Around the Pier: By Students, For Students, a First-Ever Symposium Brings Together Wide Array of Scripps Disciplines


Symposia are a common part of the graduate student experience at academic centers around the world, but most students rarely have the chance to be exposed to science outside of their own discipline. A group of students at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, decided to change this and on September 16 hosted the first ever Scripps Student Symposium (referred to as S3).

This symposium provided the opportunity for the entire Scripps community to reach across typical disciplinary boundaries to share and discuss research. Presentations at the symposium ranged from improved climate modeling to reports of new species of marine organisms. Attendees included biologists, physical oceanographers, climate scientists, geophysicists, chemists, and more.

The symposium was the brainchild of a small group of students who wanted to learn more about what their peers in other divisions were researching. From this group, an organizing committee of eight students representing all the major research divisions at Scripps eventually formed to plan the event.

“Our goal was to have a student-run conference where we (the students) had the opportunity to interact with each other, learn about each other's research, and foster interdisciplinary, student-driven collaborations,” said Elizabeth Sibert, one of the founding members of the student organizing committee, and a graduate student with paleobiologist Richard Norris.

Presentations at the symposium ranged widely, covering methods to incorporate previously overlooked elements into climate models, description of a new seadragon species called the Ruby Seadragon, the construction of an underwater microscope that allows researchers to observe small-scale processes directly in the field, and detailed observations of how Southern California’s tectonic plates are moving over time.

Attendees included Scripps graduate students, postdocs, faculty, and staff, as well as members of the local community. Students presented their work either as talks, or in a more informal poster format. Unlike typical scientific meetings, where presentations are grouped together by similarity of research topics, at this symposium the talks and posters from different research divisions were positioned together. This encouraged attendees to learn about and discuss research far afield from their own work, with the overall goal of increasing cross-disciplinary collaborations.

Audience members were also given the opportunity to judge and award prizes for best poster and oral presentation. Fourth-year marine biology student Tessa Pierce won the poster prize for a presentation showcasing her research on California market squid, and sixth-year marine chemistry student Phil Bresnahan won the oral presentation prize for his talk describing new methods for sensing ocean carbon dioxide.

“All of the presentations - both poster and oral - were highly entertaining and educational. I wouldn't have been surprised to see any one of the presenters given this award. I'm glad that I had the opportunity to participate as a speaker but I got even more from the experience as a listener. I can think of no better way to learn about the breadth of research and development taking place here at Scripps,” said Bresnahan.

Recent Scripps graduate Mike Pritchard, now assistant professor at UC Irvine, gave the keynote lecture at the symposium.

 “Having Mike Pritchard give the keynote was a treat. Mike has a knack for being able to explain very complicated phenomena to both experts and non-experts alike. It was this skill, as well as his exceptional abilities as a climate scientist and his connection with Scripps, that made him the natural choice to give the keynote lecture,” said S3 organizer Nick Pizzo.

This was the first time such a symposium has been organized, but organizers are very hopeful that it will be a legacy enjoyed by the Scripps community for years to come.

“I was pleased and impressed by how professional all the presentations were,” said student organizer Valerie Sahakian, a graduate student in the Geosciences Research Division. “It was exciting to see so many people at Scripps come together with an enthusiasm for communicating their work, as well as learning about others' work. The audience was engaged throughout the entire symposium - the poster areas were always packed, and I overheard many synergistic discussions throughout the day. I'm looking forward to next year!”

The symposium was supported by the Scripps graduate department, with technical and organizational support from Scripps Graduate Coordinator Adam Petersen. The student committee included Kelley Gallagher, Brian House, Trevor Joyce, Robert Petersen, Nick Pizzo, Valerie Sahakian, Elizabeth Sibert, and Lynn Waterhouse. More information about the conference, including a copy of the abstract book, can be found at

- Kelley Gallagher is a sixth-year student with microbial ecologist Paul Jensen.

Related Image Gallery: Scripps Student Symposium (S3)

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