Sophia Winter

Meet UCLA senior, Sophia Winter, who is majoring in Environmental Science with Atmospheric Sciences minor. This summer, Sophia was awarded the 2021 JSIP Best Presentation Award for her research presentation as part of the Joint Institute for Regional Earth System Science and Engineering (JIFRESSE) program.

The JIFRESSE program is a highly selective program where undergraduates work on a project as part of a collaboration between UCLA and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) that focuses on monitoring global warming and climate change in California.


How did you first get involved in your research project?

I heard of the JIFRESSE program through an undergraduate mentorship hosted by Chi Epsilon Pi (XEP), a national meteorological honors society at UCLA. XEP has historically been for graduate students in the Atmospheric Science Department, but recently organized an undergraduate chapter for students affiliated with the Atmospheric and Oceanic Science (AOS) Department. I minor in AOS, so I was able to join a mentorship group led by a graduate student. We meet about once a quarter to talk about our goals and future plans. JIFRESSE was one of the programs my mentor recommended.


How would you describe your research experience at UCLA?

I have had a really diverse research experience. In the Fall of my sophomore year, I was part of the Sustainability Action Research (SAR) program offered through the Institute of the Environment & Sustainability (IoES). My team gathered information about undergraduate research opportunities and accessibility in the realm of sustainability. We compiled a report with design recommendations for a website to host all past, present, and future sustainability-related research projects by students. Last year, I was a research assistant for a graduate student in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department. Using data obtained through DNA metabarcoding, I studied how hummingbird diets change based on sex, age, and across altitudinal and rural/urban gradients. JIFRESSE was the first research experience in line with my future career goals because I want to pursue a research position in the earth sciences. I mapped and analyzed landslide movement along California’s Big Sur coastline. I learned so much about remote sensing and got to practice my coding and oral presentation skills.


What is one piece of advice you have for other students thinking about getting involved in research?

I recommend not being too selective about the topic of a research opportunity. I have done different types of projects in varying fields and have learned valuable skills from each experience. Also, I know reaching out can be intimidating, especially at a school with such high achieving and intelligent students and faculty, but keep in mind that everyone has been where you are. Everyone had to start somewhere, so don’t be afraid to put yourself out there just because you might not have research experience yet. UCLA is a research institution that has many faculty members who value and have a need for help from undergraduates.


What are your future career goals?

This past year made me realize how much I like the freedom of remote work. I would also love to do field research but want a position that is primarily remote so I can have the flexibility to travel. After college, I plan to work for a couple of years to clarify my area of focus for graduate school. Ideally I want to work for a government agency like NASA or NOAA and do remote sensing work in glaciology. Any research-focused career in earth science that helps the environment in some way will be engaging and fulfilling.