Environmental Science ‘16
PhD Candidate in Marine Ecology, University of California Davis
Ben Rubinoff is currently a PhD candidate in Marine Ecology at the University of California Davis and a former Environmental Science major in SENR. Throughout his undergraduate career, he was involved in research both in the Ohio State community and through an external REU program and technician position, where he developed his interests in marine ecology.
Read the full interview with Ben:
A Glance at Ben’s Current Work
I am a Ph.D. candidate in marine ecology at University of California Davis based out of the Bodega Marine Laboratory. My faculty adviser is Ted Grosholz. I am also a Smithsonian short-term research fellow working on a project at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama. I live in Oakland, CA, do research in Tomales Bay, CA and Panama, and I have lab and desk space in Bodega Bay, CA.
My typical day changes depending on the season. In the summer, I have to wake up very early (4:00 or 5:00 am) to drive to my field site to catch the low tide. I usually will spend a few hours snorkeling or wading in shallow water to collect samples and monitor my experiment. I then finish up my field research, head back to the lab and clean and store equipment and return home. Sometimes I have to boat to sites, which involves more preparation and teardown time. When it isn’t the summer, I spend most of the day on the computer reading papers, doing data analysis in R, answering emails, and writing. Sometimes I have to serve as a teaching assistant (in the fall, winter, or spring). When this is the case, I drive to campus, teach, have office hours, and fill my spare time with data analysis and writing.
I spend a lot of time in the field, and it is really inspiring to sit quietly and just observe ecological processes as they are happening! I also find snorkeling, freediving, and scuba diving to be very rewarding. Spending time underwater opens your eyes to a different way of life. It is really cool to see how marine organisms have adapted to and navigate their underwater environment!
As an undergraduate student, I majored in Environmental Science with a specialization in water science. I was in the honors program and had an independent honors thesis examining how artificial light at night influences stream primary productivity. I also volunteered and worked in the Stream and Riverine Ecology Lab on campus under the guidance of Dr. Mažeika Sullivan. I was an SENR and CFAES Ambassador, and I participated in the Parks and Recreation student organization occasionally.
During my undergraduate career, I was an intern in the Benthic Ecology Lab at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, Maryland. This was part of the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program. I took a summer course in subtidal marine ecology and conducted research at Friday Harbor Laboratories in Washington. I also worked as a laboratory and field technician for Ted Grosholz at University of California Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory for a semester. I helped with a project examining the influence of ocean acidification on oyster populations in Tomales Bay.
I think my internship at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center was the most valuable for my professional development. I learned a lot about the scientific process (i.e. hypothesis testing, experimental design, field sampling, microscopy and sample processing, and data analysis). I also learned a lot about research positions both inside and outside academia. This internship was crucial for me in developing professional connections and getting into graduate school.
I would advise undergraduate students not to be afraid to reach out to researchers, institutions, and professionals that you find interesting, even if it is just for an informational interview. This is especially important given that there are very few marine ecology research opportunities in Ohio. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t reached out to my current research adviser and asked if he had any volunteer or technician positions available. It might feel intimidating, but most researchers are incredibly nice, are happy to talk about what they do, and connect you with people who may have a position for you!
Life After Graduation
I moved to California right after graduation. I took a few weeks to drive across the U.S., stopping at various national parks and cities on the way. I then worked in a cold-pressed juice shop in San Francisco for 3 months and then started graduate school. I often went on short weekend camping and backpacking trips in Northern California.
I structured my graduate school search around a few main priorities. The research topic and the details of the job I would be doing were, of course, very important. Aside from those factors, I also took into account the culture of the lab/organization. I find it very important to be able to personally connect with supervisors and coworkers in order to be happy and feel part of a community. As a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, I also found it very important that I felt comfortable being out and myself around my adviser, in the program, and in the surrounding community. I contacted previous and current graduate students in my adviser’s lab and made sure they were happy with my current adviser, and that they felt they had a good work-life balance.