Q & A with Kelly Cribari

Why did you decide to pursue a Master of Marine Affairs?

During my undergraduate career, I studied Marine Biology, took many lab classes, and spent my time focusing on ecological questions. I began to realize, however, that how I viewed my work as a scientist was different from how it was perceived by the public and by policymakers using the research to make decisions. Coming to this program, I wanted to gain some understanding of how difficult environmental decisions are made and how to frame my questions as a scientist to better suit change in the future. It also broadened my perspective as to what environmental change could mean not just to ecosystems or organisms, but the broader human population and surrounding communities. This new insight can help me better serve my community and strengthen my career.

Why did you decide to come to UW’s SMEA for graduate school?

I grew up and went to school on the East Coast, so when it came time for graduate school I wanted to explore a new coast. I had never been to the West Coast prior to my acceptance into UW, but knew about the abundance of organisms and biodiversity in the region and was excited to learn about it all. UW and SMEA became top of my list after some correspondence with Prof. Ryan Kelly, who is currently conducting research using environmental DNA from around Puget Sound. He does this through a process called Polymerase Chain Reaction or PCR, something I had experience with during my undergraduate career. Coming to SMEA for my graduate schooling would offer me an opportunity to learn more about the policy process while also increasing my research experience by working in Prof. Kelly’s lab. These two things would set me up well for whatever I wanted my future to be.

Are you doing a thesis or capstone project? If thesis, what are you writing your thesis about and why? If capstone, what is the project about?

I am on the thesis track, using my lab time to create a project with Prof. Kelly’s guidance. Over the past year, the lab has collected environmental DNA samples from around San Juan Island, WA. I plan to sequence the DNA in these samples using genetic primers that isolate DNA from marine vertebrates, with a goal of taking a survey of marine mammals from around the island in a time series. Due to the fact that environmental DNA is still a relatively new technique, I plan to compare my sequencing results to visual and acoustic marine mammal observations from the same locations on the island. This comparison will show where the gaps in each technique are, and provide insight into how to best use the three techniques together to monitor marine mammals in the area.

What has been your favorite class at UW so far? Why?

This is a tough question, because each class is so different. It is probably a toss-up between my Micro Economics (SMEA 536) or U.S. Ocean and Coastal Law (SMEA 515) classes. Neither class was something I had experience with previously but really opened my eyes to how our world works! The economics class discussed the possible reasons that people make the decisions that they do, based on a variety of factors and the law class discussed each of the main Acts the U.S. uses to regulate marine life and resources. Both professors were fantastic and know how to keep the students engaged and interested in the topic.

What do you like most about SMEA?

I really enjoy the variety of backgrounds that the people of SMEA come from. As much as I learn from my professors, I’ve learned just as much by engaging with my peers and talking about their life experiences. There are people in my program that pick up on things that would not even be on my radar, so it’s exciting to learn from them and gain a whole new perspective on a variety of topics.

What’s it like to live in Seattle? What do you do in your spare time?

Rainy! It’s a beautiful and green city, literally and figuratively. I love being in an environment that is so environmental conscious and feel like I am surrounded by people that really want to save the planet on a daily basis. Because of all of the rain though, the plant life is so vividly green and lush almost all year-round. In my spare time I like to paint marine life in water color, bake anything chocolate and delicious, and explore the city with friends. When I don’t have spare time though, Seattle weather is perfect for setting up in a coffee shop and working on things for the day!

If you could design your ultimate job after graduating, what would it be and why?

Despite what I have learned at SMEA on the policy end, I am still a science gal at heart and hope to get back to a more ecologically minded setting someday. That being said I’m still in the midst of figuring out exactly what that will look like. I have a real interest in marine bioacoustics and would love to study the communication of whales. I could not tell you how I became interested in that field other than it sounds like an amazing thing to research! Applying the SMEA side of things to this dream job though, makes it more realistic, by asking questions like how is boat traffic affecting communication and what policies can we create to help mitigate risk to the whales?

What is your favorite form of marine life, and why?

Based on my answer above I think it is pretty clear that I absolutely love whales and dolphins. That sounds like a cliché, but they are such intelligent organisms that I think we appreciate more for their beauty than for their biology. I find them extremely fascinating and hope to one day join the ranks of scientists who study them.