Newsletter Article

Cindy Johnson Roberts Living Her Dreams

Image of Cindy Johnson Roberts
Cindy Johnson Roberts

People always ask how a psychology degree relates to working as an Aquarist,” says Cindy Roberts, “but it has been a great asset in so many ways.” Shortly after graduating with a Bachelor’s Degree in psychology from the UW, Cindy was hired as an Aquarist (zoo aquarium keeper), at Tacoma’s Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium (PDZA). Cindy now spends her days diving in Puget Sound and in the aquariums at PDZA where she is responsible for the care of hundreds of species of fish and invertebrates.

Feeling as though she has found her “dream job,” Cindy thinks back to her time as a UW psychology major. “All the skills I took from my psych classes are imperative for my current position as an aquarist,” says Cindy. Among her favorite classes was the Human Performance Laboratory, which taught her about creating a research project from start to finish while helping her gain strong skills in scientific writing and public speaking. She is now confident in her ability to establish and execute research projects. Write scientific papers and present in front of zoo visitors or a room filled with colleagues. Cindy’s education in animal behavior has helped her to implement training programs using operant conditioning and to hone her observation skills.

Working full-time while attending the UW left Cindy precious little time to volunteer and gain experience in her chosen profession. Not one to give up her dreams, she faced her challenges with creativity and determination. Following her move to Washington, this Colorado native found her interest in working with animals turning towards marine species.

Initially intent upon becoming a marine mammal trainer, Cindy began volunteering at PDZA, working with beluga whales, walrus, sea otters and harbor seals. Cindy cautions that it wasn’t as glamorous as it might sound. “There was a lot of what I affectionately call poop scooping,” she remembers, “cleaning exhibits, scrubbing buckets, and working the cold and rain.” Her hard work and persistence eventually let to a part-time paid position where she gained the aquarium experience that was the final stepping stone towards her current position as an aquarist. Her initial passion for marine mammals led her in another direction, working with sharks, fish, octopus, and a variety of other marine species.

While growing up, Cindy never thought of herself as capable of going to college or becoming a “career girl.” It was her passion for animals, coupled with much soul searching and her sister’s encouragement, that set her on the pathway that led to the study of psychology and finally to her dream job. Setbacks and obstacles along the way were countered by the support of family, friends and professors. Cindy fondly remembers UW psychology professor Kim Barrett whose confidence in her as a student helped Cindy to see her potential. “Dr. Barrett was very supportive of my career goal and allowed me to do my psychology projects on subjects that were dear to my heart.”

Having gathered the tools to turn a lifelong love of animals into an exciting career, Cindy is now dedicated to her work with marine species, but also to educating others on how they can get involved in wildlife conservation efforts. On facing a sometimes bumpy road on the way to the fulfillment of a goal, Cindy thinks back on her own path. “Always keep an open mind,” she encourages, “embrace the adventures that you face and you might be surprised where you end up.”