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Women's History Month: Talking with Changhua Weng

March 07, 2023

To celebrate Women’s History Month, we asked a few of our women scientists to talk about their science journey, what they love most about their job or career, what advice they have for the next generation of women scientists, and more.
Let's meet Changhua Weng.

Changhua Weng wears sunglasses and a gray jacket while standing on a rocky coastline.

Changhua Weng is a social scientist for our Northeast Fisheries Social Sciences Branch. She works on developing social indicators of fishing community vulnerability and resilience to changing fishery management and climate conditions like sea level rise and storm surge. Her recent work involves a national effort to update community snapshots for fishing communities across all regions within NOAA Fisheries. Her home base is at our Narragansett Lab in Narragansett, Rhode Island.

Can you tell us a little about yourself—where you grew up, how you got interested in science, where you went to college?

I grew up in Fujian, a coastal province in southeastern China. As a young child, I spent many of my summers visiting my grandparents in the countryside, exploring nature, and developed my interest in learning more about the natural environment. In the 1990s, environmental issues had become a major negative consequence of the focus on economic development nationwide. The need for environmental protection became a hot topic. Many colleges and universities started to offer environmental science as a new major. With my passion for the natural world and a desire to learn how to protect it, I went to Fujian Normal University to study environmental science and received my bachelor’s degree. Later I received my master’s degree in environmental management at Xiamen University.

During my time at Xiamen, I participated in several environmental planning and assessment projects focused on coastal management and ecosystem protection. That experience inspired my interest in understanding more about the linkages between human activities and the natural environment, especially in a coastal context. With that in mind, I started my doctoral degree in Marine Affairs at the University of Rhode Island looking at nonpoint source pollution control and policy for a watershed in southeastern China.

Two years into my doctoral degree, I interned for a summer with the science center’s Social Sciences Branch working with anthropologist Dr. Lisa Colburn. I studied job satisfaction and social well-being in fishing communities. That internship lasted through the rest of my doctoral program. It turned into a full-time job focusing on the development of community social vulnerability indicators in coastal fishing communities.

What do you love most about your job or your career?

I love my job because it allows me to follow my passion and learn more about the interactions between human activities and natural environments. I work with a great team of social scientists in my branch and across multiple regions within NOAA Fisheries. Together, we work to provide the best available scientific information used to shape fisheries management decisions.

I want policymakers and the public to understand how human activities like coastal development, overfishing, and ocean mining may impact the natural environment. These things along with sea level rise, ecosystem deterioration, and depleted living marine resources could then impact the socio-economic status of society—especially fishing communities that depend on commercial and/or recreational fishing.

Changhua Weng, her husband, and daughter wear baseball hats, sunglasses, and life vests on a boat. It’s sunny, the water is calm, and moored sailboats are in the background.
Changhua Weng and her family boating in Wickford Harbor in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Kate Mulvaney

Could you share an example of a hurdle or obstacle you experienced during your science journey? How did you overcome it?

I love my work. I feel lucky that we have sufficient funding to support all the exciting projects we’re doing. Outside of work, I am a mom of a 5-year-old. Naturally, one of the biggest obstacles I still experience is not having enough time to learn new things and expand my scientific research skills.

I talked with colleagues who have, or once had, young children. They gave me some helpful tips on carving out time to learn and grow. To keep up with advances in my field, I periodically do literature searches to find relevant research publications to read. I also go to professional conferences and workshops every year or two to keep up with the latest research. In my spare time, I love to garden. I have a small backyard vegetable garden. It’s fun growing our own food and sharing the joy of gardening with my family. It’s become a great way for me to relax and recharge.

Changhua Weng holds her 6-month-old baby girl and stands in front of a climate conference sign. The sign has ocean and climate related images and the text reads, “Effects of Climate Change on the World’s Oceans. June 4-8, 2018. Washington, DC.”
Changhua Weng and her daughter at a scientific conference focused on the impacts of climate change on the world’s oceans. Credit: NOAA Fisheries/Fan Zhang

What advice do you have for the next generation of women scientists about a career in fisheries and/or marine science?

Interest is the best teacher! Follow your heart and passion in choosing your career. Never stop learning and improving your skills—even if it’s just for fun and not related to your career. Always be open-minded to try new things. You never know that might turn into a great opportunity in the future.

For more information, please contact Heather Soulen.

Last updated by Northeast Fisheries Science Center on February 22, 2024