Trista McKenzie

Sector: Research

Field: Science

Occupation: Student

Meet AGU Virtual Poster Showcase Winner Trista McKenzie, doctorate student, at the University of Hawaii, Manoa (listen to full audio interview).

Can you please start by saying your name, where you attend school or work, and what you are studying and researching?

Hi my name is Trista McKenzie I am a PhD student at the University of Hawaii at Manoa in the department of earth sciences and I am currently researching groundwater flow and contamination from wastewater sources to the environment and how the environment and wastewater infrastructure may be impacted by sea level rise.

Awesome, can you describe the most exciting part of studying or researching science and this can either be general or it can be specific to what you are researching right now?

Well I think one of the things I really enjoy is fieldwork that would be a very general response. I also really enjoy learning about the unknown and how humans interact with the fundamental processes of earth and so I really feel that researching science gives the opportunity to see places you otherwise wouldn’t think about or processes you wouldn’t normally think about in a different light.

Have you always had this urge to go into science and been curious about water science in particular or how did you get to the point where you are right now?

So I’ve always been interested in the outdoors and science. I grew up playing in the water. I am from the Seattle area, so I spent a lot of time on lakes or in the ocean. I grew up windsurfing, canoeing, and swimming so I’ve always appreciated water, but I never saw myself going into science particularly. I actually first got a degree in art and video game design and from there I worked in that industry for a few years but I decided it really wasn’t for me and I wanted to kind of get away from being on a computer all the time so I went back to university and I said I just need to do something that is an outdoor science. I found myself doing a geology and chemistry degree and that’s how I found myself in water science now.

Very fascinating! So you were a winner of the Virtual Poster Showcase can you tell us a little bit about how you decided to participate or how you heard about the opportunity and give a little brief description of your abstract?

Sure. My advisor really encouraged me to apply. This was during my senior year of undergraduate and I had a research project and a poster already prepared and I was actually going to the European Geosciences Union to present this poster a month later. But honestly my advisor really had to push me to do it because it was my senior year and I was doing a bunch of stuff and she was like you know what you already have a poster ready just submit. And I am really happy I did. I prepped up the poster and made the video and my project was entitled Quantifying Atmospheric Fallout of Fukushima Derived Radioactive Isotopes in the Hawaiian Islands and this project looked at radio cesium expressed in mushroom and soil samples and looked at how precipitation impacted fallout expressed in soils.

Wow that’s fascinating, you should see me and Sharon’s faces at each other right now were like in awe. Can you describe your overall experience of the Virtual Poster Showcase and maybe speak a little bit about what it meant to be honored as a winner and maybe if it helped you gain a little bit of confidence or practice before presenting it a month later?

Yeah of course. So I guess I will start with the initial process. One of the most challenging things I found about it was getting comfortable with recording myself and watching video of me giving a presentation because that was very awkward, and I recorded it many times to try to get it a little more perfect. You have the peer review phase and the expert judging phase, and I found the peer review phase to be very helpful in terms of recognizing good elements of a poster as well as when I was answering questions brought up by the students. And then during the expert judging phase I was actually answering questions that were posed while I was at EGU days before I presented my poster so that was immensely helpful because here, I had experts asking me questions right before giving my first major poster presentation at a conference. I was already thinking through these processes and how I might answer some of these questions, so I think it really improved how my poster presentation went at EGU. When I was honored as a winner, I was pretty shocked I did not enter it thinking I am going to win I entered it thinking it would be great practice. I was very honored, and I think one of the key things this really gave me was confidence in my work and my ability to produce and present research. Because in that point of my career I was an undergraduate and I didn’t think much of what I was doing. I enjoyed it and had pride in my work, but I think that is a pretty major positive feedback to win something like that so early on.

Right, that’s great to hear. Do you have any advice for students who are maybe thinking about participating or who are maybe on the fence about whether to participate or not?

My advice is to just do it because I wasn’t going to do it and I had to be pushed. And I think it was such a valuable experience to be a part of making the poster, watching yourself present a poster which is admittingly difficult to watch but you kind of see where you pause, where you have issues and that is such a great exercise as well as going through the different stages of review and reviewing other posters. I think it is such a valuable experience and so my advice is just do it. It takes some time, but it is not that much time, it’s great practice and you know more than you realize. Someone told me pretty early on that you know your project best of anyone and don’t forget that when you give a presentation. Otherwise, I would say for students who are participating in the Virtual Poster Showcase practice your poster, look up resources for designing and presenting a poster, and you’ll do great!

Great, thank you so much. This is a milestone year for AGU were celebrating our centennial year. So if you could maybe speak a little bit about how you feel about participating and being able to share your story at such a monumental moment for the geosciences.

Sure. Well it’s an honor to be part of AGU and for sharing my story at this time. I think we are at a major inflexion point for earth and humanities role in climate and the decisions we make as humanity collectively in the next few years will greatly alter the trajectory of earths habitability either for better or for worse. I think AGU is an inherently interdisciplinary organization it covers a wide range of disciplines from hydrology, to planetary sciences, to geophysics. And because we cover such a wide range of disciplines, I think we are a good group for tackling some of these problems. The other thing is that I think scientists as a whole need to improve our communication with the public and government officials and I think because of AGU’s interdisciplinary nature were in a really good place to improve this dialog.

Yeah, I agree with that. I guess you kind of touched on this but what do you hope the geosciences will help humanity understand or achieve in the future whether that be within the next 10 years or 100 years from now?

I think the big thing right now is climate and studying how global climate change impacts global cycles and systems. A lot of the stuff I am working on right now has to do with water quality and sea level rise and I think there are big questions there particularly in both water quality and quantity globally. For instance in the long term we have already committed to 1.3 to 1.9 meters of sea level rise but you know lets limit it there, lets reduce carbon emissions by 50% every decade and increase the potential for negative carbon emissions on top of that and I think geosciences are one of the fields that are really apt to deal with some of these issues.

Right so kind of just some personal background I am an environmental studies and geology double major and I have an interest in water resources so I see kind of like you the interactions between geology and water and I think that it’s going to play a pivotal role with climate and I think like you said AGU sees those things and the interactions because of its interdisciplinary nature.

Yeah definitely.

That is all the questions that we have do you have anything else you want to share before we go ahead and log off.

I want to thank you again for the interview and for anyone that is considering the AGU Virtual Poster Showcase I would say definitely do it. It is such a great opportunity, it looks good on your CV, and you will learn a lot.

Great thank you. We just want to thank you for sharing your science experience and your Virtual Poster Showcase experience.

Thank you so much!