Ecologist. Educator. ORGANIZER.

about ZoFIA

she/her/oyster hype woman


I am a PhD candidate in the Coastal Fisheries Oceanography and Ecology Lab and Royster Fellow in Ecology at the University of North Carolina  Institute of Marine Sciences, and MSc alumna of the Coastal Trophic Ecology Lab at the University of Oregon Institute of Marine Biology. I study disturbances to coastal habitats, especially in the contexts of restoration and aquaculture. 


As a graduate worker, I have been extensively involved in campus labor organizing efforts---i.e fighting for workers' rights and better working conditions---first as a union department steward at UO (AFT 3544) and now as the chapter president at UNC (UE 150). Before graduate school, I served an AmeriCorps year as a community science educator at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center.  


My creativity fuels my lifelong education and science communication. From fiber arts to biological illustrations and making figures in R, much of what I know about art and design is self-taught (with the exception of music, which I studied formally in school through college). Outside of these activities, I enjoy backpacking, hiking, photographing dogs, and romping through water and mud with my devastatingly cute Aussie/Border Collie rescue puppy, Yoshi.

Zofia Knorek

Photo caption and credit: I do not personally study sharks, but my lab mate Jeff Plumlee took this really nice picture of me cheesing with a dogfish while I was helping him with his field work around Middle Marsh in the Rachel Carson Reserve (NC).

Zofia Knorek measures oysters on a boat.

Photo caption and credit: Matt Ogburn, a member of my doctoral committee, snapped this photo of me measuring and sorting oysters in Broad Creek, Chesapeake Bay (MD) during my graduate fellowship at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. 


Areas of experience & current interest: restoration ecology, historical ecology, parasite and disease ecology, marine ecology, population and community ecology, fisheries ecology, invasive species, trophic ecology, community science and outdoor education, science communication and data visualization, natural history


My dissertation research explores the physical and biological processes that modulate the restoration trajectories and outcomes of oyster reefs, one of the most threatened biogenic habitats on the planet. I focus on processes characterized as ‘disturbances’—parasite infection, harvesting, extended fluctuations in salinity, and hurricanes, etc.—and the effects they have on the recovery of and ecosystem service delivery of human-made oyster reefs. Though oyster restoration projects date back more than a century, most literature is focused on the short-term (<1-5 years) post-restoration period. My research also expands this narrow temporal purview by describing the multi-decadal trajectories of oyster reefs across three environmentally distinct estuaries: Pamlico Sound, Chesapeake Bay, and Back Sound.

This work is generously supported by the NC Division of Marine Fisheries, UNC-CH Graduate School, NC Sea Grant, and Smithsonian Institution. 

Project details coming soon!



Undergraduate courses taught (from most recent): Introduction to Marine Science, Human Anatomy, Conservation Biology, Marine Conservation Biology, Marine Environmental Issues, Marine Biology, Zoology

I gave one of my first biology lessons when I was four years old, during a class field trip to the sheep farm on which I was raised. A peer had asked why the ram kept jumping on top of the ewes, which I responded to with a careful yet frank description of sheep reproduction. 

Now, my pedagogy is centered around creating intriguing and joyful intellectual spaces in which lifelong learning and exploration are encouraged, and in which students feel respected and safe. To accomplish these objectives, I design and implement hands-on science curricula. As an environmental educator who frequently experiences 'the wiggles', it is my priority to get students outside!

I teach both formally and informally. While my former students encompass toddlers to retirees, my teaching experiences are now concentrated at the middle/high school and undergraduate levels. Currently, I am on the team coordinating the Growing Equity in Science and Technology program for girls and students of color at UNC IMS for a second year and, as a personal project, developing a Historical Ecology course syllabus.

Syllabi & curricula archive coming soon!

Zofia is holding a sea urchin and pointing at a sea star.

Photo caption and credit: I am showing Charlie Bermant, a local Olympic Peninsula news reporter, some of the critters in the touch tanks at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center in preparation for a low tide walk at night.


Above photo caption and credit: My former lab mate, Shelby Ziegler, shot this photo of me helping her retrieve an empty crab trap at sunset. Admittedly, this photo has little to do with grant writing, but it was taken just outside of the North Carolina Coastal Reserve, where I did a grant writing internship through their Coastal Training Program.

Background caption and credit: Emily Kenworthy photographed this intertidal oyster oyster reef at low tide. The oysters are covered in a bright green filamentous algae.


Chasing funds for your research is often an exhausting and discouraging process, but grant (and fellowship) writing is a skill that can be learned with practice and patience. Writing mock proposals can be helpful, but I find the most realistic practice is actually applying to smaller funding opportunities to learn the mechanics of the process. If no one has sat you down and spelled out how to write a grant proposal, you are in the right place!

Below, I have linked some grant writing resources for undergraduate and graduate students, including a blog series that walks you through the application process for a small ($10k) graduate fellowship and compares a winning application with my rejected application. I have adapted this series to the 2-year (~$150k) NOAA Margaret A. Davidson Fellowship application. That series will be posted in Fall 2021. Additionally, I am working on compiling all of my funded and honorable mention proposals (with reviews where possible) and will post an archive soon.


I developed and compiled these resources while I worked as a grant writing intern with the Coastal Training Program at the North Carolina Coastal Reserve and National Estuarine Research Reserve. Thus, a lot of the information is specific to coastal research opportunities, but much of it can also be applied broadly to other STEM disciplines.


I have been a higher education worker for a decade. My workplaces have encompassed an admissions office, department of student activities, aquarium, and numerous classrooms and laboratories across a SLAC and two R1 institutions. What these diverse spaces have in common is that (whether intentionally or unintentionally) they exploit workers. But when workers organize, make a raucous, and reclaim their collective power, conditions can improve.


For example, during the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, it became abundantly clear that UNC had no realistic plan to keep its workers and students safe. Housekeepers and other frontline workers were given one surgical mask per week. Instructors were initially told they would have to teach in person. Our NC Public Service Workers Union's (UE 150) Safe Jobs Save Lives campaign demanded better. As a rank-and-file member, I saw a unique opportunity to unite workers across the UNC System campuses---from housekeepers to graduate workers and faculty---to fight for pandemic workplace safety, and thus formed the Workers of UNC Coalition. Together, we won. For example, I was a lead plaintiff on a class-action lawsuit against the UNC System for failing to uphold their non-delegable duty to provide us with a safe workplace. We forced UNC administrators to procure ample PPE, and won the ability for all workers who can perform their duties from home the choice to do so.

Photo caption and credit: Miranda Elston took this photo of me leading a group of UE 150 members and allies across UNC-Chapel Hill's campus to protest the university's disastrous Fall 2020 reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic. 


Above photo caption and credit: Abigail Poray, former Fodrie Lab Manager, photographed this photo of me during an interview about my research. I am in the intertidal, facing a small boat in which there is a reporter and a camera on a tripod. 

Background caption and credit: Lisa Kellogg photographed this subtidal oyster reef at Harris Creek, Maryland, one of my field sites.

CV & Media

View a PDF of my curriculum vitae by clicking the button below (updated 9 August 2021).

Selected media stories:

I recently started dipping my toes into writing comedy/satire and am happy to share that I am a new Reductress contributor! 



Design & visualization software competencies include: Illustrator, Photoshop, Lightroom, Procreate, Canva, Wix, Squarespace, R, &  PowerPoint

My Etsy shop name is also Zofiology!


Zofotography is my pet portrait photography website. (I'm already obsessed with your pet and would be honored to photograph them!) 

zofotography logo

I completed an intensive Invertebrate Zoology course in Spring 2017. Check out the product of that course—an extensive notebook of biological illustrations—below!

For a more informal and up-to-date happenings (and joke drafts), follow me on Twitter (@zofiology).

  • Twitter - White Circle
  • LinkedIn - White Circle

Photo caption and credit: I took this photo of Yoshi during a July 2021 trip to Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Highway.



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