Featured Day in the Life of; Kathryn, PhD Candidate in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department

I am a PhD Candidate at the University of California, Santa Cruz in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department. I’m in my 6th year and wrapping up at the end of this year! It’s a bittersweet time for me because my graduate experience has been incredible, challenging, but incredible. I’ve been given the opportunity to teach field courses both locally and abroad and my study system is only 30 miles away so I get to spend a lot of time in the field. I am an experimental field ecologist, but more broadly I would say I am an estuarine ecologist–an ecologist who studies estuaries. Estuaries are where the land meets the sea, and my research focuses on 1) using an experimental approach to understand the drivers of salt marsh loss and 2) restoring seagrass habitat and assessing how ecosystem functions (biodiversity, water quality, carbon storage, etc.) are affected by restoration. I also have my own public outreach/sci-com website, justsloughit.com (IG: @justsloughit) where I post photos, blogs and videos sharing my experiences as a woman in science and estuarine ecologist.

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0430: My best writing hours are from 4AM-10AM so I wake up early so that I can write away in peace before emails start to trickle in around 8AM. I’ve always been an early riser and that has served me well throughout my PhD.Beheshti_0648

0648: Most mornings I take a brief break from writing to take our dog, Abbott on a walk along a path by our house that leads to the beach–rough life, I know. I am very grateful for this early morning routine of mine. On our walks, I use the one air pod I’ve managed not to lose and listen to podcasts, mainly “Pod Save America”, “The Daily Show-Ears Edition” and NYT’s “the Daily”.  

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0924: Some days, like this day, I won’t go out in the field until the afternoon. That means I can fit in a quick hot cycle class. Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like…cycle in a hot room @hotelevationstudios, and it’s AWESOME! I find that I am so much more productive when I take the time to get in some exercise, my mind is so much clearer once I’ve expended a good amount of physical energy. And it’s guilt-free because remember, at this point in my day I’ve already worked about 5 hours.

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1016: After cycle, I’ll have a late breakfast/early lunch which usually consists of a handful of almonds and coffee or if I have time, some oatmeal and coffee, or a slice of my yummy homemade vegan zucchini bread and coffee, long story short, it’s always coffee paired with something. I drink a lot of coffee throughout the morning and switch to a more calming elixir in the afternoon of hot water, fresh lemon, honey, cayenne and turmeric. Beheshti_1320

1320: All of my research is in Elkhorn Slough, an estuary located in Monterey Bay, CA. Estuaries are where the land meets the sea, so I get the best of both worlds. Here we are at Moss Landing Marine Laboratory’s (MLML) Small Boats Facility where our boat, the ESNERR Livingston is temporarily being docked. ESNERR stands for the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve. Elkhorn Slough is one of 29 estuaries across the United States within the National Estuarine Research Reserve, or NERR network. Collaboration with multiple organizations is so important in STEM, and this is one of those partnerships (ESNERR and MLML) that has only grown over time. Pictured on the dock are three of my research interns–Chestina, Annakate and Annabelle. Beheshti_1438

1438: On this particular day we were working in the seagrass beds of Elkhorn Slough collecting cores to process at the lab using a technique called LOI or loss-on-ignition, which is a fancy way of saying we prepare sediment samples, burn them at super high temperatures, all the organic material burns off and the difference in the before and after burning tells us what percentage of the sediment was organic (Total Organic Matter, TOM) vs. inorganic. I have so many photos of seagrass in Elkhorn Slough, these beautiful marine flowering plants are often partially exposed at low tide and are extremely photogenicBeheshti_1644

1644: Elkhorn Slough is one fickle lady. Our day started out warm and sunny and ended in dense fog and wind. Knowing how unpredictable the weather can be in Elkhorn Slough, I always wear layers–I think my record is 9 layers of clothing, when I’m wearing two pairs of pants and socks, you know it’s going to be a long day full of sniffles, snot and cold muddy hands. On my instagram account (@justsloughit), I often post pictures from my field and lab days and this is a rare selfie showing my post-field work face, unamused by the cold weather. To say I am not “built for the cold” is an understatement, I am in awe of my peers that work at high latitudes (or altitudes for that matter).

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1744: After field work I headed back to the lab to process some sediment core samples from the day before. Not pictured is my husband and our dog Abbott sitting in the lab with me keeping me company as I work into the night. Luckily, the lab has WIFI so I brought my laptop and the boys watched TV and ate snacks while I processed samples.

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1944: We didn’t leave the lab that day until 2145, and this is a picture of one of the cores we had collected earlier in the day. You can see the layer of water on top and the sediment a few centimeters below. This is the first step in the core process–subsampling. We take 2cm intervals of sediment from each core and run a grain size analysis so we know what percent is sand vs mud and then we acid rinse the other sub-sample (for that same interval) and run it up to the lab on upper campus to burn it like crazy (500 degrees Celsius) so we can know what the Total Organic Matter (TOM) value is!
This particular day was a long one. Normally I am up at 4 and in bed by 8-830. But as I near the finish line of my PhD, days are lengthening and the coffee intake is extending into the afternoon. My PhD experience has been fantastic. These past 5 years (going on 6) have been the best years of my life. It’s difficult and you are constantly challenged, but you are given the freedom to study your passion–and for me, that is understanding and conserving estuaries!

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