Anshika Bagla ’19, Marine Biology

Sharks are very misunderstood, and being able to work towards conservation efforts definitely keeps me motivated.”

The first thing you notice about Anshika Bagla is her hydro flask.

On UCSB’s campus, hydro flasks are ubiquitous, with students typically adorning their bottles with stickers of all sorts.

But Anshika may have the most unique hydro flask sticker on campus. Near the top of her bottle, the sticker features an image of a hand-drawn shark, with the words “Crazy Shark Lady” written in large font.

“I don’t think I can pinpoint why I love sharks–they’re just awesome,” Anshika said.

Anshika has been surrounded by marine biology her entire life. Growing up in Cerritos, Anshika spent a majority of her time at the library–which featured a full floor-to-ceiling aquarium.

“That was my first experience around marine life, and I thought the fish were really cool,” she said.

Beginning in eighth grade, Anshika became a regular volunteer at the Aquarium of the Pacific–a local aquarium which also happens to be one of the largest aquariums in California. For five years, Anshika was perpetually surrounded by her favorite marine animals.

So when Anshika came to college at UCSB, there was little doubt she wanted to study marine biology. In her free time, Anshika worked at the REEF on campus as a shark aquarist. The more she worked with the sharks in the reef, the more she fell in love with the species.

Starting last January, Anshika has translated that love into action, playing an active role in shark conservation efforts through her research with the McCauley lab. The lab uses dermal denticles that shed off of shark’s bodies and are preserved in sediment in order to determine which sharks used to live in an area. Once the research team figures out which sharks lived in the area, they can use that data to figure out why and how the community transformed.

In particular, Anshika’s job is to determine the shedding rates of sharks in order to get a rough estimate of the number of sharks in an area at a given time. Once that data is ascertained, the team can use data such as fishing statistics to eradicate issues that plague shark populations.

“What we do is put out trays full of sand at The Aquarium of the Pacific, and catch the sharks’ denticles,” Anshika said. “We then have to pick through all of the samples, which is a very intensive process because we have to use a microscope to look at every grain of sand. No one has studied shedding rates, so my goal is to get a rough estimate rather than something super specific.”

Even for a self-described crazy shark lady, however, the research can be exhausting. Anshika spends ten hours a week under a microscope to look at the sand grains–something that can feel mundane after the first few hours. Still, Anshika is driven by the implications behind her work.

“Sharks are very misunderstood, and being able to work towards conservation efforts definitely keeps me motivated,” Anshika said.

Through it all, Anshika’s love for sea life, and especially sharks, has evolved from her early days of volunteering at her local aquarium.

“I used to just spout facts about animals as a kid, but now I’ve learned to think much more critically about sea life,” Anshika said. “For example, I never would have thought [my research] could be used as a way to help sharks, because it seems so obscure.”

And yet, Anshika has done just that, sacrificing her free time to try to save sharks across the world. Just before the end of my interview with Anshika, she makes her stance on sharks abundantly clear.

“I’m known as ‘shark girl’, and I’m ok with that,” she says with a smile. “I’m shark for life”.


Dolev Bluvstein ’19, Physics

As a scientist, you think your work will be impactful in the larger community, but it’s difficult to judge until you actually hear from others.”

Dolev Bluvstein, just like many other young researchers, has struggled with self-doubt and imposter syndrome.

For the last three years, Dolev has worked in Professor Ania Jayich’s lab—a lab that investigates color centers in diamonds. These color centers are defects that give diamonds unique colors, and researchers can control these defects with quantum mechanics and use them as atomic-sized magnets.

When Dolev first started in the lab as a freshman, he worked with a Postdoc on using these defects as quantum sensors. But at the beginning of his junior year, the Postdoc decided to take a different job. Suddenly, Dolev had to fill his role and lead the project—at a time when they were between major projects and had no clear direction.

“I remember, when that happened, I was sitting on my friend’s roof, drinking a beer, and thinking I was super screwed,” Dolev said. “The stuff the postdoc did was way beyond my capacity, and I thought there was no way I could learn how to do what he did during the school year.”

When Dolev first came to Santa Barbara as a freshman, he joined Jayich’s lab, eager to see what research was all about.

At first, however, Dolev struggled with imposter syndrome when he was working in the lab.

“My first two weeks of summer freshman year, I was building a temperature control device for our experiment, and at first I was testing it on a cardboard box.” Dolev said. “Afterwards, I spent ten hours trying to connect a device to the internet.”

At the time, Dolev couldn’t judge the worth of the projects he was working on, and felt insecure.

“Those were tough moments for me, and I had to keep telling myself ‘I’m not a waste of space, I’m not a waste of space,’” he said.

But Dolev persevered through feelings of self-doubt, and as he knocked out technical project after technical project, Jayich started to trust Dolev, giving him more serious responsibilities. Soon, Dolev started doing simulations and building items for the main setup.

“Once I got my foot in the door, people started to take me more seriously,” Dolev said. “The biggest milestone for me was during summer my freshman year, when I presented some of my ideas at a symposium at UCSB.”

Sophomore year, Dolev built up his responsibilities even more; by the end of the year, Dolev was leading a small project on the main experiment. Dolev implemented a new measurement technique using different charge states of these diamond color centers, which greatly enhanced their sensing abilities.

“When I built the new measurement technique, I felt like I finally got my fingers in and became a scientist,” Dolev said.

Time and time again, Dolev proved he could hold his own in the experiment—overcoming bouts of self-doubt along the way.

But on that fateful night on his friend’s roof, when the Postdoc left, Dolev couldn’t see a clear path forward.

“I didn’t have the self-confidence at the time to lead the project by myself,” Dolev said. “The first week after the Postdoc left, the hard drive crashed on the computer, which was kind of symbolic that the ship was sinking.”

Dolev sent many late-night emails and worked with Jayich to come up with new directions to study. Of particular interest were strange behaviors they observed when they were using the different charge states for sensing. Dolev then spent one year investigating how the two different charge states in these defects behaved differently when the defect was near the surface—a complicated problem that people have never understood very well. Recently, Dolev’s work was published in Physical Review Letters.

“It was definitely a cool moment to see it published in the journal, but the even cooler part was talking to scientists at conferences who told me that my research would impact their work,” Dolev said. “As a scientist, you think your work will be impactful in the larger community, but it’s difficult to judge until you actually hear from others.”

Recently, Dolev received the Hertz Fellowship—a prestigious fellowship given to the nation’s most promising scientists. Dolev credits Jayich for a majority of his successes.

“Ania always had me face challenges that were just beyond what I thought I could accomplish, and gave me the resources to do so,” Dolev said. “Even when I couldn’t see a path forward and felt alone, Ania was in the background, guiding me in the right direction and engineering opportunities for me to grow.”

In the fall, Dolev will start his PhD at Harvard, where he plans to be for the next five or six years. After struggling with imposter syndrome his freshman year, Dolev has decided he wants to do research for the rest of his life.

“My advice to undergrads in research is to take every task that is given to you seriously–no matter how trivial it seems.” Dolev said. “Nobody will give you important tasks if you don’t show your worth on smaller tasks. The most important attributes in research are reliability, the ability to manage projects, and the ability to persevere through failure.”

Claudia Allegre ’19 Political Science

“It’s little things [in Political Science] that I want to change, and as more people of color come into academia we can change that”

Claudia Allegre

Claudia Allegre refuses to get pushed to the side.

She knows the statistics, knows that only .3 percent of all political scientists are latinas. She knows her progressive voice can often be in stark contrast to a regimented, old-fashioned field.

Her friends often ask her why she doesn’t go into sociology–a field with much greater latinx representation. But Claudia refuses to be confined to that, to get pushed to other fields.

“There needs to be more women of color in political science,” Claudia said.” “When Political Scientists talk about latinx issues, they usually do so from an outsider’s perspective. We need to be able to use our own perspectives.”

In her life, Claudia has seen first-hand the importance of diversifying academia. When she came into college, Claudia didn’t have any idea what she wanted to do in the future. She knew she liked politics, but wasn’t quite sure what that would lend itself to. Then, in her first year, Claudia met Narayani Lasala-Blanco, her academic mentor.

“She was the first person of color I saw teaching here, and being able to relate to her on that level was what got me into research,” Claudia said. “When you’re a first generation college student and a person of color you never feel like you’re good enough or that you’re going to make it. She was the one who proved to me that I could do research.”

Since then, Claudia’s research has focused on the latinx community–topics that are important to her. Growing up in San Ysidro, a border town in south San Diego, Claudia was always fascinated by her family’s political participation; while her parents and grandparents were informed, her dad was the only one who actually voted.

“I never really understood why my mom didn’t vote, and I came into college knowing I wanted to research voter turnout,” Claudia said. “Latinx voter turnout has always been very low, and I wanted to look into the causes for this.”

Over the summer, Claudia’s research focused on second generation latinx Americans, and how having undocumented parents affected their voter turnout. While she only conducted preliminary tests, her research showed that having undocumented parents led to a significant decrease in voter participation for their children.

“That was my favorite project so far, because I had control over everything,” she said. “I was able to come up with the hypothesis, find the data, and create the experimental design.”

Claudia has discovered her passion for research–a passion that has convinced her to go into academia in the future. Rather than just talk about the need to diversify academia, she wishes to be the change she hopes to see.

Change, of course, is often a long, tedious process. When Claudia tried to use the term “latinx” in her research–a more inclusive way to refer to latinos/latinas–she was told that that term “isn’t used” in political science.

“It’s little things like that that I want to change, and as more people of color come into academia we can change that,” she said.

Despite her setbacks, Claudia remains determined to become a political scientist, to bring diversity to a field that sorely lacks latinx representation. When she does, she hopes to prove to her students that they too can break the mold and become political scientists.

“I know that if I weren’t for my mentors then I wouldn’t be here,”Claudia said. “I want to show other students of color that they can make it, that they can get involved.”

Change doesn’t happen overnight. But with Claudia at the helm, change is coming.

Jordan Mitchell ’19, CCS Music

“As a composer, my research is what I produce with the knowledge I end up gaining. If I didn’t change my style, I wouldn’t be developing as an artist.”

Jordan Mitchell

For the first ten years of his life, Jordan Mitchell hated music. When his mom, eager to keep Jordan out of trouble—forced him to take a guitar class, he begrudgingly complied, if only because his friends were also enrolled.

Six months later, Jordan was in love with music.

All it takes is one conversation with Jordan to truly hear the passion he has for the subject—a passion that extends far beyond just the creation of music. With three research projects, one filmed documentary, multiple albums, and years of teaching the incarcerated youth, Jordan has a musical background more befitting of a seasoned veteran in the field than a college student.

When Jordan came to Santa Barbara, he immediately became involved with research, eager to expand his knowledge in the field.

“Research is just curiosity,” he said. “As a composer, my research is also what I produce with the knowledge I end up gaining. If I didn’t change my style, I wouldn’t be developing as an artist.

Jordan’s latest song truly shows off that progression. A hip-hop comedy song, the ending of the song slowly transforms into a Mariachi piece.

The groundwork for that experimental ending was laid in part by Jordan’s research. For one of his projects, he researched the correlation between Bolero and Cool Jazz, discovering that both had similar historical roots. To confirm his suspicion, he transcribed both a Bolero and a Cool Jazz song, and found that the melodies and keys between the two pieces were indeed very similar.

From the moment he stepped on campus, Jordan has done his best to maximize every opportunity afforded to him. In the summer of his freshman year, Jordan was asked to fly to China to make a documentary about a musician there.

“That was a really big learning experience for me,” Jordan said. “They told me I made the documentary too dark, so I had three days to re-edit and change the entire tone of the film. It taught me a really valuable lesson about reading contracts before I sign them.”

Make no mistake, Jordan is an uber-talented musician, one who oozes with musical knowledge and passion. But what really sets Jordan apart is his drive—a drive that is in large part guided by his “passion planner”.

“I pretty much have a 12 hour day every single day, so I let my passion planner plan my day,” Jordan said. “I also always need to make sure I have time to write music, so I usually do that either late at night or super early in the morning.”

While Jordan loves creating music, perhaps nothing rivals his joy for teaching music. In his sophomore year of high school, Jordan’s teacher told him his grade in the class would be based on how well Jordan taught the other students for the rest of the year.

“At first, I thought he was crazy,” Jordan said. “It ended up being awesome, and at the end of the class my teacher told me he knew that I would be a great teacher.”

Jordan first started teaching in college as a byproduct of his sociological research, teaching the incarcerated youth in the Santa Barbara area about hip-hop and how it ties to racial identity. After that, he knew he wanted to keep going. For the last two years, Jordan has taught music at the Isla Vista teen center, where he loves building bonds and seeing the success of his students—even attending all of his students’ graduations.

In both winter and spring quarter, Jordan will be teaching classes in the music department based on his research. His winter class will tackle the similarities between hip hop and live orchestration, while his spring class will discuss the sociology of modern hip hop.

Despite his immense individual talent, Jordan has little interest in blowing up or touring. His long-term goal is to return to his alma mater in Stockton to teach music composition, where he hopes to impart his research and knowledge to the students.

“Teaching gives you an eternal experience, where you can see the domino effect that your teaching has on someone’s life,” Jordan said. “I love pushing students so they can reach their 100 percent.”

Eduardo Cardenas-Torres ’19, Statistics

“I think my main turning point for believing in myself was when I got that first piece of code to run successfully”

For Eduardo Cardenas-Torres, the sky has always been the limit. Growing up, Eduardo idolized both of his parents, people who he saw working tirelessly to provide for the family. He vowed to take full advantage of the opportunity they provided, telling himself then and there he would become the first in the family to receive a master’s degree.

Going to community college didn’t dampen his goal; after two years of making the honors list at SBCC, Eduardo transferred to UCSB as a Statistical Science major, eager to get involved with research.

His perceived inexperience didn’t set him back either. After only one quarter at UCSB– and subsequently only one quarter of upper-division statistics classes under his belt– Eduardo began to reach out to professors for research opportunities.

At first, no one took a chance on Eduardo. But he remained persistent, knowing that getting research experience would be vital to his future.

Finally, Dr. Michael Nava offered Eduardo a position as a Research Assistant in the Department of Statistics and Applied Probability. Nava’s research investigated whether Author diversity affects UC journal publications, and he needed Eduardo to help him clean up and analyze data.

That too came with its struggles for Eduardo. For his first project, he was tasked with coding an API key that would allow the team to gather the data they needed. Eduardo spent an entire week trying to code the key, but couldn’t figure it out. Doubts began to creep in… were the other professors right that he wasn’t ready to do research yet?

Then, something clicked for Eduardo. After talking to his colleagues, Eduardo reprogrammed his code, and ran it once again. This time, it worked like a charm.

“I think my main turning point for believing in myself was when I got that first piece of code to run successfully,” Eduardo said. “It was also great to see how [that code] helped my team members proceed with their section of data management.”

Since then, Eduardo has used his code to collect the names of more than 75,000 authors. From there, he creates a “homophily” index, which analyzes how similar or different the authors of a particular piece are based on their ethnicities. After running his data through linear regressions and cluster analyses, he has found that the more diverse the authors on a piece are, the more likely they are to be cited in UC system publications.

Eduardo also finds himself as the de-facto leader of the group– a far-cry from the kid who couldn’t even find a research position when he started looking.

“I started off just scheduling all of the meetings for the team,” he said. “ From there, I directed the group organically towards what the next steps were [for our research].”

Through it all, the sky remains the limit for Eduardo. He has already gone to three conferences to present his research, including the SAEOPP McNair National Research Conference in Atlanta. In his fourth year now, he is well on his way to accomplishing his goal of going to grad school.

“All the grad school’s I’ve talked with have been really impressed with my research, especially because I’ve used some techniques in my research that they typically teach,” Eduardo said.

Eduardo is quick to credit Dr. Nava in his success, who has created an open and transparent research environment in which Eduardo can both learn and flourish. While Eduardo’s time in his lab may be coming to a close, his experience will impact him for years to come.

“[My research] has made me more passionate about my education and pursuing a graduate degree,” Eduardo said. “ If anyone wonders how research is, all I can say is that it’s one of the best things you can do for yourself.”