Scripps Student Spotlight: Jesse Robinett

An undergraduate student tracks low cloudiness along California’s coast

Jesse Robinett is an undergraduate student entering his third year at the University of California San Diego, where he’s pursuing a double major in oceanic and atmospheric sciences at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, as well as applied math. Robinett is originally from Santa Cruz, Calif., and is advised by climate scientist Rachel Clemesha. He is also a recent recipient of NOAA’s Ernest F. Hollings Undergraduate Scholarship.


explorations now: Why did you choose to attend Scripps?

Jesse Robinett: When I applied to UC San Diego, I mistakenly believed that Scripps did not deal with atmospheric science so  I was much more interested in UC San Diego's math and physics departments. Thankfully, after I was accepted, I found out about the oceanic and atmospheric sciences major, which piqued my interest because of my fascination with the weather. What really sold me on Scripps, however, was talking with students on campus—including some I'd known before in Santa Cruz. The small class sizes and research opportunities that they had mentioned seemed like great learning opportunities. I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the in-state tuition and Scripps’ location in La Jolla weren't enticing as well.


en: What are you researching at Scripps?

JR: I'm researching California's ubiquitous coastal low cloudiness. Currently, my focus is removing and/or replacing the missing and spurious data in cloudiness data at California airports. Given that most missing data is at night, simply deleting any observations with missing variables would heavily bias any results using nighttime data; therefore, I'm looking for methods to fill in the missing data so that trends in the data aren't biased. After I've imputed the missings out of my dataset, I will analyze long term trends in low cloudiness.


en: How did you become interested in science and your field of study?

JR: In hindsight, I have my parents to thank for my general interest in science. The amount of science books and television shows I had as a kid were definitely what sparked my passion. My interest was initially in biology (specifically fish), but the passage of time has definitely changed that! 

My fascination with atmospheric science began as a matter of exposure. A nice, six-foot snowfall in the Sierra Nevada, or leaving Central California's Mediterranean climate for the first time and experiencing summer thunderstorms are some events I remember that made me wonder how it all worked. Then, I began checking the National Weather Service forecasts more regularly, which gradually grew into a much deeper obsession; and now here I am studying atmospheric science in college!

My curiosity about low clouds developed similarly. I simply couldn't resist digging deeper into the fog banks that I see swirling around the coast, almost every summer day.


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

JR: Because of the pandemic, my only class located at Scripps has been “Experiences in Oceanic and Atmospheric Science,” and I really liked all of the cool hands-on labs that it had to offer. In my limited experience, the most distinct aspect of Scripps life was seeing people that I knew while walking around. Compared to the main campus' everflowing sea of humanity, it was always refreshing to have a much smaller community at Scripps to turn to. The limitless ocean views were also quite pleasant. And if I chose to walk or bike, then the steep hill that Scripps is located on ensured at least some exercise for the day.

Before the pandemic, on a typical day with a Scripps class I would often either bike or shuttle down from main campus, take my classes, go do any research that was left, then shuttle or bike back up the hill, and go about my other courses. After the pandemic began, my schedule melted into an amorphous blob, with no structure beyond the times of my courses.


en: What’s the most exciting thing about your work (in the field or in the lab)?

JR: Given that I've primarily been working on data processing, it's exhilarating when I get my code working properly and finally get to see the results. Whether something as simple but computationally intensive as calculating mean cloudiness from a long satellite record, or the more involved task of seeing how changing station locations influence clearing times, it's always enjoyable to see the nice visualizations and results at the end of it all—even if my initial hypothesis is proven terribly wrong, as it often is! That's another exciting part of my research: whether I'm reading studies or proving my assumptions incorrect in mini-investigations, I get to learn more about low clouds.


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

JR: That's going to be quite a long list! In chronological order, first up would be my parents and siblings, who have been there to support me from the beginning. Next up would be my friend Luke Colosi, who played a pivotal role in guiding me to Scripps. His work ethic is also admirable. Dr. Amato Evan taught me the basics of lab work at Scripps when I was just a freshman, and also recommended I switch labs to Dr. Rachel Clemesha after I expressed interest in low clouds. Speaking of Dr. Rachel Clemesha, I can't thank her enough for letting me research low clouds under her tutelage, and for having the patience to let me learn programming at the same time. Lastly, Dr. Janet Becker, in addition to sparking my interest in fluid mechanics, has also given me great advice on all the opportunities available at Scripps and beyond.


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

JR: Burnout is by far my biggest challenge. Whether I'm doing research, interested in a particular class, or even doing something completely unrelated to my studies (like reading a book or playing Dungeons and Dragons), I have an unhealthy tendency to go all in on it for a brief period of time, aAfter which I won't touch the activity, or do much of anything, because I've exhausted myself. To overcome this issue, I've been trying to limit the time I spend each day on a single subject with mixed success. Reaching out to friends for emotional support has also proven quite beneficial. Thankfully, I haven't had many issues with longer term burnout yet, and I'm hoping it stays that way.


en: What are your plans post-Scripps?

JR: Although my plans are far from certain, I currently hope to seek a PhD in atmospheric science, or head into operational meteorology.

Sign Up For
Explorations Now

explorations now is the free award-winning digital science magazine from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Join subscribers from around the world and keep up on our cutting-edge research.