Daria Sheik was a Master of Advanced Studies (MAS) student at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego. She was born in New York but spent her childhood in San Diego’s North County where she was never too far from the ocean. Sheik attended the University of California Santa Cruz where she earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies.
At Scripps, she just graduated with her MAS in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation (MBC) and is working to further add to an app being developed by the organization Key Conservation that will better connect researchers, organizations, and people interested in conservation around the world. Sheik is currently interning with the organization through this summer so she can continue developing the new section of the app that will function to better connect researchers. She is working towards her goal under the mentorship of Megan Cromp, the director of Key Conservation. She is primarily interested in science communication and the ways she can help make the knowledge she shares accessible to the non-scientists of the world. We caught up with Sheik to find what drew her to Scripps, why she has such a passion for connecting people, and more.
explorations now: What were you involved in before you came to Scripps?
Daria Sheik: Most of my life I have been involved in animal husbandry of some sort. Prior to coming to Scripps, I was a research assistant at the Pinniped Cognition and Sensory Systems Laboratory at Long Marine Lab. I was working with both captive and wild pinnipeds primarily studying bioacoustics, a topic I have been interested in since high school. Before my undergrad I worked at the Embery Institute for Wildlife Conservation, with captive animals like porcupines and kangaroos. I would speak to people at events about endangered species and they could have up-close experiences with animals. This taught me that being able to see animals, captive or wild, in person really changes how someone will respond to information you are giving them. I was also a collections and database assistant for the National Geographic photographer Frans Lanting which was instrumental in honing in on my outreach and photography skills.
explorations now: Why did you choose to attend Scripps for graduate school?
DS: I chose to attend Scripps because the MAS MBC program here offered exactly the interdisciplinary experience I was looking for. I grew up visiting Birch Aquarium and dreaming of being able to study here one day. My parents love to say they never tried to sway me to go into anything specific but my nursery was painted to look like it was underwater and my name in Farsi means “sea of hope.” And I really do think I am a sea of hope and that we can inspire people to care about our oceans. I love seeing people light up when you tell them something awesome about nature and listen to their concerns about what is happening around them. When I found the MAS MBC program here at Scripps I knew it was a perfect fit and that it was going to offer me the exact opportunities I was looking for. Being close to my family is an added bonus!
en: What is the focus of your capstone?
DS: For my capstone project, I am working with Key Conservation to design a mobile application that will provide conservation organizations and scientific researchers with a platform to share the information they have as well as gain support from people around the world. This support could be in person or financial. Key Conservation started the mobile app with the help of conservation organizations and global supporters, and through my capstone I am helping design a way that researchers, academic institutions, and biological field stations can be a part of this as well! I’m so excited to see where it will go.
en: How did you become interested in this field?
DS: During my undergraduate studies I went to the island of El Pardito in Baja California, Mexico, to study Hawksbill turtle behavior. While getting to study the turtles was amazing, what really inspired me when I left was how the scientists and fishermen in the area worked together to preserve these species and create marine protected areas that were mutually beneficial. It made me wish there was a larger network where more relationships like this could be created around the world. When I started the MAS MBC program at Scripps, I started thinking of what this might look like and lucky for me there was a San Diego-based organization that had a similar vision.
en: What’s life like as a Scripps student?
DS: Usually I will wake up pretty early in the morning and go for a surf. We have a surf shack right in front of the pier so that makes it easy for me. This time of year is the best because the humpbacks are migrating and sometimes you will see one breach while you’re in the water. Then I will spend some time answering emails and trying to talk myself out of eating two burritos for breakfast. Usually I will have a meeting with a lab or scientist to tell them about the Key Conservation app. Any free time I have is spent looking for potential grants or thinking of what features I want to include in the app. I never thought of myself as a business or tech person but learning how to navigate both of these worlds has been really interesting! If I have the time I will try to go back in the water around sunset or I’ll go home and take my housemate’s Great Dane to the beach. I love to cook, so dinner is always my favorite and if I have the time and energy I will make something like homemade pizza or Persian food. Then I finish off the night writing more emails and planning my next day.
en: What’s the most exciting thing about your work?
DS: The most exciting part about my work is the potential global impact that the Key Conservation app will have. It has the ability to create connections and empower actions from people around the world that will greatly benefit conservation. There are so many people around the world working hard to protect biodiversity in their communities;the fact that this app could make it easier for them to connect with others and share what they are doing is so cool to me. I am grateful that I get to help make this happen.
en: Are there any role models or mentors who have helped you along the way?
DS: I have had a lot of people inspire me along the way. Joan Embery is a huge mentor for me, I started working for her in high school. She was one of the first people to really communicate wildlife conservation to the public before it became more mainstream; she went on shows like Johnny Carson as a very young woman in a male-dominated field. She really fostered my love of animals and taught me so much about being an effective speaker. Everyone I worked with at the Pinniped Lab has also been instrumental in my growth as a scientist, they are like my second family and remind me daily that science is the coolest. My best friend’s mom, Joanne Chory, is another strong female scientist that I have looked up to most of my life. She is so accessible and willing to talk to anyone about what it is she is studying, which I think is key to good science. My own mom has also been a role model because she is confident and capable which has been crucial to my growth as a person. Overall I am very fortunate to have been surrounded by some awesome people, especially women, that have lifted me up and helped me get to where I am today.
en: What are some of the challenges you face as a student?
DS: I really love being a student, especially compared to working a 9-5 job where I wouldn’t necessarily have time for my hobbies. Sometimes I wish I had more time to see my family or go on more camping trips but if I allot my time correctly (which is a challenge in itself) then I can still do those things. I think there is a lot of liberty in being an MAS student at Scripps and you are in such an amazing location that it is hard to see the downsides.
en: What are your plans?
DS: I will continue to work with Key Conservation on our mobile app. We are hoping for it to be finished and go public in the coming months. It is a San Diego-based company so I don’t have to move, which is nice. I am really looking forward to seeing where our app will take us and who it will help!
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 www.ucsd.edu.