How I became an Estuarine Ecologist


Dr. Kat Beheshti’s Academic Journey to Estuarine Ecology

From high school, to undergrad, to grad school… How did Dr. Kat Beheshti get to where she is now?

Kat, in high school

When she was in high school she was a total hippy at heart. She drove a Prius, as a high schooler, on purpose. With a bunch of bumper stickers about how important solar energy is and that we all live down stream (of course!). So, a true hippy at heart.

But, she was also interested in helping people and going into medicine. So, she spent her entire high school career volunteering at the Services for Brain Injury Center in her home town, and at the hospital. She even got a stethoscope for Christmas! She was really committed, and her family was super supportive.

She was also, a little impressionable… (but at least she knew it! 😊) She may have thought her life would be a little bit like Dr. Meredith Grey from Greys Anatomy. Which, of course she watched every week with all her friends!


Kat actually chose UC Irvine as the place to go to college because they had such a strong pre-med / biology program.

During undergrad, she had one quarter that was SO DIFFICULT. She took Genetics, Organic Chemistry, and Physics in the same quarter. At the end, she remembered going home, feeling like a failure because she was going to have to redo multiple classes. In fact, her Chemistry GPA was too low and the department informed her she would have to change her major. So, she goes home for Christmas break crushed and wondering what she’s now going to do with the rest of her life. She thought she’d had it planned out! She felt destroyed.

She decided to change her major to Earth and Environmental Sciences, change to the school of physical sciences, and do something that was honestly more reflective of who she was as a person.

So, she did! She also started to volunteer at the arboretum, and got really close to the people that worked and ran it. She stared to do research in the fresh water brackish marshes of the San Juaquin reserve (which is part of the UC natural reserve system).

She had the most incredible mentor, Dr. Peter Bowler, who she is still in contact with and shares marsh photos back and forth. She can’t help but attribute a lot of her success as an undergrad to his mentorship. And, it really prepared her for graduate school.

During this time she also got scuba certified and really into diving. She couldn’t decide if she was going to do Terrestrial Ecology or Marine Ecology. She was really torn.

Grad School

Kat applied to grad school as a 4th year at UC Irvine and didn’t get in. She realized it was because she didn’t have enough experience to qualify her for graduate school. So, she spent her entire year off gaining as much experience as possible.

During this year she:

  • Got a GIS certificate from San Francisco State University (Analyzing spatial data – think Google Earth)
  • Volunteered at the California Academy of Sciences (which was AWESOME – especially the co-op bakery outside of Golden Gate Park)
  • Got Dive Master certified
  • Started working at Elkhorn Slough

It was all… fabulous and the best time! She was a sponge to everything she could get exposed to.

She then applied to Grad School to work in Elkhorn Slough. It was the perfect compromise for her because it it met her cravings to study both Terrestrial and Marine Ecology. Elkhorn Slough is an estuary and it’s at the land sea interface.

So, that’s when she started grad school. And the rest is history!

It’s important to note there were some failures in her journey

One of the reasons Kat wanted to share her story, is there are some failures in it. It’s important to be honest about those. It can still work out!

So, let us know in the comment section what hardships you’re going through or failures that are making it difficult to keep pursuing your dreams. Would love to chat about it and be your cheerleader!

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