From the Next Coast to the West Coast

Ocean Sciences PhD student and riverine researcher Kimberley Mayfield shares reflects on her first year at UCSC.

May 08, 2014

By Kimberly Mayfield, Department of Ocean Sciences 

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Kimberley comes from one of the few places that's actually more beautiful than Santa Cruz.
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Kimberley recording data on a river during sample collection.

Santa Cruz is so beautiful!

It’s warm, it’s fun, the beaches are gorgeous, the hikes are breath-taking, the waves are prime, and the people are nice. We are all so lucky to endure graduate school’s sinusoidal journey with such a scenic backdrop. Santa Cruz is easily one of the most paradisiacal places in the country – next to Hawai`i, of course, but who’s lucky enough to actually be “from” there?

Ummm… Me?

I’ve found that it is very rare for a UCSC graduate student to enjoy their hometown more than Santa Cruz, but when you’re from Kaua`i, one of Hawai`i’s more rural “neighbor islands” (a term derived from the perspective of O`ahu urbanites), it is sometimes difficult not to dwell in the past. My new Cruzian friends have heard me ask/complain a thousand times:

“Why do people drive so fast here?!”

“Daylight savings time is so confusing!”

“I don’t have an accent.”

and, most frequently, “Why does the ocean have to be so cold?!”

This move from the “next coast” to the west coast has really been a period of adjustment for me, but the biggest thing I’ve had to adjust is my perspective. I have always thought of myself as blessed to be from Kaua`i. I never felt like I lacked anything by not living on the mainland – I always felt like it was just an unsubstantiated “bonus” that Hawai`i residents, particularly neighbor islanders, were considered “underrepresented” in STEM academia. But living on the mainland has changed my perspective and helped me to appreciate more of what Santa Cruz has to offer.

My first change of perspective occurred at the grocery store, Trader Joe’s to be specific – a breed of store beyond my small town imagination. Grocery shopping as a lactose-intolerant vegetarian on Kaua`i has always been a pain, for both my patience and my wallet. However, on this grocery trip, I was amazed for the first time by an array of organic lactose-free and non-meat alternatives! I stood in awe for a solid 15 minutes before I grabbed my loot like a bandit and ran it to the check-out line as if this healthy treasure trove was going to vanish. Then, I prepared for every graduate student’s nightmare – the moment when you realize how much of your stipend you really have left after rent and groceries. Dreading the worst, I fumbled for my credit card, looked up, and saw only a 2-digit number – for weeks of healthy groceries?! That’s impossible! But it was true, the days of paying $12 for a frozen pizza and $10 for a box of cereal were pau (finished). The mainland was starting to look just a little less scary.

Then it came time to meet my lab group. As you might be familiar with, women haven’t been accepted into academia until relatively recently. In fact, my dad’s college class was the first one to ever allow a female into its ranks (and only two token females at that). My research advisor during undergrad was one of a miniscule number of female faculty members in all the university’s geoscience departments, let alone the geology department individually. So imagine my shock when I walked into my first lab meeting and saw about five guys and 15 girls! Not to mention the 8:1 ratio of women:men in our cohort of first year OS students as well! Makes me pretty proud of how far our society’s come over the course of just one generation.

This summer, in addition to research, I am also a co-coordinator of one of the several high school summer internship programs offered here on campus to local students. The students have the opportunity to work with expensive equipment in laboratories the likes of which Kaua`i hasn’t even seen! On applications, I read that some high school students had even taken classes at their local university – something I certainly would have done at that age had our state university not been a $160 plane flight away.

On a more personal note, my younger sister has come down with Stage 4 brain cancer that is beyond the treatment capacity of Hawai`i hospitals, so she is currently a patient at UCSF Children’s Benioff Hospital. I am the only family member that hasn’t had to uproot their life entirely and relocate a plane-ride away from home, work, and friends. It is thanks to my supremely compassionate friends and advisor here at UCSC that I have been able to keep my life balanced now – something that would otherwise be impossible if I was anywhere else in the world.

Now I’m about to embark on a new journey in life, maybe a little less school-centric, but just as sinusoidal as everyone else’s. And with this new journey comes new perspectives, something we all can never collect too many of. I hope that this short anecdote of my short journey thus far helps you to feel a little less lost in your own journey and just remember:

E ho`a`o no I pau kuhihewa. (“Try to end the panic”)

Underlying message: Don’t stress. ☺