Clare Gaffey, 2021 USGIF Scholarship Winner

With a 2021 USGIF scholarship in hand, Clare Gaffey shares what she hopes it will help her achieve in her future career.


Recently, trajectory interviewed Clare Gaffey, doctoral student and research assistant at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., to discuss her field of study, career path, and how winning a 2021 USGIF Scholarship is helping her tackle the impacts of climate change in the Arctic.

What is your current field of study? And how did you become interested in it?

I use satellite remote sensing and ship collected samples to analyze how marine primary production in the Pacific Arctic is changing due to ongoing climate change, specifically phytoplankton makeup as the base of the food chain for Arctic marine ecosystems. Currently, their patterns of growth or phonology are changing with the declines in sea ice, warming ocean temperatures and nutrient fluxes. I have always been interested in cold environments, such as the Arctic, which are some of the most rapidly changing environments due to ongoing climate change. I was fortunate to be able to join my Ph.D. advisor’s research, and that’s where my focus on marine ecosystems began.

What does winning the USGIF scholarship mean to you? And how will the scholarship support your education?

Winning the USGIF scholarship has been both a relief and an honor. USGIF has done a lot of great work bringing together geospatial intelligence users from various sectors. To be recognized by such an impactful hub has raised my confidence in my own work. It’s been a relief in that being a graduate student is a precarious position. The scholarship has given me the flexibility to work on research topics that interest me, outside of what my university could support. So ultimately, the scholarship provided me equipment and backing to pursue my research interests.

What has been your favorite course, teacher or subject matter so far in your current program?

I’ve been lucky in that I’ve enjoyed the topics related to my work, such as remote sensing, Arctic science and climate. I’ve been able to take several climate and Arctic focused classes with my Ph.D. advisor, Dr. Karen Frey, who is also my favorite teacher in the program.

What career path do you intend to pursue?

I would like any research position that would allow me to continue to learn about the Arctic and bring attention to some of the many changes that are happening there. Even if I can play a small role in protecting those environments and ecosystems, then my career would have been a success.

Would you recommend an education in geospatial intelligence to those who aren’t familiar with the field? And what would you tell them?

Absolutely. In fact, I do recommend it all the time to people. Geospatial intelligence is a great field because it has so many applications. I couldn’t be actively studying Arctic change without geospatial intelligence, in fact. It’s such a versatile tool, and there’s always new and exciting technologies available, but their potential would not be realized without practitioners. I would absolutely recommend that anyone with an interest in environmental or geographic concerns to become familiar with geospatial intelligence to best tackle their research topic.

How did you learn about this scholarship?

My friend Jaclyn Guz was the 2019 Stu Shea Endowed Scholarship winner, so she really turned me onto it. But I’d heard of USGIF before and always appreciated the variety of programs it offers. I especially love how I became a member upon winning the scholarship, too. For my professional development, it’s already been hugely helpful.

Featured image: (left to right) Christina Goethel of University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Clare Gaffey of Clark University, and volunteer Ruth Cooper aboard the Research Vessel Norseman II in the Bering Sea during a Distributed Biological Observatory (DBO) research cruise in October 2020. (Photo by Peter Shipton)
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