Alumnae of Promise: Cinda Scott ’95

Alumnae of Promise: Cinda Scott ’95

When Cinda enrolled as a freshman in the fall of 1991, Middlesex had recently reached another coeducation milestone, as Dr. Deirdre Ling had been appointed the first female head of school in 1990. Drawn to the sciences, Cinda earned a B.A. in biology and environmental studies at Middlebury College before completing a pre-medical post-bac program at Columbia University. Finding that she preferred marine biology to medicine, she earned her Ph.D. in marine biology and fisheries, with a concentration in molecular evolutionary genomics at the Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami. After teaching biology for four years at the New York City College of Technology, Cinda landed an ideal job with The School for Field Studies. She is now the center director for the study abroad program in Panama, teaching undergraduate students about tropical island biodiversity in the fragile ecosystem of Bocas del Toro.


Was “coeducation” something you thought about in choosing a school, or was Middlesex your choice because it was where your brother Robert ’89 went?

I have vivid memories of making trips with my mother to Middlesex to pick up my brother, who at the time was a day student. Every time we drove through the gates, I felt like I was in a dreamland. The choice to go to Middlesex certainly hinged on there being both boys and girls, but I had already made an attachment with the school years prior.

Which adults were most important to you at Middlesex?

Brad Kingman, my advisor, was very supportive of me throughout my time there. He always encouraged me to try my best, and he spent a lot of time with me working through math problems. Mr. and Mrs. Beaton were also a source of support for me, along with Dan Stewart, who answered every single question I ever had in AP Bio without ever making me feel badly for having so many. Mr. Fortmiller was also very supportive, and as a scientist, I am forever thankful to him for the ability to communicate effectively on paper. I am also thankful to Laura Darby McNally ’80 for always believing in my sporting ability. I wasn’t the most athletic student, but somehow she pulled it out of me in crew.

 You were preparing to become a doctor before deciding it was not the right path for you. How did you know to pursue marine biology, and what is molecular evolutionary genomics?

I had studied abroad in Costa Rica in the spring of my junior year in college in a tropical marine biology program. I was also able to work at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory in Maine as part of the National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates program, and I fell in love with molecular biology and research.

My work in graduate school focused on understanding the genetic basis of gene expression in fish. Fish are our oldest vertebrate ancestors, and humans and fish have a lot of genes in common. We know that our genes are inherited and that they are passed down, generation to generation; however, we do not know the extent to which the variation in the expression of our genes is inherited. For example, you may have tall parents, but if you do not have the proper nutrition to grow, you most likely will not exhibit the same tall trait. Is expression due to genetics or the environment? Welcome to the world of evolutionary genetics and genomics!

Do you find that you are one of a small number of female research scientists – or perhaps an even smaller number of African-American female research scientists?

What has been so beautiful about becoming a scientist, especially in the field of marine biology, is that there truly is a close-knit group of female scientists. It’s a small world! As a black female scientist, that world is even smaller. After I graduated, I decided to look up statistics on the number of African-American students who completed a Ph.D. in marine biology in the U.S. in 2009. Of the 7,429 degrees awarded in the biological sciences, 252 (3.4%) were awarded to black students; and of the 724 degrees in earth, atmospheric, and ocean sciences, only 6 (0.8%) were awarded to black students.

How do you like your current work with The School for Field Studies in Panamá?

There is no doubt that this job is what many would call a dream job. It combines my love of the ocean, my passion for teaching and developing curriculum, and the challenge of leading – all in one job. Living and working with young people here in Panamá also makes me think of when I was a student at Middlesex, which is every day!