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Alumni: Katie Matthews, Class of 1999

Current Employment
VP, Policy Development and Outreach, International Seafood Sustainability Foundation

Katie's Story


Katie represented the US at a
meeting of the Oceans Working Group
of the Asia Pacific Economic
Cooperation forum. Bali 2011

I arrived at Tufts with a few ideas about what I didn't want to study, and a vague idea that I liked "science". I was lucky to sign up for Geo 1 in my first semester of college, because I quickly discovered that geology encompassed the best parts of all the science classes I had taken before. There was a little chemistry, a little physics, a little math, a little biology – but all of it applied to interesting topics like volcanoes, earthquakes, coral reefs and climate change. After getting a little taste of field work as an undergrad, I decided to continue my studies, getting first a Masters (2001) and then a PhD (2007) in Earth and Environmental Science at the University of Pennsylvania.

For my Master's degree, I analyzed the pesticide content of an ice core in the Arctic. It turns out that the combination of atmospheric circulation patterns and the chemical properties of these compounds conspire to make the poles "sinks" for a variety of pollutants such as DDT. The work was quite an adventure: I travelled to Svalbard (an archipelago about 600 miles from the North Pole), joined a group of Scandinavian scientists who were going to the top of the largest ice cap on the island, took a firearms course (we carried guns for protection against polar bears), snowmobiled nine hours to the ice cap's summit, spent 2 weeks collecting snow samples and ice cores, sleeping in a tent that didn't really block the midnight sun, and upon our return I spent another 4 weeks in Tromso, Norway extracting the pesticides from my samples. I loved the field experience and the challenge of reconstructing environmental history (it was interesting enough that even The Economist profiled my research!), so I decided to pursue a PhD.

I continued in the vein of environmental geochemistry, but turned my attention to the tropics for my dissertation research. I studied the paleoclimate record archived in the skeleton of stony corals – in particular I worked on constructing a direct equation that linked seawater chemistry with coral chemistry. I spent over 6 months living on an island in Panama (while I was there a season of the TV show Survivor was filmed on a neighboring island), rearing corals, collecting water and plankton samples, and practicing my Spanish (Tufts' language requirement came in handy). Most of my work was done with SCUBA, including side trips to Jamaica and the Bahamas for a field course and a pilot project. I gained experience not only in the particulars of my research techniques, but in project and personnel management – skills which I now use all the time. The subsequent laboratory analyses were difficult, but rewarding in the end when I was able to draw some surprising and useful conclusions about corals and climate reconstruction.

After my PhD, I took a postdoctoral research position at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. I used my analytical, writing and presentation skills to work on both geochemical questions (e.g., how does uranium migrate through the subsurface?) and national security issues (e.g., nuclear forensics in various earth materials).

In September 2009 I accepted a position as an AGI Fisher Congressional Geoscience Fellow where I worked for Rep. Ed Markey (who represents Tufts in the House and happens to love scientists - 6 PhDs on staff). I staffed Rep. Markey on energy and environmental policy issues, including geo-related things like investigating tritium leaks into the groundwater around nuclear reactors.

After that, I took a position in the Office of Marine Conservation at the State Department through the AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellowship program where I worked on oceans and fisheries issues (e.g., ocean acidification, management of tuna stocks). Following the end of that fellowship (September 2011), I began work as Vice President for Policy Development at the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation.

I work with scientists and policy makers to improve the sustainability of the world's tuna fisheries - everything from drafting policy (which affects ~75% of the world's tuna processing capacity) to organizing research cruises that test novel fishing strategies to advocating to national governments at the intergovernmental meetings where fishing conservation and management decisions are made. In the last two years of work, I've travelled to Micronesia, Hawaii, the Marshall Islands, Indonesia, the United Nations (as an official delegate of the United States), Italy, the UAE, Guam, Australia and Thailand. Next trip? New Caledonia!