Dr. Cinda P. Scott
Director, Center for Tropical Island Biodiversity Studies, The School for Field Studies
Isla Colón, Bocas del Toro, Panamá
Cinda P. Scott received her Ph.D. in 2009 in Marine Biology and Fisheries with a focus in molecular evolutionary genomics from the Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami. Her work has included teaching and lecturing, administrative and grants management, and scientific research. Since 2014, she has led The School for Field Studies, Center for Tropical Island Biodiversity Studies program in Bocas del Toro, Panamá where she is currently the Center Director. She manages a team of faculty, staff and students who are dedicated to understanding anthropogenic impacts of tourism on the natural environment of Bocas del Toro. Her current research examines the health of mangrove ecosystems throughout the Bocas del Toro Archipelago in addition to maintaining interests in marine protected areas, coral reef ecology and conservation biology. You can follow her adventures around the world on her website at www.cindaseas.world.
How did you get started on your career path?
My journey in marine biology began as an undergraduate student studying abroad in Costa Rica. There, I learned how to scuba dive and it forever changed my career path and outlook on the world. After returning from Costa Rica, I was accepted as an REU student at Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory in Maine. I spent two summers there learning how scientists can use marine organisms as models for human disease. This sparked my curiosity to learn more at the molecular level and my first hands-on experience with molecular biology happened at MDIBL. When I was applying to graduate schools, I knew that I wanted to look at life at the micro level and that molecular biology involving the study of fish was what I was most interested in. I wanted to join my love of the marine world with the molecular world, something that was not really popular at the time in 2002. After completing my Ph.D. in 2009, I decided that I wanted to work on more of a macro level and with people. I taught as an adjunct professor in Biology at New York City College of Technology while at the same time overseeing an institutional grant awarded to the school from the National Science Foundation to improve STEM learning at a large, urban, commuter school. I learned a lot about administration in higher education, program creation, grants management and the art of teaching and learning. I then decided to head back to my marine roots after four years at City Tech and I joined The School for Field Studies as Center Director of the Panama program in Bocas del Toro in 2014. The combination of having a PhD in marine biology in addition to grants management and administration and teaching is what enabled me to take on the position I currently have.
What is one thing you wish you would have known when you were getting started in your STEM journey?
I wish I would have known that the PhD process can be quite isolating and it can feel like you have no support at times. I wish that I had done more research prior to choosing my PhD program so that I would have been better equipped to be on my own with regard to research and coming up with questions and projects. I also wish that I knew that I did not have to rely on my assigned “advisor” for help. It’s important to know that you can expand beyond your lab and find mentors and people who can support you. All of my support came from outside of my laboratory and I am grateful that I was able to find people who cared about my success. Many programs are not necessarily “programs”, rather, it is entirely up to you to complete the steps toward the degree, but there might not be much support in terms of knowing when to do each of those steps. I encourage everyone to figure out what kind of “program” they are entering and how much support is available to students prior to making any decisions.
What is one piece of advice you would give to Black/BIPOC women who are interested in STEM careers?
Stay true to your beliefs and values. I remember someone once telling me, “You’d make a nice general doctor,” when I was thinking about going to medical school. I was crushed because I had envisioned myself perhaps specializing in something interesting and unique. Instead, I had someone telling me that I’d make a nice general doctor. Don’t ever allow anyone to tell you what you can or cannot be. You get to shape and mold your mind the way that you want under the circumstances that you create for yourself. There was a time in graduate school when a person once said to me, “You came to that conclusion on your own?”. My answer, “Yes, of course I did! That’s why I’m here, to be trained to answer complicated questions just like everyone else.” If you know that you are capable don’t be afraid to let your intelligence shine. Always stay true to you and your dreams and desires and don’t allow others to doubt your intelligence, character or ability.
What is the current focus of your research?
My research focus has shifted over the years from micro to now macro level understandings of marine ecosystems. I am currently trying to understand mangrove habitat complexity as it relates to connectivity in Bocas del Toro, Panama. My students and I go out and use Habitat Assessment Scoring to gain insight as to which mangrove areas, whether inside or outside of the marine protected area, have the highest habitat complexity scores. This information is important to inform policy and to make decisions with regard to what habitat should be included in the local marine protected area as more complex habitats support greater biodiversity. Our research has shown that some of the most complex habitats in the Bocas archipelago are not actually located within the bounds of the national marine park. This has ecological and social consequences which warrant further investigation.What current projects and initiatives are you working on?