Tell us a little bit about yourself. My name is Aaron Avery, and I am a geologist who specializes in calcareous nannofossil biostratigraphy. I spent 6 years working as a biostratigrapher in the oil and gas industry, often working offshore on oil drilling installations in the Gulf of Mexico. More importantly, I am a father of one beaming sunray of a 4-year-old girl named Jori. I love spending time showing her around the world and cultivating the same curiosity and wanderlust that has gripped me my entire life. I’m a nerd at heart who loves science fiction and fantasy, but that never stops me from enjoying a great day outdoors; fishing, going to the beach, and hiking are always on the table. My love for adventure led me to sail with an NSF funded science outfit known as the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP). As I write this, I am currently sailing for the second time. With IODP, you get the experience of a lifetime through deep ocean drilling where you recover cores of sediments and basic rocks that are unique to the world. It is pure, unadulterated science for two months. I don’t have enough room here to talk about all of the reasons why sailing with IODP is amazing, so I’ll say this: it is the most incredible scientific experience of a lifetime where you will meet brilliant scientists, make connections, and try to answer some questions about the Earth’s mysteries. For anyone who has the stomach for being on a ship and away from home for two months, I highly recommend it.
What kind of scientist are you and what do you do? I’m a trained biostratigrapher who specializes in calcareous nannofossils, which are tiny marine algae that calcify shells around their cell(s). I got my MS in Geology from Florida State University and used my micropaleontology specialty to land a job with a consulting firm working as a biostratigrapher for oil companies. The company was based in New Orleans, LA, which was a lot of fun, but the rigor of having to go offshore to an oil platform on a day’s notice, missing holidays, and missing important milestones in my daughter’s life really wore on me. The solution was to move to Tampa, FL and start my PhD at the University of South Florida. I’m hoping to combine my knowledge of biostratigraphy and paleontology with a more advanced background in marine geology and paleobiology to study long term climate fluctuations and turn that into informative research for conservation purposes.
What is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science? My favorite part about being a scientist is always having an interesting question to try to answer. That is also the most difficult part of science for me. I have an incredibly hard time deciding which project should receive priority. I just want to study anything, take advantage of any opportunity that comes my way. I’m interested in climate science, broadly. My specific focuses are biostratigraphy, climatology, stable isotope geochemistry, evolution, conservation paleobiology, and marine geology.
My path into science included a lot of change of major forms. I began my college career as a biology major with the idea that I would go to vet school. After a year, I was lured into being an English major by my love for writing. From there, I thought I would follow in my mother’s footsteps and become a high school teacher, so I added an education major to my program. Just one semester passed, and I quickly realized this was not the path for me. In the meantime, I had been doing very well in Earth science elective courses and fell in love with Earth science. I switched my major to geography with a focus on environmental science and picked up a geology minor for good measure. That is where I found my true passion. I decided I would start applying for graduate school and pursue a masters in geology. After a year of rejections, I finally landed a spot at Florida State University where I would earn my MS in geology with a focus on micropaleontology.
How does your work contribute to the betterment of society in general? I mentioned above that I worked in the oil industry as a biostratigrapher. This contributes directly to the production of fossil fuels to keep society running. However, this was always a means to an end, and after a while I wanted my work to be more meaningful than whatever the current price of a barrel of oil happened to be. This led me to start a PhD at the University of South Florida and focus on conservation paleobiology: research that will help me (hopefully) directly inform policy makers and the public about the best practices for preserving our world. I also hope to be able to provide unique insight and perspectives on biologic change through time that will help us make impactful decisions that have real positive impacts on the environment.
What advice do you have for up-and-coming scientists? If you want to be a scientist, my best advice is to never stop asking questions, and never be afraid to be wrong. Cultivate a passion for learning and discussion that allows you to be open minded in all facets of your career. Understand that science isn’t always glorious and that sometimes you have to grind to get to the things/answers you are passionate about. It may sound cliché, but network in whatever way is comfortable for you and cultivate relationships as they will bring opportunities to your doorstep.
Never succumb to imposter syndrome—you deserve to be here as much as anyone, and you earned it! As I write this, I’m sailing for the second time with the Integrated Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) and everyone, absolutely everyone, is brilliant. It was daunting the first time I sailed, but I learned on my first expedition that intelligence isn’t something to be afraid of, or to compare yourself to, it is a lifeline to a world of possibilities and learning. Everyone has something wonderful to offer, and you will too!