Grad Student Profiles

Get to Know Our Current Graduate Students

Gabby is on the beach with some instruments collecting samples.

Gabriela Yamhure Acosta

I am a second year graduate student. My research looks to investigate if barnacle larvae undergo diel vertical migration. I will examine how larvae alternate their vertical position in the water column during a 24-hour period in the nearshore waters of La Jolla, and relate their distribution with the hydrographic and hydrodynamic conditions. I hope to understand how barnacle larvae, specifically cyprids, behave under varying physical processes to control the direction in which they are advected. 

Darbi stands in the estuary.  

Darbi Berry

I am a third year graduate student and I am studying fluvial and morphological changes in the Tijuana River Estuary. I am using a combination of current and historical geospatial datasets, aerial imagery and LIDAR, in combination with drone captured imagery in order to assess the changes in the channel morphology, as well as better understand the ability of high resolution imagery to capture surface wetness and tidal prism in the estuary. A better understanding of the interactions of the physical processes within the estuary can help to inform restoration and best management practices. I earned my undergraduate degree from the University of South Florida in Environmental Science and Policy in 2015. I chose USD because of its location, the small program as well as the unique research opportunities. USD’s graduate program really allows you some flexibility and freedom to take the time to develop a thesis project that really lets you incorporate your interests and passions. I also work as a Graduate Assistant for the EOSC department’s Executive Assistant. Our department has a really open and welcoming atmosphere and everyone is really interested, informed and supportive of each others research goals. The willingness to help and the support from faculty and other graduate students in the department makes it an awesome place to work.

Caitlynn and Michael Scott her advisor.

Caitlynn Birch

I’m a second year graduate student studying the effects of changing ocean conditions on the association between yellowfin tuna and tropical dolphins in the eastern Pacific Ocean (ETP). I’m studying the tuna-dolphin association over three temporal scales; seasonally, through ENSO phases, and over the long-term. I’ll mostly be analyzing the spatial distribution of the association and associated oceanography, to determine if changing ocean conditions are causing an expansion of the oceanographic area that fosters this relationship. However, I will also be analyzing how incidental dolphin mortality in fishing nets may be shifting as a result of these changing ocean conditions. I received my undergraduate degree in Biology from University of San Francisco, and spent a year after graduating working at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, as well as the Pinniped Cognition and Sensory Systems lab at UC Santa Cruz. I chose USD primarily for my advisor, Dr. Scott of IATTC, and the opportunity to continue working with marine mammals. USD is a small community with an emphasis on close faculty mentorships and the written and oral communication of scientific results, which has been wonderful for my in-progress transformation into a real scientist!

Nima stands by the ocean.

Nima Farchadi

I am in my final year of the graduate program at USD. I am studying the habitat preferences of the blue and black marlin in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. These pelagic fish are being threatened as by-catch from fisheries and having a better understanding of these fish's spatiotemporal distribution can be implemented into conservation efforts and fishery management. I currently am the animal welfare assistant, which involves me checking on the animals on campus and assessing if they are being handled with care. I have in the past been a lab instructor for a introduction to ecology course, as well as the physical graduate assistant. I got my undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland in 2014 where I majored Biology. I choose USD first and foremost because of my adviser.  How small the community is. You get to personally know all the faculty and staff in the department and that really helps with your class work but also your research. They are also well connected with other organizations and institutions around San Diego which you can potentially do research with.

Angela is on a boat with snow. 

Angela Klemmedson

I am a third year graduate student researching the population dynamics of Antarctic mesopelagic fishes in response to environmental variability. I’m using otoliths (fish ear stones) to collect age and growth rate information for the myctophid species Gymnoscopelus nicholsi over the past 20 years. Understanding the population dynamics of this ecosystem component is important for understanding the stability of the Antarctic ecosystem, which is one of the fastest warming regions on the planet. In 2013, after earning my BA in Biology and Environmental Studies from Gonzaga University (Spokane, WA), I moved to San Diego and worked for California Cooperative Oceanic Fisheries Investigations (CalCOFI) for three years before deciding to continue my education. I chose USD because of its proximity to marine science resources, including collaborators such as NOAA and Scripps Institution of Oceanography. In addition to my research, I also work for the EOSC department as a Physical Science Graduate Assistant, responsible for prepping geology labs and desert field trips. I am happy to be a part of the USD community and the small size of our EOSC program provides increased interaction and support from faculty and other students.

Marisol on a boat.

Marisol Palomares

I am a second year graduate student and I am studying algal wrack community composition on a sandy beach here in San Diego. I am interested in community abundance and diversity of wrack associated macrofauna within algal wrack over time. Algal wrack makes up the majority of organic material on sandy beaches, and is used as a food source and habitat for a variety of organisms. The practice of beach grooming removes algal wrack, which is detrimental to the sandy beach ecosystem. I hope to increase understanding and awareness about the importance of algal wrack over time on beaches. I'm from central Texas, and graduated from Rice University in Houston in 2015 with a B.S. in ecology and evolutionary biology. After traveling and living abroad, I decided to attend USD since they offered the program I wanted and the proximity to the ocean. I currently work as a graduate assistant for the science building manager, and as a graduate assistant for the EOS department, where I feed and maintain the aquariums. I really enjoy working with my adviser, Dr. Drew Talley, and I appreciate the small size of the program and the department. 

 Bryanna stands on a boat.

Bryanna Paulson

I am in my third year of the graduate program at USD.  For my thesis, I am studying the diets of major zooplankton species in Mission Bay through stable isotope analysis.  This study will contribute to the understanding of the most fundamental characteristics of Mission Bay’s ecosystem, trophic structure and function.  In 2015, I received my B.S. in Biology from Saint Mary’s College of California.  Before I continued on to graduate school, I took a gap year and interned for the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy, BDRI, and Receptos, Inc., a pharmaceutical company.  My favorite experience during my gap year was interning for the Bottlenose Dolphin Research Institute and studying Bottlenose dolphins in Galicia, Spain.   As I pursue my Master’s degree at USD, I have continued to work as a Research Associate in Analytical Chemistry at Receptos, Inc.  I chose the graduate program at USD because the EOSC department provides a great number of resources for research and unlimited support for its students.

Lisa stands on a boat.

Lisa Robison

I am a second year graduate student researching the life history and site fidelity of the California Killifish in Southern California by studying the trace metals in their otoliths (ear stones). I hope my research will help to determine the strength and limitations of otolith microchemistry, and improve our ability to use this methodology to study the habitat connectivity and movement of wetland fishes. As Southern California wetlands face increasing fragmentation, it is imperative to understand how the fishes that rely on these environments will be impacted. I received my B.S. in Environmental Systems (Ecology, Behavior, Evolution) from UC San Diego in 2015. After earning my undergraduate degree, I began work at the Clinical Whole Genome Sequencing Laboratory at Illumina, where I continue to work while in graduate school. I chose to pursue my Master’s degree at USD because of its small class sizes and supportive faculty. The EOSC program provides opportunities to connect with the larger scientific community in San Diego, and I appreciate the passionate faculty and staff in the department.


Rachel is on a boat in the ocean

Rachel Steinberg

I am a second-year graduate student researching the dive patterns and movements of whale sharks (Rhincodon typus). Whale sharks are now included on the IUCN’s list of endangered species; it is therefore essential to study their movements and what habitats they live in in order to best protect them in the future.

I graduated from University of Miami in 2014 with a BA in Marine Affairs. After graduating, I moved to San Diego and worked at Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute (HSWRI) for two and half years, first as an administrative/aquaculture assistant, then as a fish technician. USD allowed me to apply with Dr. Brent Stewart, a Senior Research Scientist at HSWRI, as my thesis advisor, who I had already interned with for several summers during undergrad. USD offers exactly what I was looking for in a graduate program; a close community where you can get to know other students and professors in the department as well as great resources and support for your own research. Being able to study in San Diego is also the best added bonus.   

James stands by the ocean.

James Wright

I am in my third year in the program and I am researching arsenic transport and mobility; currently focusing on stormwater transport in an ephemeral drainage adjacent to a historical mining site.  This work is significant as arsenic is toxic and its transport from former mine sites has the potential to impact human and ecological health. I received a B.S. in Environmental Chemistry from UCSD in 2006 and currently, I am a research assistant with the EOSC department working on arsenic bioavailability. The primary reason I chose the EOSC master’s program at USD was for the research opportunities and my favorite aspects of this program and department are the faculty-student working relationships and willingness of everyone to help each other out.