Scientist Earth Sciences Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Berkeley, CA
Ph.D., 1999, Oregon State University, Chemical Oceanography; M.S., 1997, Oregon State University, Chemical Oceanography; B.S., 1992, University of California-Davis, Chemistry; 1987-1989, Harvey Mudd College (Claremont, CA)
My work has focused on the application of geochemical tracers to the study of circulation in the Arctic Ocean. In particular, I have been investigating the use of barium as a tracer for differentiating the Eurasian and North American components of river discharge to the Arctic. I am especially interested in applying the results of oceanographic tracer studies to the growing body of work documenting the dramatic changes which have been occurring in the Arctic ocean-land-atmosphere-ice system since the late 1980s, and assessing the extent to which these changes are due to natural variability and anthropogenic forcing.
Ever since I can remember, I have been very interested in science -- I'm not exactly sure how or why this happened, it just seems like I was naturally drawn in that direction. Even as a little kid, I was always fascinated by Nature and the infinite complexity of the universe in which we lived. I loved to learn about how things work and why things are the way they are.
In school, science and math were my favorite subjects. I wasn't exactly sure about what I ultimately wanted to do for a career, but I knew I wanted to do something that related science. I majored in chemistry in college, and that turned out to be a good choice for me because chemistry is a very broad branch of science that has a lot of different applications (virtually every field of science or engineering involves chemistry on some level). After college, I decided to go to graduate school for my PhD, and I also decided to focus on some kind of environmental branch of chemistry. I wanted to do something that would let me do fieldwork outdoors that would be more adventurous than just sitting in a lab all day. I also wanted to do research that would assess important societal problems and ultimately be beneficial to humanity.
I was considering programs in either atmospheric chemistry or chemical oceanography, and I ended up choosing oceanography. I enrolled in a doctoral program at Oregon State University, which to me represented a good balance between a solid academic institution (in the top five nationwide for oceanography) and nice place to live and work for the 6+ years it took to complete my program. My thesis research focused on aspects of the Arctic Ocean system that were relevant to studies of marine pollution and the relationship between the Arctic and global climate change. I got to do a lot of exciting fieldwork in Russia and Canada, and I even cruised around under the Arctic ice for several weeks onboard a U.S. Navy nuclear submarine.
After graduate school, I got a postdoctoral fellowship (and later a full-time staff appointment) at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory -- this is a federal government laboratory adjacent to the campus of the University of California in Berkeley. I am continuing with my research on ocean chemistry and its connection with global climate. I am also trying to obtain adjunct faculty status at the UC campus so I can teach classes and mentor graduate students. All in all, I am very happy with my career and the options that lie ahead of me in the future.
If you think you might be interested in a career in science, I would advise you to take as many math and science classes in school and study particularly hard in these areas. Also, it would be a good idea to learn as much as you can about computers and get comfortable using them. When you're thinking about college, don't worry if you don't know exactly what it is that you want to do for your career. Many people switch fields as they get exposed to new ideas and new experiences in college, and often people end up doing something much different from what they started out with. The key is keep as many opportunities and options open for yourself as possible. Take lots of classes in math and general sciences like physics and chemistry -- these will provide you with a solid scientific base that will serve you well in whatever direction you ultimately choose to go.
Another thing I would encourage you to do if at all possible is to spend some time in a foreign country (or countries) -- as part of a school work-study exchange program or just a vacation with family/friends or whatever. I didn't travel abroad until I was in graduate school, and now I wish that I had done it much earlier. It really broadened my horizons and gave me a much less insular perspective on the world. Having an understanding and appreciation of other cultures (and learning to speak a couple of foreign languages) has not only helped me in my career as a scientist; I feel that it has made me a more complete person and a better global citizen.
When you're deciding on a place to go to college or graduate school, I would advise you to consider the big picture and look at all of the factors (i.e., not just academic considerations) that a place has to offer. Would you be happier at a huge university or a smaller college campus? Do you prefer an urban or a small town/rural setting? Do you want to be at a place that's highly demanding and super competitive, or would you rather be somewhere that has a more relaxed atmosphere? It is also a good idea to consider the level of openness, tolerance, and diversity at a university and its surrounding community. Are you going to be in an environment that is friendly and welcoming and supportive of people from all different backgrounds? I think it's important to look at all of these things and try to choose the best match for yourself, the place that's going to make you feel most fulfilled in all areas of your life. You should really, really try to visit some or all of the campuses that you are considering before you make a final decision. A lot of times, you will get a feel for a place (positive or negative) after you've walked around and checked it our for a while that you wouldn't get just by reading about it or hearing other people talk about it. Find a place that feels comfortable, someplace in which you're going to be happy spending several years of your life (and don't be afraid to transfer to a different school if you end up not being content with your initial decision). Try to balance your academic/career goals with your overall life goals, and keep in mind that a significant part of the learning and maturing process that goes on during your college years takes place outside of the classroom.