- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
Murray, who anticipates receiving her bachelor of science degree in evolution, ecology and biodiversity in June 2021, is one of 396 students selected from a national pool of 5000 sophomores and juniors to receive a scholarship from the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation, a federally endowed agency honoring the late senator and “designed to foster and encourage outstanding students” who are pursuing research careers in natural sciences, engineering and mathematics.
The honor includes a monetary prize of $7500. “Goldwater Scholars have impressive academic and research credentials that have garnered the attention of prestigious post-graduate fellowship programs,” according to a foundation spokesperson. Goldwater Scholars have received 93 Rhodes scholarships, 146 Marshall scholarships, 170 Churchill scholarships, 109 Hertz fellowships, and numerous other distinguished awards, including National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships.
Murray, who joined the Karban lab in 2018, is a member of the campuswide Research Scholars Program in Insect Biology (RSPIB), founded and directed by three UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty members (Jay Rosenheim, distinguished professor; Joanna Chiu, vice chair and associate professor; and Louie Yang, associate professor) to provide "academically strong and highly motivated undergraduates" with multi-year experience in biological research. The program pairs students with faculty mentors.
In the Karban lab, Murray designs and conducts independent research on plant development, flowering, and communication. She generates questions, creates protocols, collects and analyzes data.
In addition, Naomi works with UC Davis Professor Jay Stachowicz at the Bodega Marine Laboratory, where she does independent research on seagrass disease ecology, specifically herbivore-plant-pathogen interaction. She formerly worked as a full-time undergraduate researcher on seagrass ecology in the Stachowicz lab.
Native of San Diego
Naomi was born and raised in San Diego and is the first scientist in her family. Her father holds a bachelor of science degree in engineering and works as a home inspector and her mother is a newly retired lawyer.
“My interest in ecology started in high school, when I interned at the San Diego Zoo,” Naomi related. “Before the internship, I knew I loved animals and the environment, but I had no idea how I could turn those passions into a career--I thought if I liked animals, my only options were to be a zookeeper or a vet. The internship exposed me to a lot of other professionals and researchers working to protect nature, which was really my first glimpse into ecology and conservation."
"When I selected ecology, evolution, and biodiversity as my major, I intended to be primarily animal-focused, but that changed when I went to the Botanical Conservatory on UC Davis Biodiversity Museum Day my freshman year. I absolutely fell in love with it, and I interned there that spring. It turned into employment and since then, my love for plants has really grown; they're the main subject of my research now!”
Naomi is one of two Goldwater Scholars from UC Davis; the other is Jayashri Viswanathan, who seeks a doctorate in neuroscience and plans to teach biological sciences at the college level. They are among 32 recipients statewide.
Career in Forest Ecology
Naomi is leaning toward a research career in forest ecology, studying how trees affect community function and resilience “with the goal of minimizing the impacts of climate change.” She worked three weeks as a field technician on a project monitoring tree mortality in the forests of Yosemite Valley, where she tent-camped without running water or electricity, and collected data for 10 hours a day.
She acknowledged that after a few days there, she didn't know if she could meet the challenges. “But as the days passed, I realized that even when I was at my most uncomfortable, I was asking questions about the system, proposing new hypotheses for old phenomena, and marveling at the beauty of the forest,” she wrote in her essay, part of the Goldwater Scholarship application.
“As the world changes and becomes increasingly interconnected, we are in desperate need of critical thinkers, synthesizers, and people able to approach complex problems with broad, interdisciplinary perspectives,” Murray wrote. “I am working to become one of these pioneers and intend on pursuing a career in research to monitor, track, and minimize the impacts of climate change. Specifically, I plan to focus on forest ecology and how patterns of resource allocation and carbon storage among trees affect community function and ecosystem resilience.”
After receiving her bachelor's degree, Naomi plans to pursue a doctorate in ecology. “My current major prepares me with a strong foundation in basic science, and I have taken it upon myself to seek out diverse research experiences in both field and lab settings to develop a multi-dimensional perspective on critical issues in ecology,” she noted. “My time as a field technician has prepared me for ecological field work. Living as a full-time undergraduate researcher gave me a glimpse into conducting research as a career and made me familiar with work beyond the field. Additionally, participation in the Research Scholars Program in Insect Biology, a long-term pairing of undergraduates with faculty mentors to conduct research, has fostered connections instrumental in my path towards a successful research career. Perhaps most importantly, my independent design and execution of three experiments has taught me how to ask and test scientific questions.”
Murray earlier received a UC Davis Provost's Undergraduate Fellowship of $1200, a Regents Scholarship of $30,000, and a Bodega Marine Lab Undergraduate Research Fellowship of $5000, among other honors and awards.
Active in SEEDS
The Goldwater Scholar is active in Strategies for Ecology Education, Diversity, and Sustainability (SEEDS), an offshoot of the Ecological Society of America, and serves as an officer of the Davis SEEDS Chapter. The group seeks to make ecology more accessible to underrepresented groups of students. The club fosters science exploration and guidance through career panels and research facility tours.
“When I attended the 2018 SEEDS National Field Trip, the student group was mainly women of color,” Murray related in her essay. “I listened to them speak about the racism that structures this nation and its higher institutions, creating foundational issues of access to opportunity, mentorship, and funding. It was a wake-up call, making me aware of my privilege and inspiring me to deconstruct the walls that exist in my academic sphere.”
“I became an officer for the UC Davis SEEDS chapter. Through the club, I work to organize graduate student and career panels, amplifying underrepresented stories and connecting students with mentors who have similar backgrounds. I plan field trips and study sessions, and promote campus opportunities. And I help apply for funding to make all our activities equal access. Moving forward in my career I will continue this work, grateful that SEEDS has pushed me to become an active participant in scientific advancement through social justice.”