Recent Graduate's Career Takes Flight

A Scripps Oceanography alumnus lands a dream job as a research associate with the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance

Although Daniel Banyai-Becker ('20) is a fairly recent graduate of Scripps Institution of Oceanography and UC San Diego, he is already making waves in his career. As part of the interdisciplinary undergraduate Environmental Systems (ESYS) Program at Scripps, he focused on ecology, behavior, and evolution with a minor in general biology. He now works as a research associate with the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance where he does banding and translocation of burrowing owls throughout San Diego County.

Why did you choose to study at Scripps?

I actually did not actively choose to study at Scripps but rather, the biology major at UC San Diego which I applied for was impacted and thus was not accepting transfers. I was accepted into UC San Diego as a political science student, which I knew I did not want to study. After looking into my options, I found ESYS and met with advisor Joshua Reeves to discuss the program further. I immediately was drawn to the aura at Scripps, who wouldn’t be? The incredible location aside, reading “Marine Mammal Biology” and “Biomechanics of Marine Life” from the list of electives offered had my mind racing. These courses seemed much more intriguing than other courses offered in the biology department. Albeit this was a naïve perspective to have…but I digress. Studying in the Environmental Systems department turned out to be the best decision I could have made at UC San Diego.

Daniel hiking in the Columbia River Gorge along the border of Washington state and Oregon.
Daniel hiking in the Columbia River Gorge along the border of Washington State and Oregon

What was your most memorable experience during your time at Scripps?

The most memorable experience I have from my undergraduate career at Scripps has to be working on my senior integrated internship project. I was lucky enough to land an internship with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) studying the ecology of the elusive San Bernardino flying squirrel near Big Bear. I spent the next year doing extensive fieldwork on this species before writing up a report and poster to present at the ESYS annual symposium.

What was your first job after graduating from Scripps?

As one could imagine, graduating in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic did not lend itself to a particularly easy job hunt. Because of this, I ended up purchasing a van and road-tripping around the western U.S. visiting family and doing short-term gigs such as phone banking for Democratic Socialists of America and working as a vet tech intern for a zoo.

What is your current role?

I eventually landed a temporary position doing habitat analysis of burrowing owls in Riverside County for the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, where I was brought on permanently and have now worked for about 2.5 years. I am currently in a research associate role which includes a lot of fieldwork monitoring, banding, and translocation of burrowing owls all throughout San Diego County.

What was most helpful in transitioning to your career?

The integrated senior internship was incredibly beneficial and helpful in preparing me for working in this field. Not only was the work similar to what I wound up doing for my first permanent position after graduating but the ability to network within the local environmental science community was a priceless benefit of this internship program.

Daniel rock climbing in Joshua Tree National Park.
Daniel rock climbing in Joshua Tree National Park

What advice do you have for current students?

My advice to students in their senior year of ESYS would be to take a moment for yourself. Being in college is obviously stressful and having an internship in addition to your coursework can be daunting but learning about yourself is more important than being perfect or winning an award. A healthy work-life balance is critical to a fulfilling life and if you can get a head start on what that looks like for you while in undergrad, that will allow you to be more resilient with all of the change that is around the corner. This will not only help you excel in whatever it is you decide to pursue but it will pay dividends well into the future.

What do you like to do for fun?

My main hobby since graduating from Scripps has been rock climbing, but like a lot of the students in ESYS I enjoy most outdoor activities: hiking, camping, beaching, you name it! I’ve also begun birding quite often, which is obligatory for a burrowing owl researcher. However, it is more of an additional thing to enjoy while out doing other hobbies.

About Scripps Oceanography

Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego is one of the world’s most important centers for global earth science research and education. In its second century of discovery, Scripps scientists work to understand and protect the planet, and investigate our oceans, Earth, and atmosphere to find solutions to our greatest environmental challenges. Scripps offers unparalleled education and training for the next generation of scientific and environmental leaders through its undergraduate, master’s and doctoral programs. The institution also operates a fleet of four oceanographic research vessels, and is home to Birch Aquarium at Scripps, the public exploration center that welcomes 500,000 visitors each year.

About UC San Diego

At the University of California San Diego, we embrace a culture of exploration and experimentation. Established in 1960, UC San Diego has been shaped by exceptional scholars who aren’t afraid to look deeper, challenge expectations and redefine conventional wisdom. As one of the top 15 research universities in the world, we are driving innovation and change to advance society, propel economic growth and make our world a better place. Learn more at

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