Jessica Carilli

Hometown:  Palo Alto, CA

Current Job Title:  Assistant Professor

Work Location:  Boston, MA

Job Description:  

As a professor, my day to day work consists of:

  1. Research - fieldwork and subsequent laboratory analysis, data analysis and interpretation, and writing results into published literature
  2. Teaching - developing and delivering classroom teaching in both lecture and lab formats
  3. Mentoring - overseeing and guiding student projects
  4. Service - reviewing other researchers' work and proposals, serving on committees to guide administration at the University, outreach to bring science to the public

Company, Academic Institution, Government Agency or Non-profit affiliation: University of Massachusetts Boston

Highest Degree Level Achieved: and Area of Study: PhD in Oceanography

What do you love most about your career?

I love being able to brighten up the lives of others by sharing knowledge of ocean and earth science with students and the public. I believe that understanding at least something about the natural world is an important aspect of living a full life. I also believe that a public with some science-based knowledge of earth processes is critical to obtaining a sustainable future for the planet. I feel lucky to be part of both discovery and learning about the natural world through my research, and also sharing this information with others through classroom teaching and outreach.

What inspired you to pursue a career in marine science or STEM related field?

I've always cared deeply for the environment and wanted to make a career focused on helping solve environmental problems. After working in more of a policy role as an undergraduate, I realized that my skills were better put to use on the scientific and information dissemination side of the environmental movement. The goals of my research and teaching are firmly rooted in the desire to discover ways humans can help reduce our negative impact on the environment, and to share this information with others.

Describe one of the most exciting moments you’ve experienced in your work.

The data I produced during my PhD were at first not what I expected and puzzling - but eventually I realized that they were telling a more interesting story than I'd originally thought. I found evidence that local impacts like runoff and fishing interact with the global impact of climate change to more strongly impact corals. This is exciting because it suggests that local actions to address some of the more manageable causes of reef degradation could help corals withstand the more overwhelming impacts associated with climate change - a problem which is much harder to tackle.

Describe the biggest challenge (or challenges) that you’ve faced and how did you overcome it.

There have been a number of challenges along the way in this career, from seemingly minor equipment problems that threatened to derail my entire PhD fieldwork to the larger problems that most of us face in academia: how to pursue a career that depends largely on personal commitment and sacrifice while also having a normal life and a family.

To solve the logistical challenges inherently associated with fieldwork, I've drawn on my wits and the inventive help and grace of others including car mechanics who took payment in cool beverages to repair my equipment, or airline employees who helped me take apart my compressor to fit it on the plane.

To tackle the larger life-challenge of pursuing this kind of career while having a family, I have drawn on support from a large network of friends, very supportive parents, and mentors I know in real life and through twitter and blogging about science and parenting. It's a tough road and impossible to do on your own, but by asking for and accepting help, I'm proud to say that I've gotten just where I want to be in my career.

Who is your most influential mentor and how did they help you get to where you are today?

It's difficult to pinpoint one person who has been the most influential mentor - I am lucky to have had several wonderful mentors that have been at one stage or another the most important. These include unflaggingly supportive PhD and Postdoc advisors, colleagues from other universities who have taught me practical skills and personal conviction, and amazing parents. Most of my mentors have provided very practical support to me: editing manuscripts, teaching me lab techniques, providing childcare to allow me to attend conferences and fieldwork. But the other important thing they have all provided is belief in me as a person, which helps when things get difficult. It's perhaps easier to give up and let yourself down than to let down an entire group of people who are rooting for you.

How do you feel you are making a positive difference in the world?  

I hope that my efforts are making a difference by providing new scientific knowledge about how human activities are altering marine ecosystems - the idea here is that if we understand the consequences of our action, we can make changes to how we behave to fix these problems. In addition, I hope that by helping spread science-based knowledge to others through teaching and outreach, I can inspire people to make positive changes in their own lives that will help the environment - or, perhaps more importantly - to inspire people to make enough of a ruckus that companies and governments will change for the better.