Scripps Student Spotlight: Emily Kunselman

A graduate student investigates the benefits of bacteria found in oyster microbiomes

Emily Kunselman is a first-year PhD student majoring in marine biology at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego. Her field of study is microbiology and she is currently being advised by Professor Jack Gilbert. Thanks to an internship at Washington State University, Kunselman began studying oysters. She’s continuing this research at Scripps, focusing on how bacteria found in oysters can be used to fight infection. 


explorations now: Why did you choose to attend Scripps?

Emily Kunselman: Mainly for the abundance of resources and diverse group of faculty. People are really open to discussing research and eager to help you out. Also, you just can’t beat this ocean view! 


en: What are you researching at Scripps and how did you become interested in this field?

EK: I am researching oyster microbiomes. My interests started with an internship at Washington State where I looked at oyster growth in and outside of eelgrass beds. The year after, I started studying microbiomes of fish with a graduate student. I fell in love with microbiology and decided to apply it to oysters by looking at the microbes that live in their gut, gills and other body sites. These bacteria could play an important role in defense against infection and I am eager to look into this over the course of my graduate study.


en: What’s life like as a Scripps student? 

EK: I show up at Hubbs Hall in the morning and gaze out over the pier and all the surfers lined up in the water. I might grab a coffee and snack from Pinpoint Cafe because it is just so tempting. I have classes, meetings, or work on developing my research projects, depending on the day. For lunch, I might sit out on the balcony of Hubbs with some other members of my cohort. Some days, I even watch the sunset from the desk in my office.


en: What’s the most exciting thing about your work?

EK: My advisor Jack Gilbert is always inspiring me to learn new things, which has created a very intellectual and supportive culture for my lab group. Some of my favorite moments are spent collaborating with my lab and attending talks held on main campus or down at Scripps. We all have ambitious projects and help each other bring them to fruition.


en: Are there any role models or mentors who have helped you along the way?

EK: Jake Minich, another graduate student here at Scripps, has played a very significant role in my development. I volunteered for him when I was an undergraduate and he exposed me to the world of microbiome research. He showed me what it took to be a researcher, how you need to figure things out on your own, and to not be afraid to introduce new ideas. I built up a lot of confidence while learning from him and participating in his research. He guided me towards many presentations on material I would need to know in order to be successful in my career objectives.  

en: What are some of the challenges you face as a student?

EK: As a first-year graduate student, I have much to learn about laboratory techniques and writing scientific papers. Scientists use very specific language to refer to their research and I am in the stage of learning these phrases because it’s hard for me to predict the feasibility of my research proposals. The more I discuss my ideas with my advisor, other faculty, and other students, however, the more I learn about what is possible and what isn't and how to articulate my goals.


en: What are your future plans?

EK: Ideally, I would like to move on to industrial applications for aquaculture around the world. Farm-raised fish are very important for taking stress off of wild populations while still producing enough food for the growing population. I believe I have great potential for applying aquaculture research outcomes to the actual industry.

You can find Emily on Twitter @oysteroasis.


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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