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#STEMStories: Priya, PhD student, USA

1. Introduce yourself, who are you what do you do?

My name is Priya Shukla. I am a PhD student at UC Davis studying the impacts of climate change on the seafood we grow along the California coast. I also write about the oceans and climate change in a digital column on Forbes Science.

2. How did you arrive at this career (or point in your life/work)? Was it always something you knew you wanted to do?

I took a long and windy path here. When I was applying to college, I was planning on pursuing a career in biotechnology and while nursing dreams of becoming a theatre actor! Halfway through my undergraduate career at UC Davis, I took a general geology class called "The Oceans", where I discovered that the oceans were imperiled by climate change. I knew immediately that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, so I tacked an Oceanography minor onto my Bachelor's degree in Environmental Science and Management.

But, I didn't jump straight from this class into my PhD! In fact, after college, I worked for an environmental consulting firm and taught high school for a year. I then went to San Diego State University, where I received my Master's after studying how climate change affected underwater kelp forests. I then worked for public education and marine policy organizations and managed a research group before returning to UC Davis to begin my PhD last fall.

After my Master's I became deeply passionate about connecting the science I was doing with the people who either benefited from it (like communities that depend on fishing for income) or could do something with it (like our congressional representatives). And, one way I figured I could do that was by by writing, which is why I spend a small part of each month publishing articles about breaking science news!

3. What about your job makes you jump out of bed in the morning, especially on those cold, dark mornings?

Wow - this is a hard question for me because so many things get me excited! But, I have to say that there are two things:

[1] I absolutely love learning new things and a PhD is such a good way to do exactly that. You get spend several years at the cutting edge of science, discovering new things, and learning so many different skills along the way.

[2] I love thinking about who my research could one day help. I study the effects of climate change on seafood in California, where seafood is considered a luxury item. However, California is on the frontlines of climate change and is oceanographically similar to parts of the world where seafood is an economic and nutritional necessity. Therefore, understanding impacts in California could be beneficial for communities elsewhere in the world that don't have access to the same financial or educational resources that we do here.

4. What is your personal cure for stress or how do you raise your spirits in times of doubt? Can you share a Story?

I love doing yoga - not only is it great exercise and source of stress relief, but I also use it help cure my writer's block!

I remember I was on a tight deadline to submit a major grant back in 2014 and I was struggling to figure out how to bridge two concepts in one of my essays. I took a break from my marathon writing session to go to a yoga class and the inspiration came to me halfway through my class. And, I did end up receiving the grant. :)

5. Who is your role model?

As a woman of color in the marine sciences, I don't see very many faces like my own. So, learning about Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson was a revelation for me. Not only did she help organize the March for Science a couple years ago, but she founded her own organization, the Ocean Collectiv, to bring together scientists, policymakers and community members to develop justice-oriented solutions for problems that coastal communities are facing.

6. What advice would you give to yourself if you could go back in time?

I am so proud of the work I do, but I do wish I could remember to just enjoy the incredible life I get to live. I've gotten better at "stopping to smell the roses", but it's something I'm still working on. I downloaded the "1-second every day" app in November for this reason ... and am finally starting to use it 3 months later!

7. Top 3 tips for girls starting out in STEM?

[1] When it gets challenging, you know you're doing things right. If it's easy, it doesn't stay fun for long. So, when the going gets tough, keep at it but don't be too hard on yourself.

[2] Take time to figure out what you don't like. You often have to do a lot of tasks that don't appeal to you before you find the ones you do enjoy!

[3] Think about how you can help people with your talents. If you're an engineer, for example, what could you build/develop that could help someone in need? Or, is there someone in your community who is also interested in engineering but doesn't have the same resources?

8. How do you measure your success?

When I started my PhD, I made an academic & non-academic bucket list to make sure I would use that time to learn skills that I would one day be capable of doing the kind of work that Dr. Ayana Johnson does. So, I've taken to active steps towards checking off those boxes!

9. Where can we find out more about your work?

Check out my website and my online blog!

10. Are you social? Will you share your Twitter handle, or LinkedIn profile, or Facebook so that young women can connect with you?

You can follow me on Twitter: @priyology!