The Dangers of Environmental Activism in the Philippines

Environmental violence.

Internet searches of this term produce several, very different definitions: environmental disasters that cause damage to human life and property, the environmental causes of human violence against each other, and the exploitation of humans and the environment. Another definition, one that does not come up in these searches, is the violence against environmental activists by a corporation or a government. This is the subject that UCSB undergraduate, Michelle Sevilla, chose to research under the guidance of Political Science Professor Matto Mildenberger.

To collect data for her research assistantship, which focuses on environmental violence in the Philippines, Sevilla used EJAtlas, an online resource that documents social conflicts surrounding environmental issues around the world. This data set provided detailed testimonies of Filipino/a citizens that had been harmed by corporations or the government because of their activism. This resource is particularly useful because these human rights abuses are often not addressed by the government and not investigated by the police, creating a climate that justifies the violence against these activists.

Sevilla described one of the many violent situations she had to review:

This… eleven year old boy was en route to school with his dad- [who is fighting] for his environmental rights, his indigenous rights to his own land- when he was killed en route to school because he and his father were ambushed… I feel all of those situations very empathetically so it hurts… It’s a profound sadness and weird reduction of people’s complex, tragically ended lives into an Excel sheet.

It is not often that an undergraduate research project is so emotionally taxing, and Sevilla credits the honest communication with Mildenberger that reassured her and encouraged her to move forward with this topic. The next step in her project is to contact environmental organizations in the Philippines to learn more about how the organizations and activists are dealing with these conflicts.

For more information on this subject, you may contact Michelle Sevilla at:

Conference Call: Putting Academic Research into Practice

By: Chelsea Brandwein, Erika Carlos, and Nastacia Schmoll

When you submit your Statement of Intent to Register at UCSB, you’re signing an intellectual covenant with a top public research university. You’re promising the UCSB community that you will engage academically (which means, yes, you’re going to wake up at 8 a.m. to go to office hours!), you will act in accordance with university policies, you will bleed school spirit, and you will cross the stage at graduation. But you’re also promising to expand the minds of your professors and peers. You will not just be a sponge soaking up new insights; you will contribute to a pool of developing knowledge.

At a research university like UCSB , Nobel laureates are name-dropped daily, faculty members teach from textbooks they wrote, and your classmates might be one peer review away from a journal article. You aren’t required to get involved in academic research, you’re just sort of nudged.

Enter All Worked Up: A Project About Student Labor, the research project the three of us have been working on this year. In collaboration with lecturer and postdoc Heather Steffen, we are conducting videotaped interviews with UCSB student-workers, offering them the chance to reflect on their duties on the job, their working conditions, any exploitative experiences they have had (and boy have they had them), as well as student debt, academics, and work-life balance. Our goal is to contribute knowledge about student-workers lives’ through academic research, public writing, an online space with interview videos at, and eventually a documentary film.

Our work recently took us to the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) in Portland, Oregon. CCCC is a national academic convention where scholars, teachers, and researchers gather to discuss a plethora of topics within the humanities with a focus on writing and composition. One component of the convention is the Undergraduate Research Poster Session, which gives student researchers the chance to create a poster about our project and discuss it with curious convention-goers for about two hours. To prepare for the session, we submitted an abstract of our project, had it reviewed and accepted, and peer edited our poster online with other presenters.

In this post, each of us reflects on her experiences at CCCC, and we advocate for humanities students making research posters (research posters aren’t just for scientists!) and give some advice to students thinking about presenting at a national academic conference.

Erika’s Take

When you’ve been working on a large, collaborative research project for most of the year, the opportunity to finally present your work is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have. Simply being accepted for a poster session means that your research efforts are not only being acknowledged, but that there are people who are interested in what you do and what you have to say. This in itself is incredibly motivating, since it makes all the time and effort you put into your research feel worthwhile and important.

As far as presenting for the first time, since our project has many components and is exploratory in nature, it was helpful to have a deadline to look forward to and push us to solidify our project’s goal and preliminary findings. Presenting also helped us to think about audience within a more specific context (scholars in writing and composition), which lead us to adapt our work accordingly, like giving our poster the title “Writing the Lives of Working College Students.”

Presenting at CCCC also meant that we could practice our project’s “elevator pitch.” By gauging the interest and reaction of those unfamiliar with our research, we can adjust our pitch in hopes of communicating our research more effectively. As someone who is generally nervous about public speaking, the poster session built my confidence in my knowledge in and ability to talk about our research, which is a skill I can now carry forward in future presentations.

To me, attending a national conference meant that I was able to participate and contribute to academic culture during my time as an undergraduate. It gave me confidence as a researcher and scholar and motivated me to keep the door open to future opportunities within academia. Most importantly, it exposed me to the breadth of incredible work within the humanities and how that research can have a lasting impact within both the academic and civic communities.

Chelsea’s Take

Going to another state or even another part of your own state for a conference is one of the best ways to fulfill that New Year’s resolution of finally getting out of your comfort zone. Traveling makes you feel a little out-of-place, a little uncomfortable, and a little sleep-deprived. Sometimes you do your best work when you are a bit uneasy and displaced, though. I found that being in Portland made me more adventurous and more willing to step out of my bubble. I was introducing myself more, I was allowing myself to be less intimidated about talking to people who are smarter than me, and I was, for perhaps the first time, really acknowledging and feeling proud of my contributions to the All Worked Up Project.

My advice is to really take full advantage of your conference. Chances are you paid to be there, or your school paid for you to be there. Make the most of it! Talk to more people than you would normally talk to and meet different people than you would normally meet, exchange email addresses, ask fellow conference-goers about their research, be prepared to answer questions about yours, and always be ready to accept suggestions for bettering your research or to jot down ideas for further research and writing.

If you’re not too jetlagged and you’re not on information overload, make an appearance at conference-sponsored dinners and other social functions. These are excellent opportunities to network with academics and peers in an informal environment. Our team attended a casual dinner at a local pizza joint and had an opportunity to meet fellow undergraduates and exchange ideas over a slice of pepperoni.

Get your conference schedule as early as you can (these printed schedules can be pretty hefty—CCCC’s was a bound book of over 450 pages) and highlight panels/presentations that sound most interesting to you. Try your hardest to go to one or lots more than one! They are low-stress—you do not have to participate if you don’t want to—but you get to expand your mind and learn how academics approach and execute their own research presentations.

Make it a point to attend the keynote speeches. One keynote speaker at CCCC this year was Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and filmmaker Jose Antonio Vargas, and it was an absolute honor to hear his moving and empowering talk about the changing American identity in the age of Trump.

Overall, attending an academic conference is the icing on the layer cake of undergraduate education at a research university. Go to one! Show the rest of the academic world what the budding minds at UCSB can do.

Nastacia’s Take

I graduated from UCSB with a double major in English and Slavic Studies about three years ago. Having graduated, the world of research seemed lost to me. But now, although I’m not a student any more, I have become an “independent scholar”—something I didn’t think was possible just nine months ago before the All Worked Up team invited me to join them. It was an opportunity to research something I care about and do something I thought I had missed out on.

Factors that deterred me from pursuing research as an undergrad included not only the time and perceived inaccessibility, but also my majors in the humanities. When I thought of research I imagined bubbling beakers, chalkboards covered in equations, and white lab coats. Even most of what you read about undergraduate research comes from the STEM fields. Through college, the closest I got to research was the occasional paper that I worked on individually and didn’t continue to explore after submission.

Working with All Worked Up and presenting at CCCC is a different story. The goal isn’t to get a good grade or to divide, conquer, and submit as soon as possible. It’s to investigate a question or problem, combining our team’s skills, expertise, and experience, and to continue that investigation as far as we’re able. With coursework, you turn in a paper or present in front of the class, and then maybe get feedback from your professor. With a poster presentation, you continually explain your research, answer questions, and receive feedback in an interactive way that sparks conversation and influences your project. Then you go to panels, presentations, and other posters, ask questions, and give your own insight and feedback, perhaps contributing to other people’s research. You feel like you are actually participating in the exchange of ideas and collaboration that academia is supposed to promote. It was the first time I truly felt like I was a part of the academic community, and I only wish that I had experienced it sooner.

Our Advice

  • Love Your Research: Investigating something that genuinely fascinates and interests you not only fuels your motivation, it also helps you present it in a more enthusiastic and engaging way.
  • Dream Big: If you want to see something done, figure out how to make it possible.
  • Collaborate: Teamwork makes the dream work! Whether you’re a part of a research team or just have a really great faculty mentor, having someone to toss around ideas with is priceless, and everyone brings their own strengths to the table.
  • Network: For a conference, bring a business card or a handout with your contact information and details about how to follow your project. If you’re building a website or maintaining a blog, provide the link. If you’re posting updates on social media, provide your account names. Rack up those followers!
  • Represent: Remember that when you are at your conference, you are representing UCSB and everything it stands for. Present yourself as professionally as possible. A lot of people still hold onto the stereotype that UCSB is a crazy party school with unfocused students who spend their days day-ging and their nights raging. Prove them wrong!
  • Do It!: When you look back on your undergraduate experience, presenting research will be one of your top highlights. Get to know your professors, see what they do, ask questions when a topic sparks your curiosity, and follow it.

Chelsea Brandwein is a senior Classics major and a Professional Writing minor with a specialization in Professional Editing. Erika Carlos is a senior double major in Comparative Literature and Psychology, who has also completed a Professional Writing minor with a specialization in Multimedia Writing. Nastacia Schmoll is a UCSB graduate who currently works as a writing tutor at CLAS and SBCC and as a freelance writer, editor, and independent scholar. The team is grateful to the Raab Writing Fellows Program in the UCSB Writing Program and to the UCSB Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities (URCA) Grant program for their support of the All Worked Up Project.


Sharing My First Research Conference Experience with The Highlanders

UC Riverside and I go way back. Ten years ago, I was an elementary school boy attending a cousin’s PhD graduation commencement at UC Riverside. Now, for the first time in ten years, I come back to UC Riverside to experience in what many researchers do yearly – presenting at a research conference.

SCCUR – Southern California Conferences for Undergraduate Research. It was their Fall Symposium, and I was eager to share the research I have done this summer. As I arrived, I was not anticipating any food to be catered until lunch, yet a simple breakfast was served. This and especially chugging down a cup of OJ were things I needed to kickstart the day.

After checking in, I sat in an auditorium filled with unfamiliar faces. Introducing myself to who I thought were strangers around me slowly became what was like conversations with my lab mates. We conversed about our research, scientific backgrounds, and undergraduate life. The hall gradually declined in volume as a SCCUR Board Member Dr. Jack Eichler welcomed us and officially commenced the conference. Dr. Susan Wessler, the plenary speaker, soon came up and gave a talk about her research on transposable elements. I was intrigued by learning that a big chunk of our genome consists mostly of these transposable elements that have no apparent use, yet research is finding out that they actually do. Her lab tries to decipher the uses of transposable elements, using some similar techniques which I surprisingly know of. That talk had definitely struck an accord with me, © 2016 JUSTIN SU. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.instilling a drive within me to find out more about transposable elements and connect the dots to what I already know.

After listening to presenters give their talks and eating lunch with our two fellow Gorman Scholars, it was showtime. The poster was up; I was hydrated; and people started shuffling into the room. Having a spot near the entrance to the room definitely got many to take interest in my poster. I was enthused to share with everyone interested in my poster, especially those who knew a lot about microtubules. Whenever there was downtime, I would take the opportunity to learn what my neighbors’ projects were and what they researched. Overall, I was mainly busy throughout the entire session – introducing myself, running down key points throughout my project, and even networking with those around me. The environment itself was lively, yet so nostalgic considering this was my first research conference experience.

Reinforcing my point in my first blog post, you do get the recognition, the food, the drinks, and especially the connections. Driving away from UC Riverside was a bittersweet moment, where I felt happy that it happened and sad that it was over. I learned a lot from SCCUR, and I encourage any undergraduate researcher to experience presenting at a research symposium. In addition, this year’s research experience has been extremely educational, and it sure was a summer well spent. I truly thank CSEP for supporting me and my project this year, and I cannot wait to present at the next research conference that will have me.

The Highs and Lows of a Research Project

One of the enticing facts that drew me to UC Santa Barbara was that it was one of the top schools for research. It sounded interesting, but I didn’t have a great idea of what you actually do in research. When I imagined what a research project was like, I imagined a “grown-up” version of my fourth grade science fair project where I compared mung bean plant growth in sunlight and in shade. It wasn’t until I completed my own small research project that I learned how difficult but rewarding research actually is.

During the summer of 2016 I took EEMB 170: Biology of the Marine- Land Interface. This was the most challenging and the most fun science course of my undergraduate career so far. I experienced firsthand what it’s like to do fieldwork and conduct a research project. This class had lectures with set material that we had to learn, but in the labs I had the opportunity to be creative and learn independently by designing and conducting an independent research project. Compared to previous classes, I never felt as much responsibility for my learning than when I was working on the research project.

Soda Bottle on Clam Gun

Something as simple as a 2L soda bottle can become a cutting-edge research tool!

The final project was a research paper about some aspect of the beach food web. I wanted to study something I had no experience with, so I studied blood worm abundance and distribution. The experiment was conducted with a partner, while the analysis of the data was done individually. We would use clam gun to take a few cores at a site at different times for a few days, and count the number of blood worms found in each core, as well as the depth each blood worm was found. However, when we tried sampling the sites, we found that this project would be much harder to accomplish.

I thought that sampling would be easy because we had planned it out well, but it required a lot more problem solving. I learned that the provided tools may not be enough, so I had to make my own. When we released the cores into a dish pan, the sand would crumble instead of holding the cylinder shape of the clam gun.

The solution? Find a container the exact diameter of the clam gun. We would place the clam gun in the container, shake out the core into this container, and this would allow us to dig out the blood worms and note their location. We brainstormed different ideas, like cutting a PVC pipe, or shaping a sheet of plastic. I spent a few hours at the Home Depot trying out different cylinder-shaped items, but I couldn’t find anything that really worked. Luckily, I found that a 2-liter soda bottle is the perfect fit for a clam gun.

I asked many questions throughout this research project and I had the advice of two research professors, a graduate student, and a lab assistant to brainstorm with and answer all of my questions. I also had help from the members of the lab I intern. I thought research projects were more of a solo effort, only involving the researchers. It was a nice surprise to realize how collaborative the process really is, and the support was encouraging. I learned so much from asking questions, and this helped me the most when writing the paper.

The hardest part was figuring out how to use Excel and how to understand my data. The most interesting part was reading about other research projects that people have done on blood worms. From one of the papers, I learned that blood worms have practical use as biological indicators for environmental management. I had no prior knowledge of or experience with blood worms, but after reading through many research papers, I ended up learning more about blood worms than I needed to write my paper.

Blood Worm

A sandy beach blood worm. It gets the red color because the molecule it uses to transport oxygen, known as hemoglobin, turns red in the presence of oxygen. Sound familiar? We have hemoglobin in our red blood cells!

I’ve learned that research is about repeatable results that can be clearly interpreted, so it was interesting to see how my partner and I drew different conclusions from the same data. I thought that we could neither prove nor deny our hypothesis, while she thought that our hypothesis was correct. I thought that data was made of solid facts, so there was only one way to understand it. It seems that data doesn’t always speak for itself, and that research projects won’t always have simple answers.

I hypothesized that blood worms burrow vertically into the sand when the tidal level rose. After sampling and analyzing the data, I didn’t have a definitive answer. It only led to more questions that led to ideas for future research, which I found to be exciting. I wondered how researchers find so many topics to research about. It seems that, while the purpose of a research project is to answer a question, it often leads to more questions. There’s always more to learn, and I think that’s something to look forward to.

My experience in this class, and especially with this research project, has validated my decision to pursue a science degree. I thoroughly enjoyed the learning and the challenges I faced in this class. Finishing this research project felt like more of an accomplishment than any success in a more traditional class setting.

An Introduction to Tidal Harmonic Analysis

You’re lying on the beach. You’re eyes are closed and the sun is warm. All is well. The oceans however, grow louder and louder, when suddenly a surge of water advances, and drenches you and all your belongings!

What may seem to be the ocean’s way at getting back at the humans who pollute its waters, is actually just the periodic ebb and flow of the ocean known as the tides.

In many aspects of oceanography, it is useful to separate data series such as temperature, velocity, pressure, etc… in terms of tidal and non-tidal components. For example, in my work for EUREKA, I am trying to evaluate changes in pressure (and relatedly sea level height) measured via a sensor placed on the ocean floor. I need to be able to discern changes in sea level height on the order of + 5 cm. This became a difficult proposition when I realized the sea level is constantly fluxuating on the order + 2 m multiple times a day!

If you are interested in the physical mechanisms that underlie the tides, I highly recommend the video below. For this post however, I will be focusing on the techniques oceanographers use to reduce tidal components of their data.

The Building Blocks:

Let’s acquaint ourselves with what a typical pressure signal looks like over a month long period. The blue line represents the pressure signal (measured in decibels) and the red line represents the average value of the signal over the month long period. The periodic nature of the graph easily implies a strong tidal component, although other periodic trends exist like wind forcing of the water due to a sea breeze, but no other periodic trends occur at the scale of tides in terms of consistency.

Graph 1

Our goal is to attempt to identify the tidal signal, and since it is periodic, it is a good idea to review our sines and cosines as they are useful in modeling periodic graphs.

Here is a simple sine function: y = sin(x) from 0 to 6 pi.

Graph 2

This graph is clearly periodic, but yet it doesn’t quite represent our pressure data. We can do better though! If we add some other periodic functions we will really start to see some resemblance between our pressure signal and the simple graph I created below.

Here y = sin(x) + cos(x) + sin(2x) + cos(2x) from 0 to 30 pi.

Graph 3

We can continue this process of adding up various sines and cosines until it resembles our pressure signal. In fact, mathematicians in the 18th and 19th century deduced that all periodic functions can be represented as the summation of sines and cosines.

Here is a link to a wonderful animation showing how even a couple sines and cosines can add up to look like a saw tooth!

Armed with the knowledge that any periodic function can be modeled as the summation of sines and cosines, we can in fact look at our pressure signal and determine what frequencies are present and the relative impact they have on the overall signal! Let’s not forget how powerful this tool is. Richard Feynman remarked, “It is easy to make a cake from a recipe; but can we write down the recipe if we are given the cake?” Joseph Fourier and his colleagues showed that we can have our cake, and determine its components too!


Breaking down the Tides, Constituent by Constituent:

If the moon orbited around the Earth in a perfect circle in the plane of the Earth’s equator and the sun were not present (A lot of assumptions!), a typical graph of a tidal signal may look like this:

Graph 4

The insight to be gained from looking at this graph is that the dynamics of our orbits with astronomical bodies influence the tides in a regular manner (i.e. at specific frequency). These specific frequencies are each given names. In the example above, it is called the M2 frequency. In the case where we now consider both the Moon and the Sun’s effects (S2) on our tides, our tidal graph may look like this:

Graph 5

Note the longer term periodic trend of the graph of about 2 weeks which corresponds with the alignment and mal-alignment of the sun and moon.

The M2, S2 and other frequencies are called constituents. They are further specified by the sum of various frequencies arising from planetary motion such as the rotation rate of the earth, the orbit of the moon around the earth and the earth around the sun, and periodicities in the location of lunar perigee, lunar orbital tilt, and the location of perihelion. (See References & Resources for additional info).

When analyzing the tidal components of our signal, anywhere from 5 – 60 constituents must be taken into account depending on the accuracy needed and the length of the raw data used. Once these tidal constituents are determined by methods of spectral analysis (See References & Resources), they are removed from the pressure signal, and a “de-tided” signal remains. This is called the harmonic method of tide analysis and was developed by Lord Kelvin and Sir George Darwin beginning in 1867. We can now evaluate the variations in pressure we care about with great precision!

The final product of de-tiding a pressure signal is shown below at Point Purisima (PUR). Note how small the variations in pressure are in the de-tided signal vs the raw pressure.

Graph 6

Graph 7


References & Resources

The Feynman Lectures on Physics: Volume 1

What Physics Teachers Get Wrong about Tides!             PBS Digital Studios

Fourier Series Wikipedia

Harmonic Analysis and Prediction of Tides Stony Brook University

Classical tidal harmonic analysis including error estimates in MATLAB using T_TIDE (Pawloicz et. Al) 

Note: I use T_TIDE to de-tide my data.