From the Classroom to the Coast

Sakinat Ahmad in a lab
Sakinat Ahmad processes tree cores for organic contaminant analysis while working on her master’s thesis at the University of Bologna, Italy. (Photo by Emanuela Fabbrizi)

There are about 372,000 miles of coastline around the world, and over one-third of the total human population lives within 60 miles of oceanic coasts. Coastal communities face a myriad of challenges as climate change poses various threats, from sea level rise to changes in the frequency and intensity of storms. Scientific research can inform policymakers on climate-related decisions, but often there is a disconnect. As a Knauss Marine Policy Fellow, UA doctoral student Sakinat Ahmad strives to bridge the gap between research and policy.

After being selected as a finalist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Sea Grant John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship last year, Sakinat was placed with the Office for Coastal Management and is currently working remotely as a coastal policy analyst. The Office for Coastal Management is concerned with helping coastal communities thrive and adapt to changing coasts, from identifying areas most vulnerable to providing grants for projects that protect natural habitats. As a coastal policy analyst, Sakinat is excited to take her educational background outside the classroom and represent the Gulf coast with regional policy liaison work.

Since starting her coursework in the UA Department of Geological Science’s doctoral program, Sakinat has pursued her passion for coastal research, examining sediment and organic matter sources in Mobile Bay. It is this passion, with some guidance from faculty, that drove her to the fellowship. Working in a globally recognized agency in the field of earth science is a big step towards becoming a well-rounded researcher. “Most of my experiences have been within the university walls, taking classes and doing research,” explained Sakinat. “The Knauss Fellowship gives me a real-world experience where I can see how the research done in universities affects the public and how policies are formed based on these scientific results.”

As the first international student at UA to be selected for the fellowship, Sakinat is thankful for the assistance she received from the Department of Geological Sciences and International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) throughout the application process. “Faculty members and researchers such as my advisor Dr. Yuehan Lu, Dr. Fred Andrus, Dr. Delores Robinson, Dr. Natasha Dimova, and Dr. Ikejiri Takehito all read my application essays and gave valuable comments that improved my application package,” said Sakinat. Many meetings with the department and ISSS to understand necessary steps and compliance with immigration rules ensured Sakinat would not miss this prestigious opportunity.

Upon completing her PhD, Sakinat plans to continue working at the interface between research and policy formation. By working to understand the impact of climate change on the coast and dense human populations, Sakinat will be better equipped to guide policies aimed at assisting coastal communities.