Member Spotlight

Sarah Traiger

Sarah Traiger_June Member Spotlight

Can you give us a short bio about yourself?

I’m from Los Angeles originally and went to UC Santa Cruz for undergrad, then University of Alaska Fairbanks for my PhD. Most of my research for my PhD was down on the coast in the gulf of Alaska. Currently, I’m a postdoc at Cal State Northridge working in Dr. Kerry Nickols lab. We research carbon chemistry inside and outside kelp forests. My main postdoctoral work is currently in Monterey.

What is the most exciting aspect of your research?

One of the most exciting aspects of my work is getting an experiment all set up. We have big arrays of instruments and it’s really exciting to get that all set up because so much work goes into that, and then it’s fun to see what happens with the data we collect. It’s also exciting to see the animals that I don’t often get to see. Last summer, I worked right outside the Hopkins marine station where there are many friendly harbor seals. During our dives, they were swimming near us and biting our fins. They were also very curious about some of our instruments so they were swimming up to it and even biting our mooring rope.

Why did you decide to go into STEM?

I’ve always been very interested in nature. As a kid, I was always hanging out in the woods or the creek and observing nature and the plants and animals around me. My first time snorkeling was a 7th grade school field trip to Catalina Island, and that was the first time I had really gotten to see what was in the water around me in LA. Before that, I had seen nature programs about coral reefs but I didn’t know there was actually so much cool stuff right here in Southern California. Then when I was in high school, I began scuba diving and really fell in love with the ocean. After that, I knew I wanted a career where I could be in the ocean and study how kelp forests and the marine ecosystems work.

Have you had any specific experiences with women in STEM or other mentorship experiences that have helped shape your career thus far, that you’d like to share?

Yes, my PhD advisor has been a great mentor, both throughout and after graduate school. She really encouraged me to try physically demanding work. Oftentimes in diving expeditions, we had to wear really big drysuits and carry heavy equipment, and often work in very cold conditions. She always made me feel as if I could accomplish my research, regardless of the physical demands and challenges. She also set a very good example of being extremely committed to research but also having other interests. Every day, she would go cross country skiing on her lunch break with another colleague. She really exemplified the concept of being focused on your research, yet at the same time having time for other interests and family.

When not doing science, what do you like to do in your spare time?

I often travel for fun and also enjoy hiking. During my postdoc, I’ve been trying to make sure that I get out in the LA area and do various things on my bucket list while I’m here in LA, such as hiking and visiting different museums.

Are there any challenges you’ve faced as a woman in STEM that you’d like to share? How did you overcome those obstacles?

One challenge has been working with volunteer divers that were male and older than myself, when it seemed that the directions I was giving were not being taken seriously. In one instance, safety instructions were not taken seriously or followed. This was a real wake up call for me that I need to communicate differently and ensure that my point is getting across. If I’m not taken seriously, there could be consequences that go beyond my ego and actually affect the safety of the project. To overcome this, I started being more direct and repeating myself if I felt I needed to.

Any other advice for younger GWIS members or anyone training in your field?

Just be confident in your knowledge, and if you’re not confident, ask questions!

How has your experience with GWIS LA been?

I recently watched the GWIS webinar on the academic job search and really enjoyed that. When I come back in the fall from doing my field work, I’d love to get more involved in the different events going on in person. I haven’t been able to make it so far, but I’m really looking forward to getting more involved.

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