Multiculturalism in the Aquatic Sciences

Minorities in the Aquatic Sciences

Christina L. De La Rocha, Ph.D.

University Assistant Lecturer (Equivalent to Asst Prof), Department of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge, Cambridge Cambridge, UK

Academic Preparation:

B.A., June 1992 University of California, Santa Cruz, Marine Biology; Ph.D. 1997 University of California, Santa Barbara, Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology

Research/Professional Interests:

My primary research interests involve biogeochemical cycles and primary production, nutrient availability and diatom ecology,and method development and mass spectometry. Through the use of novel stable isotope and trace element based proxies, I am able to determine how biogeochemical cycles, ocean chemistry, and marine productivity have varied in the oceans over time scales ranging from weeks to tens of millions of years. With nutrient availability and diatom ecology, I try to determine if there are any advantages to silicon limitation. Using the newly developed multi collector ICP mass spectrometers, I determine how well we can measure and what we can learn from the isotope abundances of not previously well investigated elements such as Si, Ca, B, Cd, Zn, Fe, etc.

Biographical and Research Summary:

I can't recall a moment when I wasn't going to grow up and become a scientist. All it took to convince me was an introduction (via the television) to a scientist or two (somewhat embarrassingly now, the rather fictional Dr Zarkov of the Flash Gordon serials, and Jacques Cousteau) and to the idea that scientists spend their lives exploring. Along the way to my present position as an oceanographer/stable isotope geochemist and lecturer (the UK equivalent of an assistant professor) in earth sciences at the University of Cambridge, I've been extraordinarily lucky to have always had strong supporters, mentors, and role models. I think it would be very hard to blossom in science, or in any field, without them.

I grew up near Los Angeles and did my undergraduate at UC Santa Cruz (which is an absolutely fantastic place especially if you are interested in oceanography). As has been the case with most every university I have spent time at, professors there took their roles as researchers and educators and role models very seriously. Thanks to the enthusiasm and excellent teaching of so many people at UCSC I fell in love with biological oceanography and plankton and nutrient cycling. From them I also received sound advice about applying to graduate school and the sense that it wasn't outrageously audacious of me to apply (i.e. graduate school wasn't out of my league, which for some reason at the time I thought it was).

Graduate school at UC Santa Barbara and a postdoctoral fellowship at UC Berkeley started me out on the lifelong process of both refining and broadening my area of research. Specifically, my research revolves around the reconstruction of past environmental conditions (such as nutrient levels in the ocean, or concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere) from subtle changes in the stable isotopic composition of microfossils preserved in marine sediments. Taking the wider view, I am very curious about the composition of seawater over the history of the oceans, and about the ties between nutrient cycling, marine productivity, and climate. It's the sort of work where you spend most of your time in a laboratory trying to measure things, and a very small but very rewarding part of your time out on the ocean bringing up in plankton nets fantastic tiny creatures, more astounding than anything you could dream up, taking water samples for later chemical analysis, and diggin! g thro ugh mud that has just been brought up from the very bottom of the ocean, 4 km away.

One thing I've found that often makes the difference between success and being average, quitting, or even failing is the idea that you are big enough, good enough, strong enough, and smart enough to do what needs to be done. When I look around at my most successful and esteemed colleagues, the thing that they all have in common isn't stupefying brainpower, but the ability to persevere and to never question their own abilities. They are the people who always keep moving towards their goal. They are the people who never ask, "Am I capable of doing this?" but instead think, "This is what needs to be done if I want to accomplish That. And This is how I will do it." If I have any advice to offer it would be, "Try to be one of those people!" You could go anywhere.