James Shope (C'11)

We recently had an opportunity to check in with ENVS alumnus James Shope (C’11). James is currently enrolled in a PhD program at the University of California Santa Cruz and recently co-authored a report published online with USGS. A link to the paper is available here: http://pubs.usgs.gov/of/2015/1001/

We are so grateful to James for spending some time talking about his experiences after graduation and look forward to hearing from other ENVS alumni.

1. Can you tell us a bit about your Emory beginnings?
I am an Oxford student and while studying at Oxford, I took a geology class with Dr. Steve Henderson. I found that I really loved earth science and I subsequently decided to major in ENVS. I believe I took every geology class offered at Oxford, which included two field courses in the desert in Big Bend National Park and Scotland.

2. Can you give us some background about your academic work in the Department of Environmental Sciences (ENVS)?
By the time I was done at Oxford, I had already decided to pursue a major in ENVS. I would say that both Professor William Size and Professor Tony Martin were mentors for me, being the main geologists within the department. Professor Size was my advisor and Professor Martin was my honors thesis advisor. Dr. Size offered the more classical geology focus on rock types and composition. Dr. Martin encouraged more of an environmental and interpretive focus to my education. Being an ichnologist (studies trace fossils) the need to interpret fossils necessitates understanding environments and organism behaviors as a whole, which Dr. Martin encouraged.

More broadly, I have always wanted to be a scientist in some facet, I was just looking for a field I liked and felt that I could make a larger impact within. Therefore, I found the ENVS department a welcome path to follow up on the study of the physical environment I enjoyed (climate, geology, and oceans, basically the non-living parts of the environment) while discussing more relevant scientific topics (climate change, resource management, geologic hazards). I want my research and field of study to have larger and visible ramifications, and I believe that the environmental and earth sciences are a great venue for that desire.

3. Did you participate in an undergraduate internship?
I had one internship as an undergrad, working the summer between my junior and senior years at the Coweeta Hydrologic Lab in Otto, North Carolina. My particular internship was through the University of Georgia and I worked with the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) group there. We focused on water quality through Macon County, NC, vegetation coverages, meteorological measurements, etc. We also worked closely with the U.S. Forest Service, which also was present at Coweeta. During that summer, I was the go-to physical processes person as most of the other people I worked with were more biologically focused. I still think physical and biological processes are not as integrated within many fields of study, so I think it was rare that they had someone without a biology or forestry background around. 

4. Did you start your PhD studies immediately after your graduation from Emory? What is your research focus?
Yes, I started my PhD at the University of California Santa Cruz in the Earth and Planetary Sciences department the fall following graduation in 2011.

The first part of my research involves using global climate models and wave models to see how the characteristics of waves generated by large storms within the mid to western tropical Pacific Ocean will change throughout the 21st century. The changes in these waves (their heights, directions, frequencies), particularly in the most extreme waves, are of consequence to the communities and infrastructure on small islands throughout the tropical Pacific. The second part is to create a near-shore model of waves along atolls. An atoll is a ring shaped coral reef that surrounds a central lagoon. There are generally small islands perched on top of the coral reef that people live on. These islands generally have high population densities and are only about 2-2.5 meters above sea level, so large waves can potentially flood island communities. The goal of this part of my research will be to see how an atoll system responds to changes in wave heights, wave directions, and sea level rise over the next century. I will make a simple model to first detail the basic changes to an atoll island under new conditions, and then a highly detailed model of an existing atoll to provide a case study. Additionally, I work with the US Geological Survey on this project and we are partially funded by the Pacific Islands Climate Change Cooperative.

5. What are you hoping to do after you complete your PhD?
I'm still up in the air about this part. I'm currently looking into working with government organizations such as the USGS. I'm also considering some non-governmental organizations or the possibility of a career in consulting. I'd prefer a profession where I can teach/help others and see some more immediate impact of my work. I would not be happy without generating sort of change (policy or otherwise) through my work. But I still have some time to figure it out.

6.  What do you miss most about Emory?
My favorite thing to do on campus was to take P.E. classes and have access to the Emory's athletic facilities. I played racket ball, fenced, and generally liked working out in my spare time. I didn't appreciate how accessible and varied all the facilities were until I left.