Recent Graduates

Class of 2016

Bethany Augliere

B.S. (wildlife science) Virginia Tech
M.S. (marine biology) Florida Atlantic University

Bethany Augliere

For years, I swam with dolphins. As a biologist with the Wild Dolphin Project, I became intimately familiar with a society of spotted dolphins in the Bahamas. I photographed them, documented their social behaviors, and spent so much time alongside them that their voices and personalities became just as distinct in my mind as those of my friends.

But the research was taxing and specialized. More importantly, it ended with the scientists. Each dolphin had a unique story, and I wanted to connect people with nature by illustrating the secret lives of these animals. My job morphed into multimedia manager, which combined everything I loved: writing, science, and photography.

As a science journalist equipped with words and images, I’ve found a way to dive more deeply into the natural world and those who study it.

School-year internships: Stanford News Service, Santa Cruz SentinelNature
Summer internship: EARTH Magazine (Alexandria, VA)
First job: Researcher, Schoolyard Films

Brendan Bane

B.S. (ecology and evolutionary biology) University of California, Santa Cruz

Brendan Bane

Majestic trees, beautiful birds, graceful whales—these inspire many childhood biology buffs. My muses were hairy tarantulas. On most days I entered their world by pressing my nose against terrarium glass or into the pages of natural history books. I later followed my passion to the cloud forests of Costa Rica, where I studied how tarantulas communicate their romantic intentions. (Basically, they twerk.)

Though I loved tromping through forests and spying on tarantulas in their roadside burrows, my greatest thrill did not come from the field or laboratory. Instead, I was happiest onstage, bringing my audience face to fang with spiders through visual storytelling. Now, through science reporting, I will immerse my readers in the lives of all flora and fauna, whether wondrous or weird.

School-year internships: Monterey Herald, UC Santa Cruz news office, KAZU Public Radio
Summer-fall internship: American Geophysical Union (Washington D.C.)

Emily Benson

B.A. (behavioral neuroscience) Colgate University
M.S. (biology) University of Alaska Fairbanks

Emily Benson

The steady beat of waves lapping the lakeshore at dawn and the ethereal echo of loons wailing at dusk bracketed my childhood summer days in New York’s Adirondack Mountains. Over time, my love of water evolved into a desire to study the creatures beneath the surface. My scientific endeavors took me to Alaska, where I examined algae under both sunny and snowy skies, and to Idaho, where I monitored threatened trout amid the occasional buzz of rattlesnakes.

Throughout those adventures, I told my friends tales of fieldwork salvaged from bears and floods, or beavers and cattle drives, first with my voice and later with my pen. I realized I wanted to share stories of scientists struggling to illuminate the world’s natural rhythms. Lakes and loons, floods and trout—I’m ready to chronicle their chorus.

School-year internships: Santa Cruz SentinelSan Jose Mercury News, Science
Summer internship: New Scientist (Boston)
Winter-spring 2017 internship: High Country News (Paonia, CO)

Laurel Hamers

B.A. (biology) Williams College

Laurel Hamers

In elementary school, a book on the lonely and impoverished lives of famous poets smashed my dream of someday becoming a writer. I didn’t piece it back together until my senior year of college, when I realized that my appreciation of well-crafted sentences outstripped my aptitude for wrangling fruit flies or crunching data. Plus, the scope of scientific discovery was so great that I couldn’t imagine confining myself to one small corner of it through a research career.

After graduation, my biology degree led me to a job writing press releases—for a physics organization. The words and symbols in the papers I read were in a new language, but I found it satisfying to manipulate them into something resembling English. I’m now hooked on sharing the elegance of science, without using iambic pentameter.

School-year internships: Santa Cruz Sentinel, Science, San Jose Mercury News
Summer-fall internship: Science News (Washington D.C.)
First job: General assignment reporter, Science News

Natalie Jacewicz

B.A. (biology) Harvard College

Natalie Jacewicz

The day I turned 11, my father roused seven friends and me at 6 a.m. to come see “a natural phenomenon” in the back yard. We tripped out of our sleeping bags and raced outdoors, expecting a solar eclipse or incoming meteor. Instead, we found two dung beetles rolling a clump of golden retriever scat. We went back to sleep.
Communication drives whether we celebrate a scientific discovery or wipe it off our shoes. Soon enough, nature’s rich stories drew me in. The evolutionary tale of Anolis lizards seduced me into a biology degree. My policy interests led me to management consulting in Washington D.C., where I learned how drug companies prioritize research and how NGOs select projects.

Science and policy profoundly shape each other. I want to awaken readers to the intricacies of both.

School-year internships: Salinas Californian, San Jose Mercury News
Summer internship: National Public Radio (Washington D.C.)
Current position: Furman Scholar, NYU Law School, and freelancing (NPR, The Atlantic, Scientific American)


Amy McDermott

B.S. (biology) University of California, Santa Cruz
M.A. (conservation biology) Columbia University

Amy McDermott

I’ve never been one for binaries. The world rarely operates in black and white. As a kid growing up in Southern California, I loved biology and the arts. They blurred together as I sketched our blue-gold agaves and the fence lizards skittering across our stucco garden walls. But in college, my diverse passions became a burden. I felt I had to specialize, to choose.

At 18, I chose marine ecology. Research took me from the velvety depths of the Monterey Trench to the sunlit shallows of Fiji. But without writing and art, I wasn’t whole.

As I deciphered the relationships between Melanesian reef fishes in grad school, I started an online science magazine. Telling visually driven stories restored my sense of balance. Now I don't have to pick among my passions. I choose them all.

School-year internships: Monterey Herald, KAZU Public Radio
Summer internship: Science News (Washington D.C.)
Fall internship: Grist (Seattle)
First job: Science writer, Oceana (May 1, 2017)

Erin E.A. Ross

B.A. (biology) Clark University

Erin E.A. Ross

When I was in kindergarten, I loved to tell my mom what I would be when I grew up. On Mondays, I would be a wildlife photographer. Tuesdays, an ecologist. Wednesdays, a geologist. As good mothers do, mine explained that most people don’t change careers daily. As good children do, I informed her that she was totally wrong. She just needed to wait and see.

College didn’t make my career path clearer. I loved everything I did, from writing to studying mosquito ecology to exhibiting my photography. After graduation, I started doing science communication at the New England Aquarium and the Boston Museum of Science. As I discovered the joy of weaving stories for my audiences, I learned something else: When you share science for your career, you get to be something new every day.

School-year internships: Salinas Californian, Big Picture Science podcast, Inside Science News Service
Summer internship: National Institute of General Medical Sciences (Bethesda, MD)
Fall internship: National Public Radio (Washington D.C.)
Winter-spring 2017 internship: Nature (Washington, D.C.)

Ramin Skibba

B.S. (physics), B.A. (philosophy) University of Notre Dame
Ph.D. (physics & astronomy) University of Pittsburgh

Ramin Skibba

In grade school, my friends called me “Mr. Encyclopedia.” I memorized hundreds of digits of pi, quoted Star Trek characters, and read as many books as I could carry on my back. Later, Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, the dazzling night sky above the Colorado Rockies, and many excellent and eccentric teachers propelled me into astrophysics. My insatiable curiosity also spurred me into sociology, political science, and philosophy.

During 15 years as a research scientist I analyzed the structure of the universe, zoos of galaxies, disparate views on dark matter—and our place among these wonders.

My work in public outreach, teaching, citizen science, and policy advocacy steadily pulled me toward communicating science. My explorations and investigations continue, but the stories themselves draw me onward, just as powerfully as Sagan and my teachers did years ago.

School-year internships: Stanford School of Engineering, Monterey Herald, Inside Science News Service
Summer-fall internship: Nature (Washington D.C.)

Alison Takemura

B.S. (biochemistry and cell biology) Rice University
Ph.D. (microbiology) Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Alison Takemura

During college, research was a black hole that sucked me in. In that unplumbed darkness, I grappled for footholds to reach my true passion: helping society cope with environmental uncertainty. I tinkered with microbial genomes in a quest for renewable energy, but the light overhead felt eons away. Grounded and more gratifying were my efforts in a group urging MIT to divest from the fossil-fuel economy.

I also loved the radio stories I caught on my walks to lab. The correspondents showed how scientific evidence inspires people: the state climatologist who finally acknowledged the footprints of climate change, the naturalist guide running for mayor in the Galapagos to protect its fragile ecology. With my own stories, I hope to unfurl what scientists know, and move readers’ hearts and minds from apathy into action.

School-year internships: Inside Science News Service, Santa Cruz Sentinel, NASA Visualization Explorer
Summer internship: The Scientist (Boston)
First job: Communication lab coordinator, MIT, and freelancing

Lindzi Wessel

B.S. (psychology) University of California, Davis
M.S. (neuroscience) University of California, Davis

Lindzi WesselAt the dinner table my family talks politics. A lot. I was more interested in how the brain forms, so I turned on the microscope instead of the news. (I also scoured the cognition literature in vain for strategies to tune out parental guilt.) But while studying how neurons grow using adult human stem cells, I started to explore the fraught history of stem cell research. I couldn’t believe how much our political and legal systems influence scientific advancements—and how science policies arise with so little public input.

Once I began to investigate the societal relevance of research around me, I couldn’t stop. Now during family visits, I’m talking about science and democracy. A lot. As a science writer, I hope to spark many more of these conversations, one dinner table at a time.

School-year internships: Stanford School of Medicine, Salinas Californian, San Jose Mercury News
Summer internship: STAT / Boston Globe
Winter-spring 2017 internship: Science (Washington D.C.)

Class of 2015

Chris Cesare

B.S. (physics) University of California, Los Angeles
Ph.D. (physics) University of New Mexico

Chris Cesare

I made my dad teach me how to play a computer game when I was five. Eventually, the insides of that mysterious gray box grabbed my attention, and playing turned to tinkering. I had to know how it worked.

Physics taught me about basic digital building blocks and how thermodynamics demands that computers function as space heaters. When I came across quantum mechanics—the ironclad laws of the very small—I was smitten. In graduate school I studied how to harness these quantum rules to make new kinds of computers. But as my focus narrowed, my curiosity expanded, and my devotion to a scientific career became uncertain.

Now I will satisfy that curiosity by telling science stories. No longer focused solely on quantum physics, I will probe what we know and how we know it.

School-year internships: Stanford University School of Engineering, Monterey Herald, Science
Summer-fall internship: Nature (Washington, D.C.)
First job: Senior science communicator, Joint Quantum Institute (U. Maryland/NIST)

Leigh Cooper

B.A. (biology, environmental studies) Saint Olaf College
Certificate (environmental education) University of Minnesota-Duluth
Ph.D. (ecology and evolutionary biology) University of Colorado at Boulder

Leigh Cooper

My professor advised me to become a science teacher after my partner and I, dressed as kangaroos, presented our kangaroo mating study as an episode of the radio call-in show "Loveline." Until then, I never thought to share my dizzying enthusiasm for the natural world through teaching.

As I slogged through graduate school, drowning in freshwater nutrient cycles, the fun of learning science began to dissipate. My students were my salvation. They asked the most important question: “Why should we care?”

I had forgotten what I had once known instinctively: As a teacher, I needed to find that one story, study, or kangaroo costume that viscerally engaged my audience. Now, as a science writer, I will connect my readers with a world where each brook and beetle bursts with a captivating tale to tell.

School-year internships: Salinas CalifornianInside Science News Service, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute
Summer-fall internship: American Geophysical Union (Washington, D.C.)
First job: Science writer, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Washington, D.C.)

Kerry Klein

B.S. (earth and planetary sciences) McGill University 

Kerry Klein

During my second year of college, Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” went wild in theaters. I remember lamenting with a friend that it took a politician to raise the climate alarm. That night we half-jokingly hatched an idea: Wouldn’t it be great if we found a way to translate science directly to the public?

Eight years and many left turns later, I’m finally headed in that direction. An early career as a geologist inspired me to explore this rock we call Earth, but dabbling in policy with the Department of Energy showed me I could do more than research. Only after hitting the airwaves with the Science Podcast and public radio did I discover how rewarding media could be.

Now, it’s my turn to help people connect with their home planet—without the partisan politics.

School-year internships: Salinas Californian, NASA Visualization Explorer, San Jose Mercury News
Summer-fall internship: KQED radio, Central Valley bureau (Fresno, CA)
First job: News and environment reporter, KVPR Public Radio, Fresno

Lisa Marie Potter

B.A. (Earth science, Spanish) San Francisco State University
M.S. (biology) San Francisco State University

Lisa Marie Potter

In high school, my view of science was covered by a paper bag and published by McGraw-Hill. I couldn’t see the forest for the boring text about the trees. Instead, the ocean taught me to marvel at nature. I watched the horizon bend into swells, saw fog layers come and go, and splashed in fluorescent green water during red tides. The ocean put it in terms I understood: Dude, science is rad!

While studying Earth science in college, I was fascinated by the interconnection between the atmosphere, geosphere, hydrosphere and biosphere. I was also struck that people feel a disconnect between humans and the natural world, as if we live in an isolated anthrosphere. By telling stories that weave together humans and nature, I hope to encourage us to reconnect—in terms everyone can understand.

School-year internships: Stanford University School of Medicine, Salinas Californian, Inside Science News Service
Summer internship: UC San Francisco news office
Winter internship: KQED Science
First job: Freelancing from San Francisco (UCSF, Monterey Bay Aquarium)
Current job: Science writer, University of Utah news office

Nala Rogers

B.A. (biology) University of Utah

Nala Rogers

As a child, I struggled to explain why the things I found—slimy or many-legged, perhaps delicately waving their antennae—were wonderful. People recoiled before I got to the best parts. So I kept them to myself and explored alone.

Later, when I shared discoveries with biologists, they understood. Their ideas ignited my own. I joined a scientific team and measured thousands of tiny bones to learn how voles fight. Amidst this clan, I was home.

Eventually, that home wasn’t enough. I realized that our knowledge of nature is immense, but most of it stays trapped in the sanctuary of academia. Now, I am learning how to share it. I write about science so that people can enjoy the slimy and the tentacular from the safety of the printed page.

School-year internships: Inside Science News ServiceSanta Cruz Sentinel, Nature
Summer internship: Nature Medicine
Fall-winter internship: Science
First job:
Science writer, The Wildlife Society
Current job: Science writer, Inside Science News Service (College Park, MD)

Rex Sanders

B.S. (systems ecology) University of California, Riverside

Rex Sanders

For more than 35 years, I've happily worked alongside research scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey in a supporting role. I created and ran a few unofficial outreach projects, including the popular Q&A service "Ask A Geologist." Outside of work, I loved explaining everything from the Big Bang to molecular genetics to local history. (Friends called me "Rexipedia.")

At my wife's suggestion, I started writing articles for an online backpacking magazine. I mentioned those pieces to my boss during a routine weekly meeting. A few minutes later she asked, "How would you like to move into science communications?" One unlikely event led to another, and here I am, learning a new trade. Soon I hope to lead much larger audiences on grand walks through scientific fields.

School-year internships: Stanford News Service, Salinas Californian, KUSP radio
Summer internship: Point Reyes National Seashore, U.S. National Park Service (multimedia)
Reconfigured job: Science communicator for U.S. Geological Survey, Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center, Santa Cruz

Kim Smuga-Otto

B.A. (bacteriology) University of Wisconsin, Madison

Kim Smuga-Otto

In 2007, I learned a magic trick. With a defective virus and a handful of genes, I transformed scrawny, exhausted skin cells into flourishing cell clusters. Tinkering with the nutrient broth could morph them into spiky neurons, beating heart muscles, or any tissue in our bodies.

My lab had uncovered a new source for stem cells. This being science, not magic, we eagerly revealed our secret to the world. For the briefest of moments, everyone—including my family—was genuinely interested in what I did.

To explain the steps and missteps that led to the Big Wow, I worked a different magic. I transformed an abstract discovery into a narrative that helped my audience understand the science and connect with the scientists behind it. That’s a trick I want to master as a science writer.

School-year internships: Monterey Herald, San Jose Mercury News, Stanford University School of Medicine
Summer internship: Stanford University School of Medicine
First job: Freelancing from Santa Cruz

James Urton

B.A. (biology) Augustana College
Ph.D. (molecular and cellular biology) University of Washington

James Urton

Science snared me early, and it was a natural fit. I was that annoying kid who loved books about dinosaurs, evolution and astronomy. I thought the natural world was fun and quirky, and I could not shut up about it. My folks bought a set of encyclopedias, which I monopolized as my new vehicle for exploration.

I became a biologist and entered the laboratory. I probed the genetic secrets of spiny fish, mustard weeds and fuzzy protozoa. But research left me unfulfilled.

Quietly, I began to explore. I spoke about science to community and church groups, dabbled in blogging, and found myself as happy as I was when I had my nose buried in those encyclopedias. Dinosaurs are back on the table, as is the rest of nature. I'm ready to be annoying again.

School-year internships: Monterey Herald, San Jose Mercury News, Stanford News Service
First job: Science writer, University of Washington news office, Seattle

Nicholas Weiler

B.A. (neurobiology and behavior) Columbia University
Ph.D. (neurosciences) Stanford University

Nicholas Weiler

Having grown up a bookish kid with a love of words, history and drama, I surprised my family by studying neuroscience. To me, it made sense. Language, art, civilization—all arise from this web of tangled neurons, puffing away in their tantalizing chemical language.

In graduate school I studied learning. How do experiences engrave themselves into the brain’s shifting patterns of connectivity? Eventually my own brain learned that I enjoyed telling the stories of science more than creating them myself. I became the nerve center for a network of neurobloggers and podcasters, carving the message home.

Now that I’ve traded pipette and microscope for notebook and microphone, I can record the drama of discovery and probe the space between human and nature. I've returned to the love of words and stories that enriched my childhood.

School-year internships: Santa Cruz Sentinel, Science, San Jose Mercury News
Summer internship and first job: Science writer, UC San Francisco news office

Leslie Willoughby

B.S. and M.S. (natural resources) The Ohio State University

Leslie WilloughbyMy first love was a horned toad that lived in my backyard in Albuquerque. It disappeared over winter, emerged in spring, and showed me that nature changes over time. Throughout childhood, I yearned to share that lizard's world with others.

In college I studied environmental interpretation. Afterward, at the newly created Ohio EPA, I funded programs that regulated scrubbers in coal-fired power plants and improved sewage treatment facilities. Later, as a science teacher, I set the lab tables with a new narrative each morning. Monday’s tale might compare skeletons; Tuesday’s could mimic a lunar eclipse.

When climate change became the biggest nature story, I signed on as a reporter in the Eastern Sierra. Now, forest fires rage and drought starves our snowpack and water supply. I need epic writing muscle. I work out every day.

School-year internships: Santa Cruz Sentinel, Stanford News Service, Science Insider
Summer-fall internship: Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment
Winter internship:
Point Reyes National Seashore, U.S. National Parks Service (multimedia)
First job: Freelancing from Santa Cruz 

Class of 2014

Nsikan Akpan

B.A. (biology) Bard College
Ph.D. (pathobiology and molecular medicine) Columbia University

Nsikan Akpan

The mind is where our dreams lift us, where our terrors haunt us, and where every concept of human existence and the universe originated. Who wouldn’t want to learn more about how it works?

Science was always my muse, but in college I became enchanted with the brain. I witnessed mental disease drain the essence from loved ones and the grandparents of friends. It astonished me how the brain can work so elegantly, then suddenly grow so fragile. This juxtaposition drew me toward doctoral studies on therapies for stroke and Alzheimer’s disease.

My voyage through scientific research also took detours into immunology, ecology, and even geophysics. But I decided I'd rather explore these mysteries with words on a page—and in my mind, as it rambles through the landscape of scientific discovery.

School-year internships: Santa Cruz Sentinel, KUSP public radio, ScienceNOW
Summer-fall 2014 internships: Science News, National Public Radio (Washington, D.C.)
First job: Digital producer, PBS NewsHour (Washington, D.C.)

Becky Bach

B.A. (biology and government) Wesleyan University
M.S. (ecology) University of California, Davis 

Becky Bach

My mom taught me how to write at the kitchen table of our Kansas home. I hated every minute of it. I’d rather have been playing soccer or exploring the wilds of suburbia.

Somehow, I stumbled onto the staff of my college newspaper. Having a press pass squashed my self-consciousness. It was a license to ask interesting folks almost anything, and I thrived on the paper’s esprit de corps. When I left academia, I yearned to share my neat new knowledge; science journalism was the career for me.

But first, I had more exploring to do. After stints at several newspapers, a winter monitoring the homeless, and five adventurous years as a park ranger, I’m ready to return to writing. This time, I’m seeking stories with curious characters, critical research and, most importantly, real-world implications.

School-year internships: Salinas Californian, Stanford University News Service, San Jose Mercury News
Summer-fall internship and first job: Digital media specialist, Stanford University School of Medicine

Julia Calderone

B.S. (neuroscience) University of California, Santa Cruz

Julia Calderone

According to my parents, I was destined to become a detective. My Friday night routine involved a hallway interrogation of my older sister after she waltzed home from a party. I knew most questions had answers, and most answers illuminated a world more interesting than my own. Why not ask?

This tendency served me well in college, where I studied neuroscience. It made sense to inquire relentlessly about our brains. Then, I homed in on the complex genetics of matching organ donors to transplant recipients. I loved making a difference for people, but it felt like my explorations had stopped.

Now I probe scientists on the mating rituals of slugs and the possibility of life on Mars. My childlike curiosity is back—and this time, I don't risk getting smacked by a sibling.

School-year internships: Monterey County HeraldNASA Visualization Explorer, KUSP radio
Summer-fall internship: Scientific American MIND (New York)
First job: Science reporter, Tech Insider
Current job:
Associate editor, health/food, Consumer Reports

Matt Davenport

B.S. (physics) Michigan Technological University
Ph.D. (physics) University of California, Irvine

Matt Davenport

In kindergarten, my career paths were scientist or superhero. Both sounded cool, and I dug the outfits. My bodacious science teachers showed me that one of these ambitions was not science fiction. Stories about cantankerous, irreverent astronomers and a bongo-playing, Nobel-prize-winning playboy convinced me that physics was equal parts math and moxie. I fell hard.

Courting my doctorate, I cultivated forests of carbon nanotubes to sniff out gas molecules, installed nanoscopic water slides to corral flowing ions, and drilled super teensy holes to interrogate viruses. I loved building eyepieces onto an invisible world, but I learned I’m not the type of guy who can settle down with one project. Turning my lens on science itself, I can keep things fresh while igniting new romances with nature, just as my teachers did for me.

School-year internships: Stanford University School of Engineering, Monterey County Herald, NASA Visualization Explorer
Summer-fall internship and first job: 
Associate editor, Chemical & Engineering News (Washington, D.C.)


Cat Ferguson

B.S. (neuroscience) Northeastern University

Cat Ferguson

The first time I wrote about science for real people, I read at least 15 papers on how our bodies respond to music. Each one was denser than the last. The article, just 400 words, ran in my undergraduate science magazine (circulation: 1,000). It was a fun but time-consuming hobby, separate from my destiny as a neuroscientist. I thought I could satisfy my investigative streak by pestering rats, eking out small truths with snapshots of their brains.

But every time I dug into journals or called a scientist, I grew fonder of translating Science into English. Soon I was running that magazine and pitching my first paid stories to national editors. I kept my head down and earned my degree, but I’m happy to leave the rats to the neuroscientists. I’ve got writing to do.

School-year internships: Santa Cruz Sentinel, Inside Science News Service
Summer internship and first job: Retraction Watch (New York)
Next job: Science reporter, BuzzFeed
Current job: Freelancing from Oakland, CA

Jyoti Madhusoodanan

B.S. (biochemistry) Gujarat University
M.S. (biochemistry) Majaraja Sayajirao University of Baroda
Ph.D. (biomedical sciences) State University of New York, Buffalo

Jyoti Madhusoodanan

I grew up across India in six different cities. With each move, I constructed mental landscapes of home by asking endless questions about everything around me, from plants, rocks and weather patterns to festivals, languages and diverse lifestyles. Factual answers grounded my perceptions of these changing geographies.

The joy of inquiry led me across continents to graduate school, where I tracked a viral hitchhiker through bacterial genomes using DNA sequences and electron microscopes. However, turning data into research papers left me unsatisfied. Over time, I learned that the nuances that completed my childhood explorations were people: their histories and their journeys to fathom the places we lived.

Finding these human elements of scientific discovery captivates me. Every question-filled trip reveals another personal tale of science—and takes me home to a new story.

School-year internships: Inside Science News ServiceSalinas Californian, Nature
Summer internship: The Scientist
First job: Freelancing from San Jose (Chemical & Engineering News, The Scientist, Nature)


Cynthia McKelvey

B.A. (biology) Oberlin College

Cynthia McKelvey

I loathed science class in high school because I thought it was boring. Then David Attenborough came into my life. His documentaries, and some stellar college professors, completely changed my attitude. From chainsaw-mimicking lyrebirds to spring-loaded stingers in jellyfish, nature grabbed me and hasn’t let go.

Behind the microscope, though, I always felt like an imposter. I looked cool on the surface, making fish brains fluoresce and controlling nerve cells with electrodes. But the tedium of the protocols sapped my enthusiasm. Science lost its dazzle.

When a labmate suggested I listen to Radiolab, the concert of science, soundscapes, and storytelling captivated me. I had my “a-ha!” moment when I realized I loved the tale of the “a-ha!” moment. I wanted to thrill others with such tales. I started to write, and science dazzled again.

School-year internships: Stanford University News Service, Santa Cruz Sentinel, Inside Science News Service
Summer internship and first job: Science writer, Multiple Sclerosis Discovery Forum
Next job:
 Science reporter, The Daily Dot
Current job:
Freelancing from Oakland, CA

Molly Sharlach

B.A. (biology and Russian) Williams College
Ph.D. (microbiology) University of California, Berkeley

Molly Sharlach

My version of playing outside usually meant gazing at anthills or gathering seeds and leaves. Closely observing nature came instinctively to me. In the Connecticut woods, at the Bronx Zoo, and at the American Museum of Natural History, I was continually amazed by life's diversity. Later, I daydreamed about ribosomes, polymerases, and mitochondria—the minuscule machines within my own cells.

As a graduate student, I had a ringside seat for the world’s tiniest tomato fight: a molecular competition between the plants and their bacterial adversaries. At the same time, a different conflict caught my attention. Even as scientists fine-tuned plant genes to create smarter crops, distortions of their efforts propagated fear of genetic engineering. Leaving behind my battles with microbes and molecules, I now gather explanations to take on the mysteries and misconceptions of science.

School-year internships: Stanford University School of Medicine, Santa Cruz Sentinel, Big Picture Science podcast
Summer-fall internships: Princeton University research magazine, The Scientist
First job: Science writer, Rita Allen Foundation (Princeton, NJ)

Nicholas St. Fleur

B.S. (biology, minor: communication) Cornell University

Thomas Sumner

A magnitude-7.0 earthquake triggered my interest in science writing. The sliding tectonic plates and severe aftershocks were fascinating enough, but the human side of the seismological story inspired me.

I was a first-year premed student when the quake devastated Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti—and the city where my parents were born. For the next week I was transfixed as medical correspondents painted a morbid picture of the disease outbreaks and death following the disaster. Though it was unsettling to watch, I found myself captivated by this juxtaposition of medicine and media.

I soon enrolled in a science and health reporting course and developed a passion for storytelling. Only rare science stories have tragedy at their epicenters, but they all have humanity beneath the surface, and I intend to unearth it.

School-year internships: Monterey County Herald, San Jose Mercury News
Summer-fall internships: National Public Radio (Washington D.C.), Scientific American (New York)
First job: Science writer, The Atlantic
Current job: Science reporter, The New York Times

Patricia Waldron

B.A. (biology) Grinnell College
M.S. (microbiology) University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Patricia WaldronI met my first science writer, Brian, while watching “The Thing” on a snowbound day in Antarctica. I spent that icy summer as a lab tech, puréeing fish for their DNA. Meanwhile, Brian helicoptered to field camps, photographed penguins and wrote stories for scientists and snow-shovelers alike. Clearly, he had the better job, but I was too focused on developing my molecular biology skills to notice.

I used those skills for several years to track the lives of underground microbes. I loved learning about the bacteria, but the tedium of lab work left me feeling one-dimensional. I recalled that Antarctic day and started writing about science for snow-shovelers. I kept going because my first stories about tuberculosis and STD rates in Oklahoma felt more valuable—both personally and societally—than all of my experiments combined.

School-year internships: Salinas Californian, ScienceNOW, Stanford University News Service
Summer internship: Inside Science News Service (College Park, MD)
First job: Science writer, Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, Cornell University

Class of 2013

Liz Devitt

B.A. (zoology) University of Vermont
D.V.M. Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine 

Liz Devitt

I was the quintessential little girl who loved horses. I didn’t want Barbie dolls; I wanted Breyer horse models, riding boots, and every equine book ever written. 

When I grew up, I broadened my horsey horizons to become a veterinarian. I was sworn to protect public health and licensed to heal every species—except our own. That vast territory of veterinary medicine once felt boundless to me. Now, growing conflicts among animals, man, and the environment threaten the well-being of us all, and I feel limited by my profession. I want to have more global impact.

Journalism, my other lifelong love, was the perfect solution. As a writer, I plan to hoof it around the world and use my medical history to find the science stories that might create our healthier future.

School-year internships: Monterey County HeraldStanford University School of MedicineSan Jose Mercury News
Summer internship: Nature Medicine, New York
First job: Environmental freelancing from Santa Cruz and editor, UC Santa Cruz research magazine


Ryder Diaz

B.A. (metropolitan studies, gender and sexuality studies) New York University 
M.S. (population biology) University of California, Davis 

Ryder Diaz

As a child, I spent a lot of time in the dirt. I was always hammering together scrap wood and abandoned metal springs in my backyard, or probing under twigs and leaves to examine the slimy things hiding beneath. I was a pretty filthy kid.

I went to graduate school to study ecology because my research let me stomp around in the muck and build contraptions to study bees. My hygiene improved, but my childhood drive to tinker and dig remained.

Now, I unearth scientific journeys and construct stories about them with words and with sounds. I love writing about the latest mystery, the bizarre discovery, and the science that changes lives. When I add the sounds of radio, I bring my audience right beside me, inviting them to explore our world together.

School-year internships: Salinas CalifornianSan Jose Mercury NewsInside Science News Service
Summer internship: KQED radio, San Francisco (Kaiser Family Foundation health reporting internship)
First job: Exhibit developer, California Academy of Sciences


Paul Gabrielsen

B.S. (geology) Brigham Young University
M.S. (hydrology) New Mexico Tech

Paul Gabrielsen

I grew up among the stunning red canyons and mountains of Utah. My Boy Scout adventures led to a college major in geology. Through new eyes, those same canyons and mountains from childhood hikes became colliding continents and incredible ancient landscapes. Later, studying hydrology, I learned to see humble streams as delicate, nuanced systems that affect every corner of this planet.

The fun of science is discovering something that changes how you see a river, a mountain, even a grain of sand. I have a curious daughter, and her questions about how the world works are teaching me that discovery isn’t just for a five-year-old. It’s also for her daddy, who is learning that at its essence, science is simple and clear and accessible.

Now I can share that fun through every word I write.

School-year internships: Santa Cruz Sentinel, Stanford University News ServiceScienceNOW
Summer internship: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center news office, Greenbelt, MD
First job: Science writer, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Washington, D.C.)
Current job: Science writer, University of Utah news office

Chris Palmer

B.S. (psychology and biology) Northern Arizona University
Ph.D. (neuroscience) University of Texas at Austin

Chris Palmer

I studied neuroscience to learn who we are and what makes us tick. Probing the properties of neurons—first in the visual cortex of primates, and then in the motor system of leeches—was supposed to yield deep insights into the biological origins of perception, emotion, even thought itself. Unfortunately, the biggest insight from my years as a scientist is that I am miserable behind a microscope.

Doing research did satisfy my obsessiveness and creativity; I wrote endless iterations of computer code and designed intricate leech obstacle courses. But as a postdoc, I found new outlets by writing review papers and editing manuscripts. This inspired me to write about the cornucopia of science at UC San Diego. Now my days are consumed by covering the discoveries and controversies that make science so intriguing.

School-year internshipa: Monterey County HeraldSan Jose Mercury NewsNature
Summer internship: The Scientist
Communications fellowship: National Cancer Institute
First job: Communications editor, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Current job: Science writer, National Institute of General Medical Sciences


Laura Poppick

B.S. (geology) Bates College 

Laura Poppick

I sympathize with people who find rocks boring, because they used to bore me, too. Geology called to me because I cared about the environment, not rocks. I loved water, mud, the homes of living things—but not cold, lifeless rocks.

Hundreds of rocks later, I changed. As I worked in Australia, North America, and the Arctic, I found entire eras bound in rocks. I didn’t care any less about mud and water, but rocks throbbed with stories of past environments. Fieldwork revealed more stories emerging from unexpected places, including dust and even septic tanks.

Science is energizing, and science writing gives me space to explore and share that buzz. If people find rocks boring or septic tanks simple, I want to change their minds. This challenge now energizes me more than science itself.

School-year internships: Salinas CalifornianMonterey Bay Aquarium Research InstituteWIRED
Summer-fall internship:, New York
First job: Science educator, Portland Children's Museum, and contributing writer, Live Science

Kelly Servick

B.A. (cognitive science and comparative literature) University of Georgia

Kelly Servick

I’ve always loved scavenger hunts. As a kid, I’d plant slips of paper throughout the house leading to a prize—or just to my hiding place, where I’d pop out and startle my unsuspecting hunter.

College felt a bit like a scavenger hunt for the right career, with cryptic clues hidden in textbooks and lectures. They diverted me from my English major and led me into the lab. But clues to my future were muffled by noisy EEG channels and a humming fMRI machine.

During my Americorps service at a Virginia state park, I designed a scavenger hunt to trick vacationing kids into learning about ecology. I loved organizing knowledge into a suspenseful journey. Now, by writing about science, I can map a route through complex research, leading my reader to something intriguing and unexpected.

School-year internships: Stanford University School of EngineeringSanta Cruz SentinelKUSP public radio
Summer-fall internship: Science, Washington, D.C.
First job: Biomedical reporter, Science


Rina Shaikh-Lesko

B.S. (biology) UC Riverside
M.P.H. (epidemiology/biostatistics) San Diego State University

Rina Shaikh-Lesko

My first reporting gig was with my junior high school newspaper. Soon I was more interested in dissecting frogs, so my reporting career went on hiatus for a couple of decades. Instead, I became an epidemiologist. 

The challenge of epidemiology is what drew me. How do we prevent illness in large groups? I came to admire the tenacious microbes I was trying to eradicate: measles, hepatitis, influenza, pertussis, and other vaccine-preventable diseases. But over time, I grew restless with long stretches of poring over dry data files. 

I got more out of the stories behind the science: the globe-trotting disease detectives who uncover novel viruses, the troubling deaths from drug-resistant bugs we thought we’d beaten. I want to share those stories, so I'm dusting off my reporter's cap—though it'll need to stretch a bit.

School-year internships: Santa Cruz SentinelBig Picture Science (SETI Institute radio)Stanford University School of Medicine
Summer internships: California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, San Francisco; The Scientist
Temporary job: Science writer, Joint Genome Institute (Walnut Creek, CA)
Current job: Freelance science and health journalist, San Jose (Stanford School of Medicine, The Scientist)

Jessica Shugart

B.S. (molecular and cell biology) University of California, San Diego
Ph.D. (immunology) University of California, Berkeley

Jessica Shugart

I got into scientific research to unravel the never-ending complexity behind seemingly simple things. Through the lens of science, boring colorless liquids teem with DNA molecules, and lonesome stars twinkling in the distance harbor families of planets. As an immunologist, I strained to see the molecular signals that turn T cells into murderers of microbes.

Yet as each tiny new piece of data came in, I realized that the part of science I loved the most was the telling of it. A plain old bar graph combined with just the right vivid metaphor could illuminate a whole new world—not just for my readers, but also for me. As a science writer, I hope to pull back the veil of jargon that too often separates us from the most human of endeavors.

School-year internships: Stanford University School of MedicineMonterey County HeraldSan Jose Mercury News
Summer internship: Science News, Washington, D.C.
First job: Science writer, AlzForum (Chico, CA)


Thomas Sumner

B.S. (physics) University of California, Santa Cruz

Thomas Sumner

I never understood how people could say science is boring. Wall-scaling robots, battalions of white blood cells, Europa’s hidden oceans—science is where all the cool things are! Growing up, I ached to become a scientist, to explore the unknown and make a cool new discovery of my own.

In college I learned about the quirky quantum world and the particle zoo. I studied particles blasted from the sun that whiz around—and sometimes into—our planet. But I also worked with fellow students on social justice, and I realized science goes far beyond merely being cool. As I saw how scientific advancements can truly better people’s lives, my passion became helping others understand and enjoy science. So I packed up my magnetometer and set off to share this passion with the world.

School-year internships: Inside Science News Service, Salinas CalifornianStanford University News Service
Summer-fall internship: American Geophysical Union, Washington, D.C.
Winter-spring internship: Science, Washington, D.C.
First job: Earth sciences reporter, Science News

Class of 2012

Marissa Fessenden

B.S. (interdisciplinary studies, biology and writing) Cornell University

Photo of Marissa Fessenden

I illustrated my chemistry notes with molecules morphing into faces and poems about reactions. The doodles were signs: I was worried that a biology career would not let my creative half breathe. Then a friend asked, “What are you proud of?” I remembered my essay on the Hubble Space Telescope that won a statewide contest. I decided to be a writer, but astronomy seemed too distant a subject. 

On a trip to India, I saw healthy, happy faces in a village transformed from poor to prosperous by water-management techniques. Later, in a neuroscience lab, I learned that some people think vaccines cause autism. These stories drew me in. I wanted to know what people thought of science: how it changed them, or why it threatened them. Now, I illustrate life with words as a science writer.

School-year internships: Santa Cruz Sentinel; SETI Institute "Big Picture Science" radio program; Stanford Medical School news office (multimedia)
2012-13 internship: Scientific American (New York)
Current job: Freelance science journalist (Bozeman, MT)

Daniela F. Hernandez

B.A. (biology) Amherst College 
Ph.D. (neurobiology and behavior) Columbia University 

Photo of Daniela Hernandez

I've always had a sweet spot for food. So do autophagic vacuoles, the sack-like organelles I studied in graduate school. These tiny cannibals like to chow down on proteins in their parent cells. I found that they also may regulate how our brain's neurons communicate with each other—a process that breaks down in degenerative diseases, like Parkinson's.

When I graduated, I decided to leave the vacuoles behind and do some communicating of my own. My penchant for writing science stories told me I was better at typing words than genotyping.

I spent the summer at the Los Angeles Times reporting about astronomy, neuroscience, transplant surgeries, paleontology, and, yes, food. The science intrigued me, but what fascinated me were the human stories behind the experiments. Those are the angles I want to reveal, to the people whose lives they affect.

School-year internships: Salinas Californian; (news); (social media)
Summer internship: Minneapolis Star-Tribune (Kaiser Family Foundation health reporting internship)
Jobs: Community reporter, WIRED; reporter, Kaiser Health News (San Francisco); science and tech reporter, Fusion
Current job: Digital science editor, The Wall Street Journal

Sarah Jane Keller

B.A. (biology, ecology concentration) University of Montana
M.S. (earth and planetary sciences) University of New Mexico

Photo of Sarah Jane Keller

Curious students in the dusty far reaches of New Mexico called me the “hawk lady.” With a predatory bird on my arm, I described how food chains and watersheds work. In graduate school, a computer replaced my bird-nerd persona and my field biologist’s boots. My community, like those I had visited in Peru and Mexico, depended on mountain water sources. I was drawn to studying trends in the southwestern U.S. snowpack, a field rife with weighty implications—and controversies.

In time, I decided that showing raptors to kids, or revealing the difference between weather and climate to friends and family, had more personal and public impact than yet another paper in peer review. Instead of adding more results to the specialized literature, I will gladly spread science stories to the far-flung reaches of public discourse.

School-year internships: Stanford University News Service; Salinas Californian;
Summer internship: Los Alamos National Laboratory
Fall internship: Conservation (Seattle)
Winter/spring 2013 internship and first job: Editorial fellow, High Country News
Current job: Freelance journalist (High Country News, Center for Public Integrity) (Bozeman, MT)

Tanya Lewis

Sc.B. (biomedical engineering) Brown University

Photo of Tanya Lewis

When I think about my ideal career, I think of the Horse Whisperer. No, I don’t want to lead a reclusive life communing with animals. But I do want to serve as interpreter for a group of creatures most people don’t understand. I am talking, of course, about scientists.

I grew up on the slopes of Mauna Kea on Hawai’i, in view of the world's largest telescopes. But in college and later at a German research lab I set my sights inward, on technology that decodes brain signals. One day, this may help people with paralysis regain mobility. It’s the closest we’ve come to psychokinesis, and dry scientific prose doesn’t do it justice. I want to furnish such science with the rich narrative it deserves. I’m no Horse Whisperer, but soon I’ll be the Nerd Interpreter.

School-year internships: Stanford Medical School news office; Santa Cruz Sentinel; SETI Institute "Big Picture Science" radio program
Summer internship: (San Francisco)
Fall internship: Science News (Washington, D.C.)
Jobs: Staff writer,; science reporter, Business Insider; science reporter, The Scientist
Current job: Associate editor, Scientific American MIND (New York)

Erin Loury

B.S. (biology, minor: English) University of California, Davis
M.S. (marine science) California State University/Moss Landing Marine Laboratories 

Photo of Erin Loury

My designs on becoming a writer started in the third grade, after hearing my teacher read one of my stories to the class. I was exhilarated; my words had taken on life, like the books I read so insatiably.

I kept finding ways to write as I pursued my love of nature by studying the ocean as a marine biologist. Between catching fish in protected areas at sea and studying their stomach contents in the lab, I created a blog for my graduate school. We used it to transport readers into the world of marine scientists, to showcase the diversity of ocean creatures and the challenges they face.

Writing about science helps me interlace two distinct parts of myself: the curiosity and discovery that tantalize my mind, and the artistry and creativity that captivate my heart.

School-year internships: Monterey County Herald; Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute news office; ScienceNOW
Summer internship: Los Angeles Times (Kaiser Family Foundation health reporting internship)
First job: Communications director, FISHBIO (Santa Cruz/Laos)

Beth Marie Mole

B.S. (biology and ethnomusicology) The College of William and Mary
Ph.D. (microbiology) The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Photo of Beth Mole

When I was an undergraduate, it was how bacteria in our gut teach us about our ancestors. As an environmental camp teacher,it was field trips to wastewater treatment plants to watch microbes transform goopy sewage into clean water. In graduate school, it was a bacterium that quick-changes from a halcyon detritus grazer to a ruthless plant assassin. And after my doctorate, it was bacteria that defeat antibiotics.

I loved it—all the fascinating its of the natural world. For years they were microbes and their adaptations, but now they’re global public-health issues and compelling interdisciplinary challenges—how geographers improve vaccines, what grasses reveal about the spread of malaria. Their endless possibilities led me from the bench to the writing world. I love sharing them as much as exploring them—the next its.

School-year internships: Salinas Californian; Stanford Medical School news office; San Jose Mercury News
Summer internship: Chronicle of Higher Education (Washington, D.C.)
Fall internship: The Scientist
Spring 2013 internship: Nature
First job: Chemistry, environment, and policy reporter, Science News (Washington, D.C.)
Current job: Healthcare reporter, Ars Technica

Meghan D. Rosen

B.S. (biology) Northern Arizona University
Ph.D. (biochemistry and molecular biology) University of California, Davis

Photo of Meghan Rosen

Most people take years to decide on a career, but I had mine picked out in second grade. When I grew up, I was going to become a professional juror. Listening to people’s stories, examining evidence, untangling truth from fiction—it sounded like the perfect job. There was only one catch: My ideal profession didn’t actually exist. 

My dissertation work nearly satisfied my childhood dream. I got to ask probing questions (Can mutant thyroid hormone receptors nudge a cell towards malignancy? How?) and share the answers. (We think so. They tinker with its genes.) But the molecular nitty-gritty of research was missing something I cared about: people. 

Now, through writing about science, I get to sort out a story’s facts and meet its characters. I think my second-grade self would approve.

School-year internships: Santa Cruz Sentinel; KUSP public radio; Multiple Sclerosis Discovery Forum
Summer internship: Science News (Washington, D.C.)
Fall fellowship: National Cancer Institute news office (Bethesda, MD)
First job: General assignment reporter, Science News

Helen H. Shen

B.S. (biology, minor: psychology) Stanford University
Ph.D. (neuroscience) University of California, San Francisco

Photo of Helen Shen

The brain can do a lot in 250 milliseconds. Simply reaching for a morning coffee requires signals so complex that I still haven’t cracked the code, even after seven years of trying.

I entered neuroscience research hoping to learn how electrical impulses in our heads define us as humans. Staring at the data, however, I realized it would take several lifetimes to explain arm movements, to say nothing of artistic expression.

Science writing became my refuge, allowing me to explore the scientific world at an accelerated pace. This summer, at thePhiladelphia Inquirer, I jumped at the chance to cover multiple topics each day, sometimes reporting on organ donation in the morning and nanotechnology in the afternoon. These days, my next great story idea feels like it’s just fractions of a second away.

School-year internships: SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory news office; San Jose Mercury NewsNature
Summer internship: Boston Globe (Kaiser Family Foundation health reporting internship)
Fall internship: Nature (Washington, D.C.)
First job: Research news editor and reporter, Nature
Current job: Freelancing from San Jose (Nature, PNAS)

Stephen Tung

B.S. (mechanical engineering) Cornell University

Photo of Stephen Tung

I love engineering. I designed banks from Legos and air motors from aluminum, my mind always gravitating toward combining smaller parts into something bigger that worked.

My ideas have remained grounded in the functional, but my medium has now changed. Plastic toys and metal have become web code and words. My previous creations connected form to function, but my new ones will connect curiosity to knowledge.

With these tools, I imagine forums for scientists to connect directly with the public, interactive websites that convey how research fits into the larger body of knowledge, and customizing content to give readers exactly the level of detail they want. That's a new design in science communication. I want to be part of it.

School-year internships: Monterey County Herald; Stanford University News Service; San Jose Mercury News
Summer internship: U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (Walnut Creek, CA)
Fall/winter internship and first job: Multimedia exhibit designer, San Francisco Exploratorium
Current job: Independent data journalist and graphics developer

Amy E. West

B.S. (marine biology) University of the Virgin Islands
M.Sc. (marine science) University of Otago, New Zealand

Photo of Amy E. West

I did everything against the grain. I left a landlocked state to study the ocean, joined Peace Corps to live among cannibals, moved to New Zealand for graduate school without first being accepted, and racked up research experience worldwide in subjects ranging from sifters (phytoplankton) to drifters (whales) without climbing any career ladder. I was astonished I could thrive in any research environment, yet be overlooked professionally because of my diverse interests. 

Obviously, I couldn’t play the role of conventional scientist. Nor did I want to. 

Instead, I envisioned channeling Sylvia Earle, Jacques Cousteau, and Rachel Carson collectively to publicly demonstrate the relevance of marine science. Unsolicited written stories, videos, and even hand gestures had been my tools. I’ve now discovered a more formal approach to communicating science and a way to go with the grain.

School-year internships: Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute news office; Monterey County Herald; KUSP public radio
Summer internship: Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy (video production)
Fall/winter internship: Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, Japan
Jobs: Contract writer, Monterey Bay Aquarium; freelance writer and videographer
Current job: Multimedia producer, U.S. Geological Survey (Santa Cruz)