Research Scholarships

The American Academy of Underwater Sciences awards two $3000 research scholarships to graduate students, one Master's program student and one Ph.D. candidate, engaged in, or planning to begin, a research project in which diving is or will be used as a principal research tool or to study scientific diving.

The AAUS may also award two additional $1500 scholarships to the next two proposals that are ranked the highest. If the additional scholarships are awarded, they may be split between the Master's program and the Ph.D. program, or they may be both awarded within a single program.  *Please note that persons are not eligible to compete for more than one AAUS scholarship per year, excluding the Kevin Flanagan Travel Award.

Proposal deadline is June 30.

Scholarship winners are announced October 1.

Current Scholars

Doctoral-level Awards

1st place
Gabrielle Keeler-May
University of Otago,  Dunedin, New Zealand.
Distribution and analysis of Undaria pinnatifida haplotypes in New Zealand harbors and a control project to assess effects of large-scale removal on native kelp communities

I am a first-year Ph.D. student at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand and a member of Associate Professor Chris Hepburn’s Lab within the Department of Marine Science. I am honored to accept the Doctoral Research Scholarship from the AAUS foundation and appreciate the Academy’s continued commitment in supporting graduate student research. The AAUS Scholarship will provide me with the resources I need to set up permanent underwater monitoring sites for my kelp forest research in bays and coastlines of southern New Zealand. My research is also partially funded by Ngāi Tahu and the Te Tiaki Mahinga Kai research partnership (, as well as the University of Otago’s graduate research school.

I grew up in Loveland, Colorado speeding down ski slopes and splashing about in lakes and rivers, dreaming of family trips to the sea. My parents very fondly recall the first time they took me to a beach when I was 8 years old and I immediately snorkeled out into the ocean for hours without looking back. I received my AAUS Scientific Diving certification in 2012 from the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC) and first learned to dive in Monterey Bay in 2009. I haven’t been able to stay out of the ocean since. As an undergraduate at UCSC, I focused on ecology field courses that ignited my love for marine science, and I spent my summers working as a tour guide at Snorkel Alaska in Ketchikan, AK, sharing that love with others. After graduating, I spent two years working for the non-profit, California Institute of Environmental Studies, with the Montrose Settlements and Restoration Project on Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz Islands. I adored working in Channel Islands National Park and was fortunate to see the success of the restoration project come to fruition when I discovered the first Scripp’s murrelet, Synthliboramphus scrippsi, nesting in a restoration plot. Working with seabirds and clearing the invasive weed that was threatening their nesting habitat was incredibly rewarding, but I wanted to continue working underwater and accepted a position at the University of California, Berkeley with the Department of Integrative Biology as the Marine Diver and Plant Collector. I was thrilled to be underwater again in Monterey and working closely with university students, staff, and faculty. The community at Cal inspired me to return to my own research and pursue a doctoral degree in Marine Science.

I was drawn to the University of Otago after learning that the same Macrocystis pyrifera forests in Monterey are an important part of the kelp forests in southern New Zealand. I have always been interested in phycology and knew that I wanted macroalgae to be the focus of my Ph.D. research. I am broadly interested in kelp forest ecology and how invasive species affect community dynamics. In New Zealand, I am studying the invasive brown kelp Undaria pinnatifida. This seaweed, commonly known as ‘wakame’, is originally from the Sea of Japan and invaded New Zealand in 1987, likely via ballast water from ships. Prior to beginning my research in Dunedin, I had also seen U. pinnatifida invading the harbors in Monterey Bay where it was first observed in 2001. Recent research suggests that the ranges of invaded species are increasing. With the rate of climate change also increasing, this trend is expected to continue. My research will look into the impact and interactions of U. pinnatifida around the South Island of New Zealand in order to better understand its role in the kelp forest community. I will be leading dive teams to monitor brown algae abundance at invaded sites and sites at risk of invasion. My work will also assess the impact of non-native removal to native brown algae abundance by comparing multiple large-scale clearance plots at several intertidal and subtidal sites of high value. Using a combination of ecological and genetic methods, I hope to define a clearer picture on the effect of invasive species in a changing marine environment and the best steps to take to manage their spread.


2nd place
Katelyn Gould
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Coral Restoration Transplantation and Conservation Genetics Approach: Implications for Orbicella annularis in the Florida Keys

Born and raised in Denver, Colorado, I received my BS in Biology from Regis University in 2011. I developed a profound enthusiasm for ecological and biological research while holding various field and laboratory positions after graduating. My childhood obsession for the ocean and single visit to the Pacific fueled my motivation to dedicate my future career to coral conservation and ecology. Before enrolling in graduate school however, I gained experience by working on commercial fishing vessels in Alaska, tagging whale sharks in Honduras, working with NOAA on living shorelines while obtaining my AAUS science diving certification, and assisting in AAUS certification classes.

I am currently a third-year PhD student in Dr. John Bruno’s lab at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. My research couples ecophysiological studies of reef-building corals to restoration and conservation efforts influenced by anthropogenic thermal stress. The first two years of my PhD I worked on various projects from coral thermal tolerance and bleaching thresholds in Bermuda, to novel restoration techniques on Acropora cervicornis. My work combines laboratory experiments and field manipulations to characterize coral performance over thermal ranges, while linking site variability to evolutionary trends in populations.

My current project is funded by the PADI Foundation’s common grant award, and now the prestigious AAUS Research Award. My research is a year-long collaborative study in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary assessing physiological fitness on a coral restoration candidate, the boulder star coral (Orbicella annularis). This research will provide local coral restoration practitioners with valuable information on which reef habitats promote coral growth and fitness. Understanding the abiotic and biotic mechanisms affecting coral fitness, we can develop more efficient restoration practices and maintain ecosystem health in existing coral communities.

I truly appreciate the support from the AAUS foundation and continued enthusiasm from members of the marine biology and science diving community.


Master-level Awards

1st place
Max Liebergesell
San Diego State University
Investigating predation on purple urchins (Strongylocentrotus purpuratus) within kelp forests and urchin barrens

Currently, I am a master’s student in Dr. Todd Anderson’s Fish Ecology Lab at San Diego State University. Before attending graduate school, I received a B.S. Biology at the University of Hawai’i, Mānoa, where I explored different aspects of biology as a volunteer in many research labs. For example, I participated in projects exploring Hawaiian land snail conservation and the physiology and behavior of sharks at the Hawai’i Institute of Marine Biology. After completion of my degree, I moved to San Diego to volunteer at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) and at the NOAA Fisheries Southwest Fisheries Science Center. At SIO, I assisted with aging fish to identify metrics necessary for rebuilding and maximizing reef fisheries in the tropical Pacific, and at NOAA, I analyzed catch composition, diets, migration, and reproductive state for various migratory fishes, including tunas. My work within these organizations led me to develop an understanding of research in marine ecology, which encouraged me to pursue a master’s degree in marine ecology and obtain certification through AAUS in scientific diving for subtidal projects.

For my thesis research, I am exploring whether predatory behavior by the California Sheephead (Semicossyphus pulcher) on purple urchins (Strongylocentrotus purpuratus) may influence ecosystem phase shifts. Shifts from healthy kelp forests to urchin barrens occur all over the world, and although many factors may influence this shift; research has shown that predators may play a large role in affecting this change. My research aims to better understand the role that predators play in regulating purple urchin populations within alternative ecosystem states.

I sincerely appreciate the American Academy of Underwater Sciences for supporting graduate student research nationally including my proposed research. My selection for this award will provide me with the means to complete my research and to travel to conferences to present my results and network with other members of the science community.


2nd place
Demetra Panos

California State University, Northridge
Community contribution to benthic biogeochemical variability in kelp forests

I am a second-year Master of Science student in Dr. Kerry Nickols’ lab in the Biology Department at California State University, Northridge where I am studying biogeochemical variability in the benthic zone of temperate rocky reefs. I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Wildlife, Ecology and Conservation from the University of Florida. Following graduation, I served in the Peace Corps as I saw in it an opportunity to gain a better understanding of the global and human dimensions of conservation. Serving in a rural Paraguayan fishing community, I addressed its environmental concerns by conducting outreach and fostering action to improve the watershed health through trash management practices and education campaigns. After returning to the U.S., I sought to continue working in aquatic systems and was employed as the only female diver working for the Adirondack Watershed Institute, a component of Paul Smith’s College located in Paul Smiths, New York. I found delving into aquatic resource management captivating and doing the work using SCUBA was the most obvious way to study and manage aquatic systems. Following this, I sought work with the United States Geological Survey as an aquatic science technician. These experiences led me to seek further research opportunities in aquatic ecology via graduate studies at CSUN. I knew that I would need to use SCUBA in my research and received my AAUS diving certification at Friday Harbor Laboratories during the Marine Subtidal Ecology course where I conducted an independent research project that lead me to developing my thesis project.

I am broadly interested in the synergistic effects of anthropogenic disturbance on marine systems as well as understanding the environmental variability organisms in marine systems experience. Increased water residence time associated with kelp forests’ structural complexity and a decrease in flow at the benthos increases the potential for this zone to have a unique chemical signal from the water column. For my master’s thesis, I am investigating biogeochemical variability in the benthic zone of temperate rocky reefs. This research will provide insight into biological and physical drivers of biogeochemical variability in benthic zones of temperate rocky reefs and the potential for community composition to alter water chemistry. This study may provide details on the potential for photosynthesizing organisms to alter ocean chemistry as well as valuable insight into the conditions organisms experience and how that might affect their response to changing ocean conditions.

I have profound gratitude and respect for AAUS Foundation’s continual support of graduate student research. The AAUS Master’s Scholarship will support the costs of travel and supplies needed to conduct my research on biogeochemical variability in temperate rocky reefs.