Lindsey Peavey, a third-year Ph.D. student in Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, spends her time in graduate school traveling the globe, swimming with turtles, and working on a plan to change the world (through mapping, conservation, and management of the olive ridley turtles). Lindsey has found a way to share her passion with the public by crowdsourcing money for her research, while also raising the public interest about the olive ridley turtle species. I asked Lindsey to share her experience as a graduate student and here is what she had to say:
Tell us a little about your research.
When I decided to go to grad school, I quit my job and went to sea for four months to lead a sea turtle research project for the Southwest Fisheries Science Center, knowing that I would probably use the data I collected for my graduate research project. I already knew that I wanted to study sea turtles in grad school, but after being at sea, collecting data in a place where not many others had been able to, and seeing turtles in open-ocean environments (new for me at the time), I fell in love with pelagic ecology.
At that time, I had too many research questions for one Ph.D., but through the years I’ve managed to narrow my focus to a few questions that are digestible during my Ph.D. tenure (I hope). One thing I’m investigating is what vulnerable olive ridley sea turtles eat in the eastern Pacific Ocean when they are far from shore, and what role they play in pelagic foodwebs. I’ve previously collected skin samples from individual turtles that I encountered at various distances from shore and at various latitudes across the eastern Pacific. I am currently analyzing those samples for stable isotopes (carbon and nitrogen) to determine what they eat, and where. Specifically, I want to know if they utilize distinct open-ocean foraging areas.
In short, I’m trying to develop an open-ocean foraging roadmap for olive ridleys in the eastern Pacific Ocean, which will inform natural resource management, such as reducing the accidental capture of olive ridleys in fishing gear. In addition to this, I’m developing an accurate individual growth model for this species, as well as a flexible population model that will enable managers to choose optimal management strategies based on specific desired conservation goals and limited resources.
What has your experience been like crowdfunding your research?
Crowdfunding through the SciFund Challenge was a great experience. It gave me an opportunity to raise some much-needed funds for my field and lab work, and it also forced me to communicate my science to a much larger audience than perhaps I would have. I was able to utilize social media (Twitter, @lepeavey; and Facebook), and I started a blog (turtlesinthedeep.org). It allowed me to connect with people from all over the world who are interested in my research and want to help my project be successful.
I encourage all grad students to try crowdfunding, and/or to find a way to engage the general public in your research. It’s easy to get stuck in the “ivory tower.” Connecting with people outside of academia gave me new perspectives on my research and its broader impacts, as it’s made my job even more fun and rewarding!
What has graduate student life been like for you?
I started grad school as a master’s student at Duke in 2008. It’s now 2013 and I’m still a grad student!
Although the grad student salary (especially in Santa Barbara!) and living on a shoestring can be trying at times, I really can’t complain. I’ve been very fortunate to have amazing fieldwork and research opportunities come my way. As a grad student, I’ve done research in Antarctica (e.g., Humpback Whale Song and Foraging Behavior on an Antarctica Feeding Ground), the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean (e.g., Good News from the Field), Costa Rica, the Channel Islands, San Diego, the North Western Hawaiian Islands, NCEAS, and right now, at the University of Hawaii (e.g., Turtle Wrangler Turned Lab Rat).
Aside from all the exciting research, being immersed in university life has been a treasured experience. I love the hustle and bustle of campus life, especially when campus is nestled in a gorgeous place like Santa Barbara. I do not take for granted being able to take a work break and walk my dog on the beach, or sit in the courtyard and eat a sunny lunch with my lab mates, or attend a provocative lecture on something totally different than what I study, or play an intramural sport with my friends in the evening. The university is teeming with life, and we all contribute to it and get to reap the benefits.
When I started grad school as a master’s student, I didn’t lead as balanced a lifestyle as I should have. It’s easy to get swallowed up in the day-to-day grind of going to class, meeting deadlines, jumping through hoops, going to every interesting talk, meeting with every visiting lecturer, and dipping your toes in every project you can, so you don’t miss out on anything. While that is a very exciting, full, and sometimes fruitful way to push through grad school, it’s not sustainable.
As a Ph.D. student at UCSB, I’ve tried to balance out my life so that I can be as productive, efficient, and effective with my research as possible, but also maintain a healthy life outside of school. It’s hard to do sometimes, but I think it’s important. I’ve learned to not jump at every opportunity in order to stay focused, and I’ve learned to prioritize and say no. After surviving a few years of grad school, I know myself and the things I need to be happy and productive, and to graduate! For me, socializing outside of school is important, exercise is a necessity, keeping most nights and weekends reserved for non-work activities is re-energizing, sleep is something I can’t do without, and keeping up with my non-work interests and hobbies makes me enjoy and appreciate my work more.
What has been a source of motivation or drive for you in your graduate studies?
After college, I knew I wanted to go to graduate school because I wanted to keep climbing higher in my field, but I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to study. I was drawn to marine conservation, so I worked in that field for about 6 years before returning to school. During that time, I worked for small nonprofit organizations that coordinated long-term sea turtle monitoring programs in Baja (www.grupotortuguero.org), and I worked closely with other sea turtle research projects in San Diego. I gained valuable skills while working, and I also found a passion for studying charismatic and endangered sea turtles. Once I was confident in my career trajectory and research questions, I was super excited to start grad school.
Having the motivation to return to graduate school was the easy part; maintaining the motivation and endurance going on five years of grad school, with a few more to go, that’s the hard part. It definitely ebbs and flows, but I think the reason I’ve been able to stay motivated is because I truly love what I do. A big part of it is that it’s not just a job, it’s a lifestyle. Some people have to go to jobs every day that they don’t necessarily believe in, or feel strongly about. I realize that I am extremely lucky that I go to work every day and I am surrounded by smart, enthusiastic people who are passionate about what they do, which is contagious. I think another part of it is that I feel that I’m contributing to the greater good. There are lots and lots of professions that make the world a better place, so I am sure I am not alone in drawing motivation from knowing that what I’m doing, if I’m doing it right, is improving the lives of people, and sea turtle populations. Then, of course, there is that notion that my dream job is in store. After seven years of graduate school, there will be an interesting, well-paying, worth-all-the-blood-sweat-and-tears job with my name on it, right?
What is the accomplishment that you are most proud of?
When I was working for a nonprofit organization called Wildcoast in 2003, I started an education program for underserved youth called Ocean Connectors. Through the program, school kids in San Diego engaged with school kids in Mexico, as students on both sides of the border learned about one of their shared resources, migratory endangered green sea turtles. I started the program with a small grant from the Port of San Diego in 2003.
In 2004, the program and I moved to a different organization called ProPeninsula, and I was able to secure a larger grant from the California Coastal Commission to expand the program to include field trips to San Diego Bay. This allowed students in San Diego to see live green turtles and also observe the monitoring activities of Southwest Fisheries Science Center researchers. For some of the classes of students, this was their only field trip of their school year. The kids loved it and learned a lot and so the program grew each year. When I left my position to return to grad school, I handed it off to a fabulous marine biologist (Frances Kinney), who has continued to grow the program, which now includes gray whales and seabirds. Every time I hear about how successful the program has become, it makes me smile, in part because it probably wouldn’t exist if I hadn’t gotten it off the ground 10 years ago, and that’s a nice feeling. I hope it keeps growing and growing!
What do you do to relax? Any hobbies, collections, pastimes, favorite places to go, favorite things to do?
To relax I like to go hiking, beachcombing, or paddleboarding – all with my dog, Carita Feliz. I love to play basketball, but I’m too competitive for it to be a relaxing activity. I love to watch sports, especially college basketball and football. Doing almost anything outdoors and active makes me happy and feel alive. I love the ocean, but I also love the forest, mountains, lakes, rivers, streams, wetlands, islands – I love it all.
Over the past few years I’ve gotten into photography. I have a lot to learn, and it’s such a fun hobby! I really enjoy traveling, and I find that when I go long stints stationary, I feel a little empty. Experiencing different cultures, exploring new places, and meeting new people reminds me of how big the world is and how many great people and landscapes make it remarkable. It inspires me to be a better person. However, I also thrive on dropping roots and engaging in my local community and enjoying quality time with family and friends. It’s really important to me to feel grounded.
Things that make me happy include: Introducing someone else to something I know they’ll really love (e.g., I’m a little pushy with the kale, but I really do think everyone should love it) or doing something for someone that I think they’ll really like (e.g., taking photos to help capture a memory). I like bringing people and things together that mesh; it makes me feel valuable when I see something special in someone or something and others appreciate it, too. That’s a cool feeling. I definitely get more enjoyment out of giving gifts than receiving them – that kind of thing. The ocean, waves, sunshine, and warm breezes make me happy, too, of course.
I run because I should, and sometimes I like it, but most of the time it’s just to prove to myself that I can (and to get a quick workout in, outdoors). I have so many favorite places, even just here in Santa Barbara, too many to name! We are lucky to live here, that’s for sure.
What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you?
I’m afraid of heights, and it stinks. It wasn’t always like this. I’m trying to get over it, but I think I’m aging in the opposite direction for that to be an easy task. I’m working on it! And I love singing karaoke. Those who aren’t surprised by that probably know it all too well.
What do you hope to be doing 5 or 10 years out of graduate school?
Five years after grad school I hope to be chasing a kiddo or two of my own around the beach, and settled into “home,” wherever that ends up being, hopefully, close to my family (who are on the east coast…unless I can convince them to move west). Ten years out of grad school I’d like to be shuttling the kiddos around town (hopefully to basketball practices) and settled into a rewarding job that allows me the flexibility to kick-butt at work, and have a full life at home, too.
Recently I’ve been having doubts that a career in academia will allow for that (see the plethora of recent articles about women shying away from academic careers, e.g., Nature’s “Women in Science” feature: http://www.nature.com/news/specials/women/index.html). Working for the National Marine Fisheries Service, or a similar agency, seems like a nice place to land. They do a lot of work on the pelagic ecology and management of endangered migratory species that excites me. It would be fun to be coaching high school girls basketball, again, too. I do enjoy teaching.
Do you have any advice for current grad students?
Exercise. Eat well. Sleep. Play as hard as you work. Be kind, humble, and merry. Be sure to love what you do.
Grad school is too long and challenging to not finish it knowing that you have just spent many prime years of your life studying something you’re really passionate about that you would have done for free (and basically did). And, perhaps even more important, I’ve found, is to surround yourself with a killer support network of folks who care about you as a person (not just as a brain), e.g., family, friends, colleagues, workout buddies, happy hour homies. And, make sure this network includes many people outside of your work life. Your life should be fuller than, and reach beyond, the grad school bubble. Don’t get me wrong, I love the bubble, but it’s not the center of the universe, and that’s a good thing. Don’t spend time around people that bring you down. It seems silly to say, but we all do it to ourselves. So many people lift us up, and those are the gems that should get our time.
Also, try and be one of those people that lift others up. Its not always easy (especially if you’re feeling down yourself), but it feels good (it will make you feel better), and it all comes back around. Hunter Lenihan gave me the great advice: Be sure to celebrate successes, even the small ones. As academics, our lives are full of critiques and rejections, so when you get that paper accepted for publication, or a proposal funded, or have a really great meeting with a committee member, or give a stellar presentation – soak it in, smile, enjoy it, and celebrate.
Anything else you’d like to add?
UCSB is a special place. Something that I’ve had to remind myself of recently is that I can’t spend too much time thinking about what is next for me, because what is happening for me right now, today, here in Santa Barbara, is pretty incredible. There are amazing people here, and this is an awesome work environment, so take advantage of it and thrive while you’re here. The other day I read, “Stop looking for something better elsewhere and instead make wherever you are better.” It’ll be hard to make Santa Barbara better; it's pretty great. But we can try our best. Like Community Seafood and the Goodland Kitchen!