From left, new PhDs Sara Rivera, Osinachi Ajoku, Alyssa Griffin, Matthew Costa, Kara Voss, and Garfield Kwan

What's Next for Scripps' New PhDs?

A cross-section of new doctorate holders share their plans

This year Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego will usher more than 30 new doctorate holders into the workforce. In a year of historic upheaval, they will bring their skills to bear in addressing central questions in climate science, biology, and earth sciences to benefit society and natural ecosystems.

“I can’t think of a period in recent history in which so many events have coincided to make clear not only that science needs to be respected but that the voice of science is made ever stronger when it brings forth a diversity of viewpoints,” said Scripps Oceanography Director Margaret Leinen. “We need to redouble our efforts to make careers in science accessible to as broad a swath of society as possible. Without doing so, how can we hope to adequately confront problems that threaten all of us together?”

Here’s a sampling of what they’ll be pursuing as PhDs.

During his time at Scripps, Osinachi Ajoku studied the impact biomass burning aerosols have on the West African monsoon and was an NSF Graduate Research Fellow and a GPS Science Policy Fellow. He also represented the University of California delegation to the United Nations’ climate talks known as COPs in three consecutive years. Ajoku will join the National Center for Academic Research in Colorado with scientist Simone Tilmes to work on better understanding how models evaluate aerosol-cloud interactions, specifically with carbonaceous aerosols.

Matthew Costa studies blue carbon uptake by mangrove and coastal ecosystems. Costa began this research as a PhD student co-advised by Scripps Oceanography scientists Octavio Aburto and James Leichter. He continues the work as a postdoctoral scholar with Scripps’s Center for Climate Change Impacts and Adaptation.

Reuben Demirdjian contributed to the study of atmospheric rivers as part of the Scripps Oceanography Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes. The new PhD will work at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in Monterey, Calif. starting in September to continue research on atmospheric dynamics.

Climate science PhD Daniela Faggiani-Dias will be a postdoctoral researcher at Colorado State University and the National Center for Academic Research.  She will continue study of climate variability and change, especially observational analyses and modeling to determine the mechanisms behind variability and its predictability.

Meredith Fish has been studying extreme precipitation events on the West Coast with Scripps’ Center for Western Weather and Water Extremes. Her dissertation research focused on identifying and characterizing atmospheric river events that are often associated with higher impacts. Next, she's headed to the Climate Impact Lab at Rutgers to work for researcher Bob Kopp.

While at Scripps, Alyssa Griffin studied the impact of ocean acidification on coral reefs, and served as lead organizer of Women and Minorities in Science, and as a Community Engagement, Diversity, and Inclusion Fellow . Griffin has now been awarded the UC Davis Chancellor's Postdoctoral Fellowship and will be working with marine scientist Tessa Hill on the carbon storage potential of seagrass meadows across California.

Garfield Kwan began a joint postdoc at Scripps and NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center under marine biologists Greg Rouse and Andrew Thompson. He will be analyzing rockfish samples from past CalCOFI cruises and correlating this information with oceanographic data. While at Scripps, Kwan created the science communication series Squidtoons, while conducting his PhD research on the ear bones of bony fishes.

Sara Rivera, who studied microbial ecology of the California Current Ecosystem while at Scripps, will start a postdoctoral research fellowship at the University of Michigan, in collaboration with the NOAA-Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, studying the bacterial communities associated with harmful algal blooms in the Great Lakes.

Alan Seltzer, a student of Scripps geoscientist Jeff Severinghaus, started as a postdoctoral researcher at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, where he is continuing his research on geochemistry and paleoclimatology, specifically as they relate to groundwater levels and dissolved gases.

Sarah Shackleton studied past changes in ocean heat content by looking at atmospheric noble gases in ice cores in the lab of Jeff Severinghaus. She is currently a postdoctoral research fellow in the Higgins Laboratory at Princeton University, where she is focused on locating the oldest ice in the world in order to better understand the role greenhouse gases played in determining past climate.

As a geophysics student in a joint doctoral program between Scripps and San Diego State University, Drake Singleton has been researching earthquakes and active faults in Southern California. After graduation, he’ll be working with the U.S. Geological Survey in Santa Cruz, Calif. as a Mendenhall postdoctoral fellow.

Kara Voss will become a postdoctoral researcher working with UC San Diego School of Global Policy and Strategy scientist Jennifer Burney next month. She will study the impact of pollution aerosols on food security and human health. While at Scripps, her research examined drivers of dust in the vicinity of atmospheric rivers along the West Coast.

About Scripps Oceanography

Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego is one of the world’s most important centers for global earth science research and education. In its second century of discovery, Scripps scientists work to understand and protect the planet, and investigate our oceans, Earth, and atmosphere to find solutions to our greatest environmental challenges. Scripps offers unparalleled education and training for the next generation of scientific and environmental leaders through its undergraduate, master’s and doctoral programs. The institution also operates a fleet of four oceanographic research vessels, and is home to Birch Aquarium at Scripps, the public exploration center that welcomes 500,000 visitors each year.

About UC San Diego

At the University of California San Diego, we embrace a culture of exploration and experimentation. Established in 1960, UC San Diego has been shaped by exceptional scholars who aren’t afraid to look deeper, challenge expectations and redefine conventional wisdom. As one of the top 15 research universities in the world, we are driving innovation and change to advance society, propel economic growth and make our world a better place. Learn more at

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