Science is a public good

This week on #MeetAScientist, get to know Priya Shukla, an ocean and climate scientist based at UC Davis’ Bodega Marine Laboratory. Priya is also one of the pod coordinators for 500 Women Scientists Bay Area and has gathered a wealth of experience in science communication at an early stage in her career, which you can sample on her Twitter at @priyology. She shares how she found her way into ocean science and why she feels a responsibility to communicate about her science. We know her insights will leave you feeling inspired!

When did you first identify as a scientist? Can you talk about the work that you do now?

I found the confidence to call myself a scientist once I began carving out my own intellectual niche in the middle of my Master’s program at San Diego State University, where I studied the effects of warming and rising CO2 levels on kelp forests. However, I learned to harness the gravity of that title in my current position as a technician and lab manager with the Bodega Ocean Acidification Research group at UC Davis’ Bodega Marine Laboratory, (located ~1.5 hours north of San Francisco). In this position, I have been studying how greenhouse gas emissions alter ocean chemistry and affect the flora and fauna along the Northern California coast — including shellfish that are farmed for human consumption. Having my hands in multiple research projects that straddle the boundary between science and society has taught me how I can leverage my occupation to effectively communicate science.

You're an early career scientist who is already publicly engaged through writing, podcasting, and an active presence on Twitter. There aren't many incentives for young scientists to carve out a public-facing space for themselves. So how did you make the decision to cultivate a public persona and what advice do you have for early career scientists looking to expand their reach?

I firmly believe that science is a public good. So much of the science I have conducted has been funded by taxpayers and I see the service that science provides to society. To me, studying climate change is important, but on its own is ultimately insufficient. Given the current administration’s attempts to subvert federal and international climate change mitigation efforts, it is important to fully participate in the translation of science from publishable data to public policy as well as communicate its implications within our communities.

For early career scientists that wish to publicly engage, I recommend finding a local community organization (like a 500 Women Scientists chapter!) that facilitates advocacy and conversations. I have also found that developing a voice online increases your accessibility as a resource.


Last year, you started a Diversity & Inclusion Reading List online. What was the inspiration for starting it? Have you had any productive and/or unexpected conversations as a result of it?

Like so many scientists, I was motivated by the outcome of the November 2016 election and the actions of this administration that continuously seek to undermine the rights of women and minorities. These prejudices that are playing out on the larger political stage are systemic in nature and manifest themselves in myriad ways throughout society, as well. The Diversity & Inclusion Reading List stemmed from my own attempts to understand the nature of these dynamics within academia.

While the list itself hasn’t spurred as many thought-provoking conversations as the #MeToo movement within my professional circle, it helped in the development of a Code of Conduct and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee within my professional society — the Western Society of Naturalists — in November 2017.

You're also a pod coordinator for the San Francisco Bay Area pod. How did you learn about 500 Women Scientists and what are some pod activities that you're proud of?

One of the board members of 500 Women Scientists, Dr. Sarah Myhre, was a PhD student in one of the labs I currently work with. Her participation spurred myself and, my co-coordinator, Dr. Tessa Hill, to initiate a San Francisco Bay chapter. In addition to happy hours and public talks that we co-host with other organizations (e.g., CapSciComm), we have been using our monthly chapter meetings to build upon the #MeToo movement and discuss efforts to address sexual harassment in academic departments, inappropriate behavior at the meetings of professional societies, and will next be discussing the inclusion of diversity statements as a component of job applications.

When you're not doing research or applying to grad school or working with the Bay Area pod, what do you do to relax and unwind?

When I’m not doing research or working with the 500 WS SF Bay Area pod, you would probably find me practicing yoga or with my nose in a good book!


Priya Shukla is an ocean and climate scientist based at UC Davis’ Bodega Marine Laboratory. She received her undergraduate degree in Environmental Science and Management at UC Davis and earned her Master’s in Ecology fromSan Diego State University. Priya is currently a technician with UC Davis’Bodega Ocean Acidification Research (BOAR) group, where she works on several projects to better understand and prepare for the effects of climate change on our planet. Priya uses science communication to bridge issues concerning social justice, rapid environmental change, and the scientific community. Connect with Priya @priyology and on her blog The Prosaic Mosaic.