Ben Davis is a master’s student at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at University of California, San Diego. He is focused on sensor development to map the brine plume from the Carlsbad desalination plant and other coastal biogeochemical processes. He will be defending his thesis in early June titled, “Development and testing of a sensor package for sea surface mapping in the nearshore environment by human powered watercraft”. Below are his reflections on the SW CASC Natural Resources Workforce Development (NRWD) Fellowship.
There is a phrase I heard a while back that resonated with me deeply. It is something along the lines of “behind a stack of books there is a dam of knowledge, choose one and let it flow”. I’ve heard people say this to incite young readers and inquisitors of the like to welcome new information, but I like to view it as letting the river of knowledge flow for the whole world downstream. And like a stack of unread books, humans can be a dam for information, too. We live in a society where we frequently praise the framework of free speech and the ability to shed light on the truth. Yet, there are many instances in academia when extractors of data, whether it be universities, researchers, journal executives, etc., create systematic blockades by being exclusive on what they write about and who they share it with, and that can greatly affect the population outside of the scholastic realm as well. I may have just been naive, but I was perplexed when I arrived at graduate school and realized academia was not exempt from the common workplace struggles of gatekeeping and ostracism to maintain the status quo. Therefore it is crucial to not only remove the barriers of information transfer, but to also relay what was learned for a more accessible and well-informed future. This was the main motivation for me to apply to become a SW CASC NRWD Fellow.
Before coming to Scripps, I was a marine science instructor at the Catalina Island Marine Institute where I taught incoming students from all grade levels about aquatic biology, ecology and oceanography, while also getting to lead some pretty cool hikes and snorkels. Most of these young individuals would come from the Greater Los Angeles area and, for many of them, it was their first time interacting with the ocean. Despite living only 10 miles from the sea, they lacked a basic understanding of the role the ocean plays in the natural world and how humans impact it. It was not their fault, however, as it was evident that this gap of knowledge was a result of the restrictive industrialized mindset that came along with urban sprawl and ecological exploitation. Without basic access to nature and relevant information, how could they possibly have the enthusiasm to care for the environment? In choosing my project for my Master’s thesis, I ,too, was seeing myself becoming pigeon-holed in a highly specialized field where too many people easily put their head down and produce papers without approaching problems holistically. The SW CASC fellowship provides the interdisciplinary collaborations and actionable science that I was seeking. With this opportunity, I was thrilled at the prospect of continuing to learn from ongoing research, mentors and peers from partnering universities and doing my part in amplifying the deserving voices for applicable findings through an academic institution or to people in my everyday life.
The fellowship began with a training to help us foster healthy, integrative and inclusive science collaboration for graduate students across a wide variety of disciplines, and it was comforting to know that everyone had something to teach one another in some sort of fashion. Our intentions were laid out from the beginning and our cohort decided to focus our project on different proactive fire management strategies among federal, state, and Indigenous oversight. Although this type of research is not directly related to my background, it was apparent that we had the same goal of dedicating our work to highlight historically suppressed knowledge, primarily Indigenous epistemology, and bring it to the forefront of western science communication with our platform, not as a comparative study but to display the interdisciplinary approaches to creating a healthier and more inclusive future for our planet. Through numerous webinars, papers and an intensive Institutional Review Board (IRB) training, I gained valuable skills that have been directly applied to this project and to other facets of my academic career.
Despite not having the face-to-face interactions that the world yearns for at the moment, my team and I are always in constant communication over Slack and Zoom to resolve issues, meet deadlines, and provide companionship. The training accurately modeled how driven individuals can support one another and make meaningful contributions to a project from a team-oriented mentality. Like most sports I loved playing growing up, I would not be able to even participate if it weren’t for my talented peers to assist and teach me along the way. I am immensely grateful for my other Fellows that constantly remove books from their library of wisdom so the water can flow to me, and hopefully make its way downstream.