Catherine Austin

PhD candidate, School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington


Our collective future will be better with the strength that comes from a diversity of voices.

What do you do?

I study fish behavior and ecology relative to environmental conditions, for instance, how the annual timing of fish behaviors changes with water temperature in space and time. This is important as climate change manifests seasonally in warmer rivers and lower streamflow. If we want to have a diversity of living things on this planet, it behooves us to understand what life there is, how it operates, and how humans affect it. Fishery managers, for instance, must decide how to allocate restoration money in a river system, and they can do a better job if they know what habitats are most important now and into the future for species at risk.

Why did you choose this field?

I have always been in love with the natural world, from crashing waves at the beach as an infant, to watching insects in the grass at very close range as a small child, to exploring outdoors as a young adult, hiking, camping, working in the woods doing trail maintenance and salmon surveys. My parents and mentors have always supported me in my interests, for which I am grateful. Eventually I started asking questions about why fish did what they did in the streams where I spent time, hoping for glimpses of the orange spotted flanks and white fin tips of my favorite fish, a char species called bull trout.

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

Interestingly, I am equally proud of my manual skills - mastery of woods tasks like running chainsaws, driving trucks, and building stone and log structures - and my intellectual skills - running research projects and producing peer reviewed research papers. I wish younger me would have known that these are both possible.

Why do you love working in STEM?

I am a firm believer in evidence based decision making. Most recently this has taken the form of exploring the literature on STEM education. I want the next generation of people of all identities to know that STEM is open to them and they can change the world in the pursuit.

Best advice for next generation?

Figuring out why and how the world works the way it does can be empowering and exciting. STEM gives us that chance. And our collective future will be better with the strength that comes from a diversity of voices deciding which questions are most worthwhile to ask and how to go about the answering. Come be part of the change!

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

My role model is Dr. Jacqueline Padilla-Gamiño, professor, School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington, studies coral reproduction and ocean acidification and inspires the next generation of students in STEM.

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