Trist graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a B.A. in anthropology/environmental studies, and an M.S. in energy management and policy from the same university. She received her Ph.D. in geography from UC Berkeley. She has taught World Geography at Santa Clara since 2007, as well as The Ocean World at UC Berkeley for many years. Her research interests include political ecology, international environmental politics, historical geography of international conflicts, nature-society theory, coastal and marine conservation, Latin America and the Caribbean region.