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Tessa Pierce

PhD Candidate at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD

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Hi Everyone!

I’ve gotten a few requests to finish off the trip blog and tell you what I’m up to now. So here goes.

The end of the trip was a blast- both in terms of fun, and in terms of speed. It felt like those last couple weeks just flew by (and by flew, I mean that I spent many many hours a day on a bike saddle, but now they seem like just a moment).

So bike and build was amazing, and running into the pacific ocean was … indescribable. There are a few youtube videos of our trip made by one of our awesome riders, Brad Milison. You can watch them at http://www.youtube.com/user/b2sb09!

After bike and build, I moved home to San Diego to save money while I worked a little, volunteered at the Birch Aquarium, and applied to graduate schools. It definitely took a little while to adjust to life after the trip. My body still wanted to bike many hours a day and eat everything in sight, but San Diego is not really commuter bikeable (especially from where my parents live). Mostly, I took the year off from school to try and figure out what I wanted to do in life. I know, it’s not really something you can solve overnight, nor something you can solve by sitting around thinking about it. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t game to try. I got far enough to realize these things in life:

1) I’ d like to make a difference somewhere. (doesn’t everyone, to some degree?) Bike and Build showed me how much I love working to solve a problem that plagues our country.

2) I need (and want to get) a PhD. I love learning about biology, I love teaching biology, I love writing, thinking, breathing biology. Yes, I’m a huge nerd. I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than undertake my own research over the coming years. I will also need the degree if I intend to be taken seriously among the scientific or environmental community. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to solve problems if you aren’t taken seriously.

That logic led me to write my statement of purpose for graduate school. Needless to say, those goals are far too broad- I needed to narrow down what I wanted to do. I started out with an interest in neuroscience and helped out on research projects in learning and memory, before undertaking my own project on Cone Snail neurotoxins. However, along the way, I took courses at Hopkins Marine Station in Monterey, and fell in love with marine biology. I’d always loved the ocean, but scuba diving research is an entirely different experience. After my honors thesis work, I ended up helping out on ecology projects and spending most of my Master’s year down at the marine station, including an entire summer of diving research on rockfish and kelp forest ecology.

Though I considered returning to neuroscience for my PhD, I found myself drawn back again and again to marine biology. Why? What is it that draws me to marine biology? Fun, love for the ocean, beautiful work setting, I suppose. But it is also the lack of knowledge about marine ecosystems and the need to protect their beauty from destruction by anthropogenic influences. I think I’ve found the problem I want to work on: climate change in marine systems. More specifically: ocean acidification. Basically: some of the carbon dioxide that we’re adding to the atmosphere (through burning fossil fuels, etc) is absorbed by the ocean. Although this removes some greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere, this CO2 has far-reaching effects on the ocean ecosystem, especially for organisms that build skeletons and shells out of calcium carbonate, such as corals and mollusks.

So after some careful soul-searching, I’ve reached the next stage: starting my PhD in the Marine Biology/IGERT Climate Change program at Scripps Institution of Oceanography! I start in June.