Scripps Student Spotlight: Gabriela Negrete-García

Passionate PhD student pursues research on climate change affecting phytoplankton communities in the Arctic

Gabriela Negrete-García is a second-year PhD student studying biological oceanography at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego. Before attending Scripps, she earned her bachelor's degree in chemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Afterward, she conducted research under the Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research and Science program at the University of Colorado Boulder where she published her first-authored paper in Nature Climate Change. She is advised by marine ecologist Andrew Barton


explorations now: Why did you choose to attend Scripps?

Gabriela Negrete-García: In addition to being a world-class oceanographic institution, Scripps has provided me the opportunity to learn from top scientists in the field. The biological oceanography curriculum focuses on the behavior of marine organisms in their physical and chemical environments, and thus requires courses in biological, chemical, and physical oceanography. This breadth that is expected of students has allowed me to become a well-rounded oceanographer. Also, having the opportunity to be a part of Andrew Barton’s research lab and to obtain his support as a mentor was one of my biggest personal draws to the institution, and has been a highlight of my education.


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

GN-G: I am trying to understand how phytoplankton communities change in seasonal to interannual timescales in the Arctic Ocean by using an ecological model embedded in a global circulation model. The goal is to understand how the structure of phytoplankton communities will change with continuing climate change. This is important because phytoplankton are the ocean’s main primary producers and changes in their communities could lead to changes throughout the entire marine food web. 

I have always been fascinated by the ocean! While taking environmental studies and chemistry classes as an undergrad, I became particularly interested in understanding how increased warming and fossil fuel inputs impacted our oceans. Polar regions are disproportionately experiencing dramatic changes from ocean warming. Attending Scripps has allowed me to focus on the biological aspect of these changes. Since phytoplankton communities are at the base of the marine food chain, understanding how their behaviors adjust is critical in understanding other shifts in marine ecosystems. 


en: What’s life like as a Scripps student? Describe a typical day.

GN-G: Now, since most of my work is done online, I've been working from home since February. A typical day now starts with me waking up and going on a run around the neighborhood. I then set up my workspace in the livingroom and create model runs, analyze model outputs, and write or read scientific papers. I still tune into research meetings every week, and participate in seminars via zoom whenever I can. This upcoming quarter all of my classes will be online. To break off my day and deal with stress, I incorporate self care breaks throughout the day. Here I take walks around the neighborhood, cook something healthy, or do some yoga/stretch. Working from home has been a challenging transition, but I have tried my best to incorporate work/life balance. 


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

GN-G: Communicating my research is one of my favorite things about my work. I like to continually learn how to become a better storyteller so I can reach as many people as possible. I hope to bring awareness to my community about the effects of climate change and to continually fight for climate justice. 


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

GN-G: I’ve been lucky to have fantastic mentors that have paved the way for me. Galen Mickey was my first research mentor at University of Wisconsin-Madison. Aside from being a fantastic researcher and incredibly intelligent, she allowed me to learn about research and pushed me to apply to REU and graduate school programs that at the time seemed unreachable. Nikki Lovenduski was my mentor during the Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research and Science program at the University of Colorado Boulder. She gave me the confidence and responsibility as a researcher that I needed and provided me with the opportunity to publish my first first-authored paper in Nature Climate Change. She taught me what to look for in a PhD program and what to seek out to obtain the best learning experience from a graduate school. Both of them have been amazing role models and are pillars of the much-needed increases in female representation in STEM fields.


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

GN-G: Unfavorably comparing myself to others and feeling unworthy to be in academia has been one of my greatest challenges. Even though imposter syndrome is a concept I am familiar with due to its prominence in graduate school, it is a feeling I haven't fully been able to clear away. I am lucky, however, to have a strong support system that believes in me and continues to push me to be the best version of myself. 

Finding a more ideal work-life balance has been another challenge as a student, and one I am continually working towards. I want to be productive and an effective researcher, but at the same time enjoy my time in San Diego and appreciate the moments I spend with family and friends. 


en: What are your plans, post-Scripps?

GN-G: There are many things I am interested in, but learning more about policy and linking science and policy research is one of my greatest passions. My plan is therefore to apply to both local and national science and policy fellowships after graduation. This will ideally help me learn more about the way research needs to be structured to be more effective in creating political change. Aside from that, I want to be a mentor and resource for other underrepresented and disadvantaged undergraduate students who are pursuing STEM research. 


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