As apart of the experiments we ran in the late 90s, we discovered a new geochemical component of the shells that had varied exclusively with temperature. That allowed us to measure the temperature using only one chemical constituent, and this allowed us to compute salinity. This was a huge advance, and we published a paper on this in 2000 that has been cited over 700 times, and this moved the field forward again.

What else do you think needs to be done in this field? In what direction do you see it going?

After I got back from the NSF in 2008, I was able to see what was going on in the field with the proposals coming through. I realized that there was a new suite of technological advancements and instrumentation that was coming on board that was going to be, in my opinion, the next big break-through area for my field and many others. Over the last several years, I have devoted a lot of my time to working with these new technologies to try to apply them and develop the tools to go after novel information from the fossil record. The tools include laser ablation, ICP-MS (which is a type of mass spectrometer), NanoSIMS, and atom probe tomography (ATP). Where I see this field moving towards is working with these novel tools to answer fundamental questions.  

Emily Read

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Major: Environmental Science and Management, Class of 2015

Title: CMSI Social Media and Marketing Intern, UC Davis Study Abroad Administrative Assistant

Were you involved in any research during your time at UC Davis?

I participated in the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory Oceanography sequence during Summer 2014. I took oceanography classes from Tessa Hill and John Largier. I also conducted a research project on phytoplankton abundance in the Horseshoe Cove intertidal zone with my classmate Blake Hamilton. Our advisor was John Largier who provided guidance and support throughout the research process. This 6-week session allowed me to gain experience with formulating a plausible research topic all the way to executing data collection and presentation of analysis.

What else were you involved in on campus?

I am an administrative assistant at UC Davis Study Abroad and have studied abroad in South Africa and Ecuador. I have also done internships at the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital and the UC Davis Medical Center.

Do you have any memorable UC Davis marine/coastal related experiences?

One of my favorite experiences at UC Davis was snorkeling with salmon in the American River and seining in Bodega Bay with my WFC 120 class, taught by Peter Moyle.

What are your plans as a recent UC Davis graduate?

I am starting a Master of Environmental Science and Management program at the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management at UC Santa Barbara in the fall. My specialization will be Coastal Marine Resources Management with a Strategic Environmental Communication and Media focus. I look forward to exploring my interests in fisheries management and education and marketing.  

Do you have any advice for undergraduates interested in coastal and marine sciences?

Don't be afraid to take advantage of what CMSI has to offer even if your major seems unrelated. Diversifying your experiences is always valuable, whether it's taking oceanography classes at BML or spending a quarter helping with marine research on campus. Those unique experiences are the ones that could make you stand out in an interview or spark a new career interest. 

Bryan Nguyen

Bryan Nguyen

Major: Evolution, Ecology, & Biodiversity, 4th year

Title: UC Davis Bodega Marine Lab Peer Advisor

How are you involved on campus? 

I was a BML student during spring quarter and summer sequence 1 and did research projects on sandy beach ecology and water flow through mussel beds. The BML program provided me with the training and experience that I needed to pursue marine biology in graduate school and got me interviews at top marine science programs. I'm a part of the SEEDS club, which is short for "Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity and Sustainability." In addition to essentially being the ecology club on campus, SEEDS also aims to promote ecology to students from underrepresented backgrounds.

Bryan worked with Steven Morgan during his spring quarter at BML and Brian Gaylord during his summer quarter at BML.

What are your plans for after graduation?

I'm starting a PhD in Biology at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Because of my interdisciplinary interests, I have two advisors: Dr. Keith Crandall, a computational biologist, and Dr. Nancy Knowlton, a coral reef biologist at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. My research interests include using next-generation sequencing methods to study biodiversity in our oceans.