Scripps Student Spotlight: Lauren Kim

PhD student studying storm waves is determined to help make positive direct impacts on climate change

Lauren Kim is a third-year PhD student studying physical oceanography at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego. She is advised by Mark Merrifield and Sarah Giddings.

explorations now: Why did you choose to attend Scripps?

Lauren Kim: Scripps first came under my radar when I applied and was chosen for a position as a Marine Physical Laboratory (MPL) intern in the summer of 2016. Physical oceanography felt like the perfect application of my physics background and desire to fight against climate change. I chose to attend Scripps because it is an institution full of many well-rounded individuals and researchers who are deeply passionate about the earth and ocean and all the socio-economic issues surrounding them. I never wanted my research to be conducted in a bubble and I thought that joining such a well-connected institution would help me conduct research that was more meaningful and beneficial to society as a whole.

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

LK: I am researching how storm waves interact with beaches and dunes, and was interested in this field because I wanted to study something that had a direct impact on people who live along coastlines. During a storm, the buildup or erosion of sand and sediment on a beach can greatly affect wave run-up, which can then affect flooding. By better understanding these processes, scientists will be able to work with communities to both prevent and mitigate damages from coastal flooding, which is a growing problem due to sea-level rise. 


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

LK: Life as a Scripps student pre-quarantine usually meant heading into my office in the morning and coding or reading research papers most of the day. This winter my lab did quite a bit of fieldwork, which for me, meant that I would help deploy a drone fitted with a laser scanner to measure waves and sediment movement at local San Diego beaches. During this time I would ensure that the scanner was properly recording data and field questions from curious passersby!

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

LK: The most exciting thing about my work is that I can observe the processes that I’m studying in real time. I get to look at the data of waves interacting with beaches and then walk out of my office, down to La Jolla Shores and see it happening. I think this is especially helpful when communicating my work to the general public. If they’ve been to the beach, then they’ve seen waves rush up the sand, stirring up the grains in the process. This acts as a great jumping off point for explaining my research and why it’s important. 

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

LK: I especially admire my advisors, Mark Merrifield and Sarah Giddings. They are always encouraging and have given me the space and support necessary to grow as a researcher. I appreciate their open door policies and willingness to answer any questions I may have.

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

LK: One of the major challenges I’ve faced as a student is struggling with imposter syndrome. I came into the program with less research experience than many of my peers, which made me feel like I might not be suited for this program. However I’ve come to realize that as long as I’m passionate and willing to put in the effort then I am well-suited for this field. I hope that other students who struggle with imposter syndrome as well can recognize that they’re not alone in feeling that way and that there should be more open discussions surrounding the topic.

en: What are your plans, post-Scripps?

LK: Currently I don’t have any well-defined plans post Scripps. I hope that whatever I do is interdisciplinary, community-focused, and involves future generations of oceanographic researchers.

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