Views from the Forefront of Climate Action

Alumna Kim Cobb is a leader in climate change research and action

After receiving a PhD in oceanography from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego in 2002, Kim Cobb has dedicated her career to raising awareness about and advocating for our planet. As the Lawrence and Barbara Margolis Director at the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society, and professor of environment and society and earth, environmental, and planetary science, Cobb studies the climate, both past and present, to better understand future climate change impacts. In 2023, she was appointed by the Biden Administration as a member of the President’s Intelligence Advisory Board. Cobb will return to Scripps this June to serve as the alumni speaker for the 2024 Scripps Graduate Recognition Ceremony. 

Why did you choose to study at Scripps?

In the summer and fall of 1994, I had the privilege of conducting independent research on El Niño events as a Scripps Undergraduate Research Fellow, under the direction of Dr. Timothy Herbert. As a New Englander, I fell in love with the Pacific, emotionally and intellectually, and was excited to continue my training as part of the amazing Scripps research community.

Kim and a colleague drilling coral for paleoclimate reconstruction in the Northern Line Islands.

What was your most memorable experience during your time at Scripps?

There are so many! I never recovered from my first research cruise to the remote islands of the equatorial Pacific, in that I fell in love with the tiny jewels at the center of a limitless, shifting, all-powerful ocean. Likewise, I’ll never forget meeting my future husband, then fellow Scripps graduate student Emanuele Di Lorenzo, at a conference poker party in South Carolina. We had our first kiss at the Martin Johnson house! And yes, paddling out on my longboard — sometimes to catch some waves but most times to just sit there, staring out at the ocean — became an almost spiritual escape from the mass spectrometer and Matlab.

What was your first job after graduating from Scripps?

I worked as a postdoctoral scholar at the California Institute of Technology for two years, which allowed me to stay close to my then-fiancee Emanuele, who was one year behind me as a Scripps graduate student.

What is your favorite thing about your current role at Brown University?

I get to work with a wonderfully diverse and stellar group of faculty, students, and staff who share the conviction that our work can change the world. I get to go to work every day working to advance climate solutions. What an enormous privilege!

Who says you can’t bike in heels? Kim became an avid bike commuter In 2017 and continues to bike to work every day.

What was most helpful in transitioning to your career?

I think that keeping amazing women scientists in my sights — whether as role models and/or as mentors and increasingly over time, as friends — has enabled me to get through some tough spots and encouraged me to dream big.

What advice do you have for current students?

You are launching into a world that is changing faster than ever. Be open to your dreams changing too, many times throughout your careers. Cultivate broad interests and networks — they will reap innumerable benefits for you and society, often in unforeseen ways, and when you least expect it. 

What do you like to do for fun?

These days I like to tend to my vegetable gardens, although to be honest I’m barely able to hold my ground against the numerous critters that find sustenance in the fruits of my hard labor. There is probably a metaphor in there somewhere, but I’ll leave that to someone smarter than me to name. I’m off to grow my tomato plants through sheer force of will.

Cobb is also an avid science communicator. You can connect with her on X.

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