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Carly S

- Research Program Mentor

PhD candidate at University of Texas Austin (UT Austin)


coral biology, environmental changes, marine ecosystems, applications of math to ecology, how ocean dynamics affect marine life, how organisms specialize for their environments, how hybridization affects the potential of species, using models to connect to real-world systems, interactions of social factors and the environment, spatial statistics projects, symbiosis, landscape genetics, microbial interactions


I am a fifth year Ph.D. candidate at the University of Texas studying how climate change affects coral reefs under Dr. Mikhail Matz. I primarily do this through ancient DNA (think Jurassic Park, but less scary!) and mathematical models of coral bleaching. Before starting my PhD work, I studied Applied Math and Biology at the University of Idaho. There, I applied my quantitative tool kit to a variety of projects, from analyzing the factors that affect water quality perception in Ecuador to modeling the interactions of bacteria and their predators to how evolution is influencing biocontrol beetles. Above all else, I am interested in how we can apply quantitative and computational techniques to real world problems - from sociology to evolution. When I'm not in the lab, you can find me rock climbing outdoors and cooking... I make a mean vegetarian Korean BBQ wrap! I try to weave my passions into my work whenever possible, whether through making tasty meals during field work or thinking about the impacts of human activities on the environments I enjoy.

Project ideas

Project ideas are meant to help inspire student thinking about their own project. Students are in the driver seat of their research and are free to use any or none of the ideas shared by their mentors.

"Water" Your Beliefs?

Access to safe water is a pressing issue globally. However, people tend to have differing beliefs on what causes water quality decline in their area. Beyond this, people also generally tend to have similar beliefs to their neighbors, which can lead to pockets of opinions which may not reflect reality in a given location. I began thinking about this topic in 2018, when I worked with ecologists and sociologists to analyze this sort of data in Loja, Ecuador. This project would develop a model of two contrasting factors - the actual water quality in a region and people's perception of that water quality. By doing this, we can try to measure how misinformation may spread through a community, and how big the disparity between people's beliefs and reality become.

A Reef's Best Frenemies

Coral reefs are in global decline. A primary cause of this is "coral bleaching" which results in the white reefs we often see in the news. Coral bleaching is actually the breakdown in the partnership between the coral animal and tiny, symbiotic algae that live within its cells. Corals and algae have a variety of thermal tolerances which are likely decided by genetic and environmental factors. However, despite how important this relationship is, it's currently very poorly understood. This project would review existing literature on the symbiotic partner and try to identify factors that predict bleaching and thermal resilience.

The Future of Ancient DNA

Ancient DNA is growing more popular as our genetic sequencing technology becomes more advanced. Last year, the Nobel prize in physiology and medicine was given to one of the pioneers of ancient DNA! With it's increasing popularity, it's important to understand what questions ancient DNA can and should be applied to. There are many limitations with this type of data and a comprehensive review has yet to be done on best practices. This project would look at how ancient DNA research is being conducted across many species of plant and animal and summarize what the best way to do research going forward would be.

Coding skills

python, R, NetLogo, bash

Teaching experience

I have TA'd three courses during my graduate degree (all biostatistics related). I also mentor an undergraduate student at the University of Texas through the Association of Women in STEM. This mentorship relationship has persisted over the past two years.


Work experience

Locus Analytics (2019 - 2019)
Economics Research Intern
University of Idaho + Universidad Técnica Particular de Loja (2018 - 2019)
Water Ecology & Sociology Researcher
University of Idaho, von Wandruska Lab (2018 - 2019)
Archaeological Chemist


University of Idaho
BS Bachelor of Science (2019)
Applied Mathematics and General Biology
University of Texas Austin (UT Austin)
PhD Doctor of Philosophy candidate
Integrative Biology

Completed Projects

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