Scripps Student Spotlight: Sree Gopal

Recent MAS MBC graduate researched coastal management and policy within blue carbon ecosystems and sea-level rise adaptation

Sree Gopal is a new graduate of the Master of Advanced Studies program in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation (MAS MBC) at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. Gopal grew up in Southern India and earned her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology Madras. She later earned her PhD in bioengineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and went on to pursue a decade-long career in the biotechnology industry before deciding to study at Scripps. For Gopal’s capstone project, she researched sediment budget projection for a local beach, working alongside oceanographer Mark Merrifield.


explorations now: Why did you choose to attend Scripps?

Sree Gopal: Scripps is renowned for its leadership in marine science, and the MAS MBC program was the perfect blend of science and policy that I was looking for. I also live in San Diego with my family, so the location was a winner!


en: What are you researching at Scripps?

SG: My research is on sediment budget projection for Cardiff State Beach in Encinitas. The goal is to project how the beach width will change over the next twenty years. I worked with beach survey datasets generated by the Scripps Coastal Processes Group to help build a sediment budget model for the beach, while working closely with my capstone advisors. This model takes into account inflows and outflows of sand, including stressors like sea-level rise and El Niño phenomena. The results from my research are intended to inform coastal management decisions by stakeholders such as the City of Encinitas and SANDAG (San Diego Association of Governments).


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

SG: It was a midlife pivot—or crisis? I’ve been drawn to the ocean and how it’s been impacted by climate change, but 2020 was a crucial year of self-reflection. I realized that it’s time to listen to the call of the ocean. I learned about the MAS MBC program at Scripps, and thought it was the perfect gateway into marine science and its policy realm. I quit my job last summer (which was tough!) and the rest is history, as they say. 


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

SG: Life was quite hectic in the one-year graduate program! It’s been such a steep learning curve since last summer. Over the last three quarters, I’d been taking courses that have kept me busy during nights and weekends. This past spring quarter, I was mostly working on my capstone research, which added a lot more flexibility to my daily schedule. I love going over to the Scripps campus, walking along the beach with my friends, and contemplating the meaning of life as I gaze out at the pier.


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

SG: I am amazed at the access I have to world-class researchers at Scripps. My capstone has shaped into an exciting project on the San Diego beaches, which I love, so it feels great to have an impact on an area that’s really close to my heart.


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

SG: Absolutely. I could not have made this decision to pivot my career to attend graduate school without the support of my family. They have been my rock through this year! My kids think their mom is now a cool marine biologist. :)


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

SG: The biggest challenge for me was time and time management, given how fast-paced the MAS program is. As a mom of two young kids, juggling my family priorities with classes has been hard. That said, I have enjoyed every bit of it!


en: What are your plans post-Scripps?

SG: I would like to work in climate/coastal management and planning in the San Diego area. I would really like to bring key coastal research to communities by translating the science into actionable policies.


You can find Sree on Instagram @sgsandiego.

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