Ask a Scientist Series Q3 2021

Me fuiiiiii

In our new quarterly series, we ask different scientists the same 5 questions. Join us as we see the world from a scientist’s eyes!


Dr. Cinda P. Scott

Our 5 questions for Cinda:

  1. What do you do right now for work?

I am the Center Director for the School for Field Studies, Center for Tropical Island Biodiversity Studies program located in Bocas del Toro, Panamá. I oversee all of our academic and research initiatives, student health and wellness, and operations. We take undergraduate students interested in confronting and finding solutions to the most pressing issues of our time, such as climate change, into the field to gain first-hand knowledge about how human impacts are influencing natural systems.

  1. What motivated you to become a scientist?

I have always loved nature and the outdoors since I was a child. My dad used to take me bird watching and growing up in Massachusetts I was able to get to the ocean often. I have always asked questions about the natural world and when I was in sixth grade, I just loved chemistry. We had an assignment once to create an atom and I chose zinc. I had to build a structure with 30 electrons, and it was so big my mom had to help me bring it to school. In high school, my love of biology started to flourish, and I was really obsessed with cell structures for a while. I loved drawing mitochondria and rough endoplasmic reticulum for some reason. In college, I had an environmental studies class which solidified my love for the earth and protecting it which led me to want to major in conservation biology and biology. I became obsessed with fish after doing a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at MDI laboratories in Maine. I never knew that we could use fish as models for human disease and that sent me on a path toward understanding fish at the molecular level to better understand how, for example, metabolic processes in human beings can be understood by studying fish. Fish are our oldest vertebrate ancestors and we have so much to learn from them!

  1. What is one thing about the ocean or marine life you want everyone to know?

I want everyone to know that the ocean is for everyone. We all need a clean and healthy ocean to survive. The ocean provides us with oxygen, food, stable weather patterns and climate. Without a clean and healthy ocean, we are at a higher risk of losing the ability to sustain human life on earth considering the way we have chosen to consume and use natural resources.

  1. What is your favorite marine animal and why?

My favorite marine animal is the octopus. They are incredible. I am attracted to their ability to change colors in a flash, their intelligence, and their movement. I have had many encounters with octopuses, and I am mesmerized every time. My house is called, “pulpo” which means octopus in Spanish.

  1. What’s been discovered on reefs that is mimicked by humans?

Humans have used the DNA from the gene that produces green fluorescent protein (GFP) in coral in other organisms to aid in scientific research. Expressing GFP in other organisms such as fish is useful for understanding the development of cells, tissues and organs.

Cinda P. Scott received her Ph.D. in 2009 in Marine Biology and Fisheries with a focus in molecular evolutionary genomics from the Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami. Her work has included teaching and lecturing, administrative and grants management, and scientific research. Since 2014, she has led The School for Field Studies, Center for Tropical Island Biodiversity Studies program in Bocas del Toro, Panamá where she currently serves as Center Director. She manages a team of faculty, staff and students who are dedicated to understanding anthropogenic impacts of tourism on the natural environment of Bocas del Toro. Her current research examines the health of mangrove ecosystems throughout the Bocas del Toro Archipelago in addition to maintaining interests in marine protected areas, coral reef ecology and conservation biology. You can follow her adventures around the world on her website at or on Instagram.

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