Corals and communications

August 12, 2022, Shivani Gupta

About Me

Hi! My name is Shivani Gupta and I am entering my third year of undergraduate study at USC this Fall. I am pursuing a major in Journalism and minors in Painting and Environmental Studies! I am passionate about connecting people with the natural environment, helping them realize they are a part of it and what action they can take to protect and sustain it. I hope to continue to build skills beyond this summer in video storytelling, photojournalism, written articles, drawing, and painting. I am thankful to have had the opportunity to work with these mediums over the last few months.

a person in workout clothes smiles while standing in a parking lot with the ocean and sunset behind
On a walk at the beach this summer

My Work This Summer

This summer I was lucky to be one of four Environmental Communications interns for the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies. I had the opportunity to be mentored by Dr. Carly Kenkel and work with her lab, Cnidarian Evolutionary Ecology Lab (CEE Lab).

I have been working on three main projects this summer:

  • A workbook to explain the CEE Lab research to elementary school kids
  • Video interviews for the graduate students in the lab to help people learn about their research and their journey on this path
  • A short video giving an overview of the CEE Lab to viewers

The workbook consists of three main parts. The introduction explains what cnidarians are, the phylum of species CEE Lab researches. The phylum consists of many species, but the lab mostly focuses on sea anemones and corals. The workbook then gives an overview of the lab’s research on and how they go about their projects. Finally, there is a “Meet the Scientists” section, which consists of a brief profile on each of the graduate scientists’ work and activities kids can do pertaining to each scientists’ work.

I wanted to create this workbook because it is important to me for kids to learn about environmental topics so they can grow up living sustainably and bring that into the world. I have had a blast working on the drawings, formatting all of the elements on InDesign, and trying to think from a perspective of an elementary school student when deciding if an explanation I created makes sense.

The second part of my work this summer is video interviews that viewers can watch to learn more about CEE Lab projects and how the graduate students entered this field. I interviewed each scientist via Zoom and recorded our interview where I asked them a series of questions. I then broke it down into four parts:

  • Learn about their research
  • Reflecting on the past
  • Looking into the future
  • Hear about the time when…

I ordered the scientists’ response to my questions to fit into the categories above. My goal for this part of the project was to give the scientists a platform to speak about their work and experiences. I also wanted to give viewers a first-person perspective on challenges within the field, advice if someone is entering the field, the scientists’ favorite parts of the experience.

It is important for me to have the scientists speaking directly to their audience so that they they their own story and people can hear the reality of their experience. These interviews really opened my mind up to how a pHD requires a lot of physical and mental energy, but how the work at the end of all of it can be very rewarding.

The final part of my work is a 2-3 minute video I am creating for Wrigley, which gives an overview of CEE Lab and its research. If someone is interested in learning more or getting involved, that information is in this video too. This consists of clips of the interviews I had with graduate students, an interview I had with Carly, and pictures from the scientists’ experiences in the field and in the lab! I learned so much just through the pictures the scientists sent me because it felt like they were taking me into their world in the lab and in the field.

Reflecting on My Experience

This summer went by way faster than I thought it would go. I got to meet three wonderful students at USC who are also interested in environmental communication. They have interests in different topics such as plastic pollution and how we make decisions regarding the environment. They are interested in various mediums to communicate such as photography, illustration, and website design. I got to see the progress of their projects and how they think. Seeing it all come together has been so rewarding and inspiring. In weekly check-in meetings, I felt closer to this team of interns and to our advisors, Jessica Dutton and Kathryn Royster. We gave feedback to each other, listened to fun facts we learned throughout the weeks, and shared our hopes and goals for the summer.

I also got to be mentored by Carly this summer and get to know about her work and how she got into this field. The weekly check-in meetings helped me stay accountable for my work, and I got to get to know Carly better and why she does this work. Her way of thinking about mentoring and the space and support she gives each student has been inspiring and taught me a new way to think about myself and work. I felt supported through every step of the way, and when I had personal issues arrive that interfered with my work, the team reminded me that I have the ability to complete my projects and help is available wherever I need it.

I got to sit in on CEE Lab meetings every week as well. One of them was called NEWS, where the members who attended shared a recent scientific article that they’ve read, pertinent to everyone’s research, and explained it to the group. This really kept everyone’s thought processes going regarding their research and opened everyone’s minds.

I also attended WORKS, where the students of the lab shared the research they have in progress and where they are at in their stages. I even got to present myself, showing the lab what I have so far with the projects I’m working on this summer! It was a wonderful opportunity and Carly’s lab has been incredibly generous and welcoming this summer.

Every week there was a science communication expert who came to give their full attention to our program. They were totally open to answering questions we had and to giving us advice on what they could. By working on my projects this summer and hearing from science communication experts, I have discovered that I would love to move forward with creating videos, written articles, drawings, and paintings to communicate about the natural environment. I’m very interested in the human connection to our planet and exploring that through feature stories!

It was wonderful to see people in the field of science communication pursue such diverse paths. These presentations opened my mind up to how much potential this field has because there are countless science experiments and research projects taking place every day, but many people are disconnected from the groundbreaking research happening every day because the science is really complicated to understand.

The speakers also showed me that this field can go in so many paths. From Emily Eng creating scientific illustrations for The Seattle Times to Tyler Schiffman travelling to Africa to capture footage of giraffes that a team is saving from a flood, I learned that the possibilities are endless. I have received so much inspiration to keep following my dreams.

Due to the personal challenges I faced this summer, I had a lot of trouble with meeting deadlines. However, this taught me a lot about my work ethic and taking care of myself when going through a hard time. I have been using the Pomodoro Method to manage my time and I focused on my physical and mental health by meditating and going on regular walks. Through the support I received from Wrigley and Carly, I also realized that I can reach out for help when I need it and I will receive kindness on the other end of it.

I have many people to thank for giving me this opportunity to work on these projects this summer and trusting me to follow through with them. This includes and is not limited to the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies, Jessica Dutton, Kathryn Royster, Carly Kenkel, Alex Palakian, Yannick Peterhans, Kathrina Welborn, and all of the members of Carly’s lab who I’ve gotten to work with. I would not have discovered so many of my dreams without the experiences I had with Wrigley and with Carly and her graduate students.