Leah Segui with frogfish by Don McLeish

This week on ‘An Interview with WiseOceans’ we spoke with Leah Mupas Segui from The Pew Charitable Trusts

Name: Leah Mupas Segui

Role: Principal Associate

Company: The Pew Charitable Trusts

Top Tip: Find people to share ideas with, people who will expand your perspectives, and don’t forget to also be a resource for others.

Photo © Don McLeish

Quick Fire Questions

1. What inspired you to pursue a career in marine conservation? 

I watched a lot of science TV as a kid. I remember a special on the deep sea and seeing an angler fish for the first time. I asked myself, “how does something that lives so far deep in the ocean, without any light, looking like that, find any food?” This is my earliest memory of thinking like scientist, but I didn’t think I would become one. To be honest, I wanted to be an event planner because I enjoy bringing passionate people together united under a common cause. Eventually I found that I can do both: I can be an inquisitive about marine ecosystems and our relationships to them and bring people together to work towards conserving these them.

2. What steps did you take or are you currently taking to achieve your career goals?

I have a BSc in biology and the PhD in zoology. I’ve worked as a research assistant in a variety of ecosystems including kelp forests in California and Western Australia, coral reefs in Hawaii, rocky reefs in Oregon, and wetlands in California. With a diverse background in marine science, I wanted to challenge myself to learn something different in graduate school so I worked in freshwater ecosystems in Oregon and Sweden. Though I love working outdoors, along the way I learned that I also enjoy bringing people from different disciplines together and I wanted to learn how science is translated into policy. After graduate school I did a marine science and policy fellowship where I supported international partnerships that use satellite data to implement global ocean policies. I found that international environmental policy was a field that I wanted to keep exploring, and that led me to my current role at Pew where I work on the Preventing Ocean Plastics team.

3. How did you obtain your current position? 

I found my position on LinkedIn. When I first started looking for jobs, it was daunting because I didn’t know what different job titles meant or what to search for. A friend of mine advised me to think more about the type of work that I want to do and less about job titles. That way of thinking helped me realize that there are lots of job opportunities and some that come from unexpected areas.

4. Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?  

Plastic pollution is a global environmental, health, and social justice issue. Though there is a lot of work to do, seeing people uniting under a common cause for positive change is empowering. The part of my job that I enjoy most is working collaboratively with people around the world who are part of this change, learning from their diverse perspectives and expertise.

5. Are there aspects of your position which make you feel that you are really ‘making a difference’? 

A big chunk of my job involves helping our partners use data to understand plastic pollution issues in their locality. There’s lots of numbers to collect and different components to understand, but when the pieces come together, our partners have this “ah-hah” moment – they understand what the data show them and see the potential for the types of policies they can inform to reduce plastic pollution. With this information, they can work with policymakers to push towards a world that is cleaner, healthier, and more just. To see data in action makes me feel like I’m making a difference.

6. What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out?

It’s ok if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. It’s so easy to say that now but it wasn’t something I was always ok with when I was deciding what classes to take or what jobs to apply for. Looking back, I would’ve never guessed that my work would span from tiny gut microbes all the way to ocean-scale phenomena. Follow your interests, even if it doesn’t immediately seem like it’s related to marine conservation. Our environmental challenges are vast and will require creative ways to face them. Who knows, maybe you’ll find a way to incorporate a skill from one part of your life into the marine conservation part of your life.

7. Are there any skills you never thought you would need but did?

There are two skills I never thought I needed but would like to improve: graphic design and improv. I make a lot of presentations, and with every iteration I try to make them better. I think that if I took design classes my presentations could be more compelling.

Outside of work I like dancing and performing, and this translates to me enjoying giving presentations. However, I have a lot to improve when it comes to answering questions eloquently on the spot, and I have been curious if an improv course could help with that.

8. What advice would you give to budding marine conservationists?  

Find your community. I am fortunate to have so many mentors who believed in me, encouraged me to try different things, and continue to support my growth. I am also fortunate to be connected to networks that support scientists of different backgrounds, groups like the Association of Filipino Scientists in America and the ASLO Multicultural Program. Find people to share ideas with, people who will expand your perspectives, and don’t forget to also be a resource for others.

9. What is your favourite marine creature and why?

Decorator crab: they’re colorful, fashionable, and functional – qualities that I aspire towards in my life.

10. What is your most unforgettable moment in the sea?

The time I got beat up by a spiny lobster! I was on a dive in the kelp forests of San Diego, California to collect spiny lobsters for a research project. To find a spiny lobster, you search their long antennae peeking out from the boulders they hide under. Once you spot them, you have to catch them quickly or else they’ll use all their strength to kick their tails and swim away. One time I wasn’t fast enough, and the spiny lobster dodged my hand, kicked its tail, and rammed straight into my stomach. It was a gut punch that knocked the wind out of me!

“It’s ok if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. Our environmental challenges are vast and will require creative ways to face them.”

Leah Mupas Segui

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