Mara Nutt (they/them/theirs) is a Hydrology Master’s Degree student in the Graduate Program of Hydrologic Sciences (GPHS) at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) working for Dr. Joel Scheingross, who is an assistant professor in the Department of Geological Sciences and Engineering, and is slated to graduate this December. They are pursuing a “two-part” master’s degree, with one portion consisting of their science research project and the other portion consisting of an outreach project. Their science research project focuses on the processes behind the changing topography of the Santa Ynez Mountains near Santa Barbara, CA, specifically pertaining to the sedimentary rocks that comprise the Santa Ynez Mountains and how erosion rates could increase as these rocks experience ongoing weathering processes, resulting in geological hazards, including the 2018 Montecito mudslides and the flooding and debris flow experienced earlier this year.
Mara Nutt in the field August 2023, on a campaign to determine rock strength of different rocks in the Santa Ynez Mountains. (Credit: Mara Nutt)
In terms of inspirational figures that led Mara down this path, they say their parents doing geology in both undergrad and grad school enabled them to grow up with science as the only path they saw themselves pursuing, which culminated in them earning a Bachelor of Applied Science in Geology/Earth Science at Mills College in Oakland, CA, under the tutelage of Dr. Kristina Faul.
“She was a major supporter of me doing me,” Mara tells Labroots. “I ended up taking a gap year working in climate science, and then coming to UNR for a PhD with Joel, with whom I connected with over zoom during the pandemic and knew he was the advisor for me. A year and a half into grad school, I realized my career goals had changed drastically. I attended a diversity in critical zone (where rock, water, air, ecosystems interact) science workshop. After a few months of struggling with my desire to have my own project with a PhD and to go into public outreach, I ended up switching to a master’s degree with a heavier outreach section.” Mara gives enormous credit to Dr. Scheingross for helping them with the switch between a PhD to a masters.
Mara Nutt at one of the rainbow rides in Sacramento, CA in June 2023. (Credit: Mara Nutt)
Mara tells Labroots they chose to pursue graduate school with the goal of teaching at the collegiate level while simultaneously working on their own project, and says they chose UNR since Dr. Scheingross’ research was a cross between geochemistry and geomorphology, which touched upon Mara’s love of geosciences. Mara tells Labroots they’ve had a lot of self-reflection, both personally and professionally, and they are very excited to be graduating with a master’s degree and pursuing a totally new career field. They say what drew them to GPHS at UNR was the diversity and collaboration with other departments, as Mara has friends throughout various departments, including geology, policy, hydrology, and biology.
Mara tells Labroots the biggest challenge facing graduate students isn’t just the sub-minimum wage stipends, but specifically the lack of transparency pertaining to the amount each student will receive and that this varies every semester, referring to them as a “crap shoot”. For instance, they note this is dependent on the advisor and that some graduate students don’t get paid at all, which they say the graduate school claims as legal practice.
As far as after grad school, Mara enthusiastically tells Labroots, “I’m going to be going into STEM public outreach and am super excited! I want to be using all the ‘hard science’ knowledge and background to bring academia/industry and the public to be more cohesive. I would love to be helping more scientific articles to be completely open access to everyone so that knowledge can be shared easily.”
As always, keep doing science & keep looking up!