Shellby Johnson headshot

Shellby Johnson

Science Communication Fellow
Graduate Student
Bren School of Environmental Science and Management

Tell us about your work/research. What kinds of things do you do?

As a graduate student, I study how vital solutions can be created to help solve pressing environmental problems. For me specifically, these problems often relate to climate change and the human pressures that impact marine and coastal environments. My work involves first doing in-depth research or data analysis on a particular problem that I then translate in a meaningful way to help inform decision-making or educate various audiences. Currently, I am doing this for sperm whale conservation in the Caribbean, but have covered other topics such as sea-level rise and coastal development. I am also a teaching assistant for undergraduates, where I help students understand environmental problems and support them as they explore their own proposed solutions while sharing my own.

What sparked your initial interest in your career?

I was always a lover of nature and animals, but a chance visit to the Santa Monica Aquarium set my sights on marine science. This was around the age of 9. From then on, I made it my business to seek out all I could on the marine environment as it wasn't a topic I came into contact within my own community. My time as an undergraduate student gave me my first formal introduction as a marine biology major and later marine affairs major. Shortly after college, I worked for the National Park Service doing marine species management for loggerhead sea turtles at Cape Lookout National Seashore. I soon realized that there was a constant and growing tug of war between what society demanded and what the marine environment needed. It was during this experience that I knew a niche needed to be filled between the two sides, and I wanted to be that person. I hope to have a fulfilling career pursuing this after graduate school.

Who influenced you or encouraged you the most?

Honestly, the marine environment itself influenced me and encouraged me at first. My parents and family were not familiar with this line of work and wanted me to pursue very different things. Once they saw I was truly passionate about it, they were supportive. Now I'm encouraged by all the great work being done in this field, especially by women of color.

What element of your work/study do you find the most fascinating?

The endless number of ways to explain or describe a problem or process in the marine environment continues to fascinate me. I never know who my audience will be or how I will have to interact with them!

What other jobs led to your current career?

All jobs, big and small, have helped shaped my career goals. I've worked for the federal government as a National Park Service endangered species intern; state government in environmental public affairs; university setting as an educational outreach coordinator; non-profit sector as a coastal zone management intern; and a few other things in between. I've always been open to positions that give me the opportunity to learn valuable skills, whether they be directly related to marine science or the environment or not. I'm still very early in my career so I pride myself on being flexible to do fieldwork and research, strategic communication and policy, or both!

What are your degrees and certifications?

Bachelor of Arts in Marine Affairs with minors in Biology and Ecosystem Science/Policy -- University of Miami 2016; Masters of Environmental Science and Management (marine and coastal resources) -- Bren School, University of California, Santa Barbara 2020; ATV Certification

What are your hobbies?

I love trying new cuisines and cooking as well as trying new dance styles. I also love to try new water activities when I can (especially those on the ocean). Learning how to sail and getting my open water dive certification is next on my list!

How did you get involved with the Ocean Exploration Trust?

I caught a couple of minutes of the live stream for the Nautilus Expedition back in October 2019 and saw the whale fall (blew my mind, especially since my research was about whales). I immediately went to the website and looked for opportunities to be involved, and jumped at the chance to apply for the 2020 SCF.

What advice would you give someone who wants to have a career like yours?

Make yourself as well-rounded as you possibly can. Doing work in strategic communication or management for ocean and coastal conservation requires you to be familiar with many topics and skills in the field, so don't allow anyone to put you into a box. Practice your public speaking, your data science, your research, and be open to learning skills you maybe never thought you'd be good at (because you never know :)). Also, shadow someone you admire that already has an established career. This was a great help to me and I am grateful to those people who were willing to give me advice and encouragement. Most importantly, run your own race, and know there is plenty of room at the table of the ocean and coastal conservation for you to have a spot.