Charlotte Heo, Masters Student at Binghamton University

Hiking at Salt Springs State Park in PA this past summer with Binghamton’s Geology Club.

Hi! My name is Charlotte and I am currently a graduate student from Long Island, NY pursuing an accelerated masters degree in biology at Binghamton University in NY. I am also a recent graduate and earned my bachelors in biology in May of 2022 at Binghamton. I love exercising and being active and some of my favorite activities are taking spin classes, practicing yoga, and I recently got into hiking over the summer. When I’m not in the lab I also enjoy going to museums, listening to music, spending time with my friends and family, and going to the beach and swimming in the ocean.

What kind of scientist are you, and what do you do?

The research that I am currently doing as a graduate student for my master’s thesis project is to reconstruct future climate warming scenarios using past climates. I use stable isotopic data from two species of thermocline-dwelling planktic foraminifera found in deep ocean sediments that date back to ~3-3.35 million years ago during the Pliocene era. More specifically I am trying to reconstruct ocean behavior in the Kuroshio Current Extension (KCE) off of the coast of Japan during the mid-Piacenzian Warm Period (mPWP) which is often regarded as an analogue to future climate warming scenarios. The calcium carbonate shells of foraminifera can be used as a proxy to reconstruct past climates because they collect the chemical signature of the water around them through isotopes of carbon and oxygen. From this data I am able to understand ocean characteristics such as salinity, temperature, and water productivity from over millions of years ago. Climate change is an incredibly important topic that I am extremely passionate about and using the past as a tool to understand the future can be one method to understand how to solve the problem.

This is what my lab bench looks like! The foraminifera are super small and I’ve spent countless hours at my microscope identifying and picking them to be processed for stable isotopic analyses.

What is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science?

I honestly came into my first year of undergrad as an undeclared major. In high school I never excelled in science or math and never thought I could make it through undergrad majoring in science because of this. This however, changed when I felt more confident in myself as a scientist after joining Binghamton’s First Year Research Immersion program in the biogeochemistry research stream where I worked in a group on a geology based project reconstructing the environmental conditions of the oldest known forest located in Cairo, NY. I was so lucky to be supported by an incredible mentor and a great group of peers that made me feel more comfortable about majoring in science. My first few years of undergrad were tough but I was able to get through it and get exactly where I needed to be. From that experience I was able to meet my current mentor and current research advisor Dr. Adriane Lam who I’ve been so grateful to be working with since 2020. My current research interests include paleoclimatology, paleoceanography, and anything related to foraminifera. After my masters graduation next May I hope to enter the industry working on corporate sustainability projects. Last summer I interned at Pfizer with the Global Environmental Health and Safety Group and I worked on some projects regulating the company’s environmental impacts. My research background has made me more passionate about climate change and I really want to make a difference in the corporate industry one day. My favorite part about being a scientist is definitely working with other amazing and bright scientists and I have met so many inspiring mentors, labmates, classmates, and lifelong friends.

Presenting my research at Syracuse University’s 2022 Central New York Earth Science Student Symposium.

What advice do you have for up and coming scientists?

There are so many things I wish I knew but my biggest piece of advice is to not get discouraged. Being a scientist can be extremely difficult but it is also extremely rewarding at the same time. Try not to compare yourself to others because everyone is on a different path and do not give in to imposter syndrome. Nobody truly ever has it figured out but if you work hard and do your best you will end up exactly where you need to be. I also think it is important to take every opportunity as an opportunity to grow and never to be afraid to ask others for help and advice.

Eleanor Shippen, Anthropology B.A. Undergraduate Student

Background: A tree line and body of water in the far back. Closer up there is a wooden bridge with a rocky shoreline with a few people and some equipment. Foreground: Eleanor smiling in a headband and wearing waders holding a small stone artifact
A bilface lithic I uncovered while wet screening at the 2022 UVic Archaeology Field School in Barkley Sound, British Columbia.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Hello! My name is Eleanor Shippen (she/her). I’m a fourth-year student from Nashville, Tennessee studying anthropology at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada. My interests include public history, ecology, and applied anthropology. I am a huge history buff and an avid fan of state and national parks. When I’m not hiking or reading every single interpretive sign at these parks, I am adding another cancellation stamp to my national park passport; so far, I have over sixty! In my free time, I enjoy volunteering in the Victoria community, visiting my local library, collaging, and getting cozy at home with a good cup of tea.

What kind of scientist are you and what do you do? Throughout the duration of my degree, I’ve had several incredible opportunities to engage in various scientific fields. These include archaeology, archival preservation, marine ecology, and ecosystem restoration. As an anthropology student, I have taken classes in biological anthropology, environmental history, biology, archaeology, artifact curation, and medical anthropology. These have introduced me to a wide range of scientific focuses and applications. I am fascinated by the close relationship history and science have and all of these experiences have highlighted how interconnected those fields can be. In the last year of my undergraduate degree, I am hoping to examine how historical knowledge can be utilized in educating the public on natural landscapes through my coursework and volunteering. While my goal to earn an M.A. degree in Public History situates my career more within the history field, I aim to continue my involvement in ecological and environmental studies in my work. I would love to see how community science and public history could be further incorporated together in education.

What is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science? My parents encouraged me and my sister to be curious and explore the world around us from a young age. Their support on family camping trips, during our visits to science centers, and when I entered my middle school magnetometry project into my state science fair gave me the confidence to take A.P Environmental Science in high school and continue exploring science into my undergraduate. I would recommend every college student take at least one science class in their first year – it helped me contextualize the required classes for my degree. I have a love for learning and getting outdoors that has led me to a variety of amazing, hands-on experiences in science. The part I love the most about being involved with science is the joy that comes with engaging holistically with the natural world and sharing your knowledge with others. Experiential learning in nature has changed how I think about the relationship between humans and the world, but it’s also shown me how enjoyable getting involved can be. For myself, this looks like volunteering at a local nature sanctuary, taking hikes with my friends and family, and practicing shinrin-yoku (forest bathing), the Japanese concept of immersing oneself in nature to relax.

Background: a cloudy blue sky with the rolling Appalachian mountains covered in green. Foreground: Eleanor standing on a grassy knoll with arms spread wide smiling.
Myself at Roan Mountain State Park while participating in the 2018 Governor’s School for the Scientific Exploration of Tennessee Heritage.

Do you engage in community science? How does your work contribute to the betterment of society? As a student, I would categorize the majority of the scientific work I have participated in as community science. My contributions have allowed scientists to continue their research and have helped ecosystems thrive. It has also shown me I have the ability to help make tangible change. In an ideal world, science benefits both the academic community and the world. I have been privileged enough to have participated in projects that have worked to accomplish that goal.

This summer I participated in the UVic Archaeology Field School in Barkley Sound, a collaborative project between the University of Victoria, the Tseshaht First Nation, Parks Canada, and Bamfield Marine Science Centre. While archaeology was the project’s focus, our professors and Tseshaht representatives brought Tseshaht history, a respect for the lands and ecosystems we excavated within, and considerations of colonialism’s impact to the forefront of our work. This intentional contextualization of our archaeological efforts changed how I approached my goals for the field school. I realized I was one part of a larger, impactful, and uniquely collaborative five-year project. During the six weeks of the field school, my peers and I endeavored to help Tseshaht First Nation community members expand their knowledge of their history and land while also assisting archaeologists studying the Barkley Sound region and the Pacific Northwest as a whole. The report I wrote summarizing my excavation unit throughout the project’s duration will be kept by the Bamfield Marine Science Centre for use by future researchers. This incredible experience inspired me to learn more about the natural history of Vancouver Island, which led me to volunteer at the Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary in Victoria, B.C. Each week I remove invasive plants and restore ecosystems in the sanctuary while discussing conservation and wildlife science with fellow volunteers. I wouldn’t consider my involvement in scientific fields to be the cause of any substantial betterment of society. I do, however, believe significant change is made possible by individuals coming together and doing the best they can the most they can to help, and I try to do just that every day.

What advice do you have for up and coming scientists? My go-to piece of advice about college is that it is what you make of it – I would say the exact same about science. During the completion of my degree, I’ve learned a multitude of life lessons that will help me in my future career and the rest of my life. Here are a few: get involved and stay involved, continue to ask questions, and you should always give intention and critical thought to whatever you are doing. Remind yourself what inspired/interested/got your heart pumping about science and hold onto that! It will help guide you through wherever you are in your life.

Ella Halbert, Undergraduate Student, Biology and Hispanic Studies B.A.

I’m holding a praying mantis found near the biological station where I completed my research.

Hello! My name is Ella Halbert (she/her/hers) and I’m from Nashville, Tennessee. I am a fourth year Biology and Hispanic Studies major at Oberlin College in Oberlin, OH. I’m interested in disease ecology, epidemiology, and human health. Outside of academics, I love doing anything outdoors, particularly playing sand volleyball and going on hikes. I also sing in an a cappella group and am part of a traditional Japanese Taiko drumming group.

My favorite part about being a scientist is getting to explore questions that interest me. I’m a very hands-on learner, so research has been a great way for me to learn about the world. My most recent research began in the summer of 2022 with a National Science Foundation funded Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at Mountain Lake Biological Station (MLBS) in Pembroke, VA. I was drawn to Dr. Chloé Lahondère’s work with mosquito thermal biology and interactions with plants and herpetofauna because of the wide possibility for projects. I joined a project that examines the interaction between Culex territans, a mosquito species present throughout the Northern Hemisphere, and its amphibian hosts. That’s right, this mosquito species feeds exclusively on amphibians (and the occasional reptile), and it couldn’t care less about humans!

Horton Pond was one of my sample sites at Mountain Lake Biological Station.

More specifically, I studied the interactions between Cx. territans mosquitoes and their frog hosts to determine what diseases they vector in that environment. So far, my work has focused on their potential as vectors of the Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) fungus, which causes chytridiomycosis, a deadly disease, in amphibians. The chytrid fungus is responsible for the decline of amphibian populations around the globe, so understanding how this disease is spread in the environment is critical. There is evidence that suggests that when a Cx. territans mosquito lands on a frog, it has the capability to pick up Bd spores and transfer them to its next host. By swabbing the frog population and testing the mosquito population in the same habitat, I was able to compare rates of Bd infection among species and get a better picture of how Bd is spreading in that habitat.

Here I am using the Giant Aspirator to vacuum up mosquitoes from their resting spots in the vegetation by a pond.

I’ve always loved science, even before I knew what it was. When I was in elementary school, I wanted to know everything there was to know about dinosaurs, and I was curious about why we lost those species 65 million years ago. I loved bugs, and asked for Eyewitness books for my birthday. Over the years, as I was formally introduced to science, I developed a strong desire to know more and to discover how the natural world works.

In high school, I participated in a program called the School for Science and Math at Vanderbilt (SSMV). One day each week, instead of attending my high school courses, I attended lectures and participated in hands-on science projects with my cohort at Vanderbilt University. This four-year long experience opened my eyes to the stunning variety that exists within STEM, and through this program I participated in several summer sessions that emphasized research. The SSMV solidified my interest in science and gave me a platform to engage with subjects that had fascinated me for so long.

I matriculated into Oberlin College in 2019 and declared my Biology major, eager to continue my exploration of the natural world. In the summer of 2021, I joined Professor Mary Garvin’s research lab at Oberlin. I investigated the role of nest mites in overwintering Eastern Equine Encephalitis Virus in Northeast Ohio. With the team, I worked to elucidate the mechanism that allows this disease to persist through the cold, harsh winters of Ohio using DNA and RNA extraction techniques. This experience made me more curious about how ecology and diseases interact and steered my interests towards a summer research internship in the summer of 2022.

My current research is part of an ongoing project at MLBS that seeks to understand how Culex territans, a mosquito species that feeds on cold-blooded hosts, locates and interacts with its hosts. This mosquito’s preference for cold-blooded hosts is intriguing and poorly understood, and by learning how Cx. territans interacts with its hosts, we can provide insight into how mosquito host-seeking behavior evolved. This will ultimately inform current-day disease control strategies regarding mosquito-borne pathogens.

My advice for up and coming scientists is to seek out mentors! Having an experienced scientist in your corner makes a world of difference, and the best research experiences I’ve had were all facilitated by incredible mentors who really took the time to teach me what they knew. The strong interpersonal connections I’ve made in science are what keep me going when an experiment fails or I lose a bunch of data, both of which are annoyingly common occurrences in science! So my best advice is to find people who will support you on the best and worst days of your journey in research!

My final REU project presentation at Mountain Lake Biological Station.

Jamie Stearns, Fossil Preparator and Museum Educator

Tell us a little bit about yourself. My name is Jamie Stearns. I am 34 years old, a trans woman, interested in gaming, sci-fi and fantasy, and have been with my spouse Mariah for six years. I volunteer at the Arizona Museum of Natural History as a fossil preparator and a museum educator.

Foreground: Jamie standing in a fossil gallery wearing a blue shift and holding a purse. Background: a mounted tyrannosaur skeleton in an action posture.
Jamie with a tyrannosaur.

What kind of scientist are you and what do you do? As a fossil preparator, I spend a lot of time preparing fossils in the laboratory after they have come in from the field. This typically involves opening up plaster field jackets used to transport specimens to the lab and carefully separating the specimens inside from the surrounding rock, or matrix. This can involve anything from dental picks and brushes to air scribes. To preserve specimens for the museum’s collections, I use special types of glue to stabilize anything fragile and to put broken pieces of a specimen back together. Sometimes support jackets have to be constructed for irregularly-shaped specimens. I also screen wash matrix from the fossil sites and sort through it for microfossils, and I occasionally help out in the field as well.

As a museum educator, I explain the significance of specimens to visitors and answer any questions they may have about what they are seeing. I have a number of smaller specimens used in demonstrations where visitors can handle and discuss them; everything from a Tyrannosaurus rex tooth cast to an ammonite preserved in mudstone.

Jamie sitting at the base of a mastodon skeleton mount in a large room.
Jamie with a mastodon.

What is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science? My interest in paleontology goes back to when I was only five years old. My family had just moved to the Washington, DC area a few months before, and I was in preschool when February 1993 was declared to be “Dinosaur Month”. In the process, I got my hands on a copy of National Geographic with a double feature on dinosaurs. I was immediately fascinated by all these different creatures with their sharp teeth, long necks, armor plates, horns, and crests and wanted more. I eagerly read through all the dinosaur books at the library and watched the latest documentaries, absorbing as much knowledge as I could find. My family took me to see the fossil halls at the Smithsonian afterwards where I could actually see them in person, too. At one point I even called my kindergarten teacher out when she said that dinosaurs were cold-blooded. Although I was exclusively a dinosaur nerd throughout primary school, I worked at a lot of different museums and fossil sites in and shortly after college, which helped me see a bigger picture; as amazing as dinosaurs were, no less impressive were the reptiles that shared the earth with them, or the variety of mammals that came later.

This interest led me into a bit of an uncomfortable spot with some of the Evangelical Christian groups I was with in middle and high school, where I initially thought nobody could possibly believe in a literal six-day creation due to all the evidence against it. It turns out, of course, that most of them did believe that the geological timeline I had come to memorize was nothing but lies, made up by people because they didn’t want to believe in God. I couldn’t accept this, and this was only the first point on which I started to disagree with them. I never lost my faith despite that, but given everything I eventually found out about myself, I am not sure what they would think of me now.

Jamie and Mariah with a hadrosaur bone that Jamie prepared.

My favorite part of working at the museum is when I discover something new in the field or uncover something in the lab for the first time. I’m the first person to see this thing in millions of years, and that’s pretty special. I also enjoy being able to share my knowledge and passion about prehistoric creatures and their environment with visitors and seeing them learn new things they hadn’t thought of before.

How does your work contribute to the betterment of society in general? My work in fossil preparation helps scientists find out more about what the world of the past was like and what kinds of animals lived back then, and screen washing for microfossils can reveal details of the environment of the time as well. This adds to our understanding of how the earth’s climate changed over time and how life evolved in response to that.

I would like to hope that I have made an impact on those visiting the museum as well. Many people come in with preconceived ideas about prehistoric life and earth’s history, and what I do helps challenge those ideas and get people to think more critically about what they may have read or seen.

Jamie standing behind a table that has a series of fossils set up on display for an educational event. The back wall has a series of educational posters related to natural history.
Jamie doing a fossil demonstration.

What advice do you have for up and coming scientists? Get involved in volunteer work in your field when you have the opportunity. There is probably a local institution of some kind that deals with what you’re interested in, so see if they have any opportunities. It’s an excellent way to get a feel for what working in your field is like, and you can make connections with experts who have already been working in the field too. Don’t lose sight of your goals, and never stop learning.

Lian Anderson, Paleontologist

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Hi! My name is Lian and I am a recent graduate of the University of Michigan! I am originally from Missouri but currently call Michigan home. I am in an in-between period in my life, I graduated this past spring with a degree in Earth and Environmental Sciences and a minor in paleontology and plan on applying to graduate schools this upcoming fall. Outside of science, you can find me spending my free time outdoors biking, hiking, or just sitting on a porch. I love to paint, learn about geography, and cook.

What kind of scientist are you and what do you do? My research has focused on using morphology as a tool. Morphology is the study of the shape of something, it can be applied to something as simple as a single tooth or as complex as a whole fish skeleton! As an undergraduate, I produced an honors thesis that focused on an extinct clade of echinoderms known as blastoids. I investigated whether varying ratios in blastoid’s underlying skeletal components were indicative of deeper taxonomic relationships. To do this, I first produced 3D models of specimens through a process known as photogrammetry. Once the models were produced, I then placed a set number of landmarks on each specimen, in homologous places. Once the landmarks were placed, I then ran a principal component analysis (PCA) in R. The PCA helped to determine if varying ratios in blastoid’s underlying skeletal components, taxonomic separation, and geological periods occupied distinct regions in morphospace. In addition to my work with blastoids, I have also had the opportunity to apply similar techniques to epibionts on brachiopods and jaws of nautiloids!

Outside of research, I also worked at the University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology’s (UMMP) Invertebrate Paleontology collection as a museum technician. There, I have the amazing opportunity to handle specimens in a collection of over 2 million specimens! I work with type specimens, produce 3D models, and rehouse or unpack specimens. Museums typically only show a small fraction of their collection in the galleries that are open to the public, so being able to work behind the scenes and get a first hand view of the full collection has been incredible.

What is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science? As a kid, I always loved dinosaurs and fossils. I thought that it was so cool how millions of years ago the world looked completely different, almost alien-like. However, as I grew up, I thought that paleontology wasn’t a “real” career option. So, I went to college thinking I would major in something else. Once I got to college, I had to take a science distribution credit, so I randomly picked an Earth and life history course. There, I realized that being a paleontologist wasn’t so far-fetched of an idea as I had thought. I then took as many geology and paleontology related courses I could, before eventually transferring to the University of Michigan to further pursue paleontology.

What advice do you have for up and coming scientists? Growing up, I never wanted to ask for help or guidance. I was a solitary person who wanted to fix things on their own. However, once I got to college, I realized that asking for help is the best thing you can do. It doesn’t matter how big or small of a question or problem you have, it is never a bad thing to ask for help! A lot of the time, science can be painted as a solitary field where researchers keep to themselves. That is not the way things have to be! Science is done best when people work together. 

Michaela Falkenroth, Sedimentologist

The image is a selfie of a girl in a black jumper. She has a green toothbrush sticking out of her mouth and an amused look on her face. The background is a backbeach area with reddish sand and a couple of thorny shrubs. You can make out tire tracks and footsteps on the sand. The sky is whitish blue and the lighting shows that the sun is just rising.
When you are a field geologist that studies beaches, chances are you have to work at the beach, sleep at the beach, eat at the beach and brush your teeth there, too.

Hey there! My name is Michaela and I am a cat-lady, sci-fi-nerd and hobby illustrator, who gets paid to hang out on tropical beaches a lot – how is that possible, you ask? Well… I got lucky.

The first time I got lucky was when I was eight years old and announced to my flabbergasted parents that I had decided to become a paleontologist like my hero at the time: Dr Alan Grant (also known as “guy with the cool hat in Jurassic Park”). My parents, who did not have the opportunity to go to university themselves and had never heard of paleontology, would have been perfectly justified to believe that my career goals were nothing to be taken seriously and move on, but they did not. Instead, they bought piles of dinosaur books, spent countless hours in museums and corrected everyone who confused paleontology with archeology with admirable patience. I was still set on becoming a paleontologist 11 years later, when I first set foot in the geoscience department of University Bonn. It is certainly not my parents’ fault that I didn’t.

The image shows a broad river flowing through a deep valley with high but not very steep, rocky walls. A bright blue sky in the background, no vegetation except for some palm trees by the water and bright sunlight indicate a desert environment. The water is calm, completely clear and shallow, the ground is covered in light grey gravel. A girl is standing knee deep in the water looking at a smoothened cliff that is twice as tall as she and boarders the river. The cliff is almost white and consists of well-rounded gravel in different sizes that is held together by a white matrix. The girl wears long, green pants, a dark T-Shirt and a cap that casts a shadow over her face. She points at something on the cliff to show it to a guy standing a few meters behind her.
Sedimentology is the study of rocks that were broken down into smaller pieces and transported on the surface of the planet by wind, gravity, and water. Here, I look at a river sediment in Oman that was turned into hard rock by a natural cement.

The second time I got lucky has to do with the fact that becoming a paleontologist in Germany requires you to become a geologist first. It only took a couple of rock identification classes for me to realize that yes, dinosaurs are amazing, but evolution is only one of the natural processes that shape our planet, and the others are even more fascinating to me. I had never thought about mountains being crumbled into tiny pieces by weather and time, these pieces then being transported by wind and rivers into the ocean, while being reshaped again and again, before they come to rest somewhere along the way. As a sedimentologist you look at the pieces of rock that are shuffled around on the planet’s surface and make them your own personal window through time. Sedimentary rocks let you study rivers that rushed by millions of years ago or watch coral reefs grow and die and regrow in a millennial cycle. By the time I finished my bachelor’s degree I was hooked. I still have a cool dinosaur model on my desk, but sedimentary rocks are what is on my mind, what pays my bills (sometimes) and what got me into another field of science with a very relevant application: sea level research.

A strongly fractured, uneven surface of brown and crumbly-looking rock fills most of the image that was taken from a heightened position. On top of the rock stands a smiling girl in fieldwork attire. She has her hair in a ponytail, arms akimbo and a broad grin on her face. One corner of the background shows a rough, blueish-green ocean with big waves breaking on a rocky platform in white foam.
Me on a beach in South Africa, happy about a freaky beachrock that I just discovered. The rocks that I am standing on formed within the last 77 years, before that it was just a sandy beach.

This brings me to the third time I got lucky. This one really did not feel like luck at the time. In 2016, I got rejected for three possible projects for a master thesis and thus one day stumbled into the office of the new professor at the department, who had nothing to do with sedimentology. I stood in the doorframe a little desperate and ready to take whatever the man would offer. This professor, who would later become my PhD supervisor and close friend, offered me an opportunity to study sea level change at the coastline of Oman – turns out you can squeeze sedimentology into any project.

Sea-level and coastal research became the focus of my scientific journey and Oman somewhat of a second home. For my masters and PhD, I studied beachrock. That is essentially beach sand that turned into hard rock, because a natural cement forms in between the individual grains of sand. Think of it as a bunch of sand and gravel glued together by carbonate, the white stuff that forms in your kettle or washing machine. Beachrocks are not only very cool, but also useful when we are trying to understand how sea level changed in the past and make assumptions on how it is going to change in the future. Climate driven global sea level rise might be something you are familiar with, but that is only part of the story. Yes, global sea level is rising, but the land might move as well. In some areas it is sinking, making global sea level rise an even bigger problem, in other areas the land is uplifting, mitigating the effects of global sea level rise. Beachrocks can help to understand what is happening on one individual stretch of coastline, giving coastal communities the chance to adapt and me the chance to hang out on tropical beaches a lot. While on the beach, I study the sedimentological characteristics of the beachrock and take samples. The samples are then taken to the lab – either to determine their age or to use a microscope to look at the cement between the grains.

The photograph shows a magnified image of four sand grains and the empty space between them. A scale in the corner shows that the grains are between 200 and 400 microns in diameter. The grains have smoothed surfaces and show different colors: transparent pale blue, transparent pale green or black with a grainy texture. The empty space between the grains is black. A 50 to 100 microns thick rim surrounds the grains. It has a greyish color and looks like a palisade fence with pointy tips reaching into the empty pore space. The individual grains do not touch but their rims overlap, holding them together.
Beachrock under the microscope. The empty space between the sand grains is filled by a natural cement that first forms as a rim around each grain and will later fill up the entire pore space turning loose sand into hard rock within years.

Right now, I am (sadly) neither at a beach nor in a lab, but at a desk in Germany preparing for my PhD defense and applying for postdoc positions – a tedious task that involves a lot of rejection. I don’t think there is a career in science without tedious tasks, be it repetitive lab work, marking piles of exams or never-ending application forms to fill out. Nevertheless, science allows me to keep my inner child alive, it allows me to follow my curiosity, all while making a contribution that helps coastal communities deal with the threat of sea level rise. I don’t know if I’ll get lucky one more time and be allowed to do this for a few more years, but I certainly hope so. One thing that I wish I had known from the beginning is that people are more important than the academic disciplines they belong to – looking back I would always choose a mentor outside my specialty with whom I have a great connection over the greatest expert in my field who does not care about me.

Update: By the time this is posted, I successfully defended my PhD thesis and started a Postdoc position in Heidelberg, Germany, where I get to teach sedimentology (yay) and work on a grant proposal for studying the incorporation of trash into beachrock on the Bahamas (even bigger yay)!!

The image shows four smiling people in fieldwork attire standing next to a one-humped camel. All four are wearing sandals and scarves wrapped around their heads. Three of them are girls and one is a bearded man, who is slightly older than the others. One of the girls is stroking the camel’s neck. The scarves and loose hairs of the girls are flapping in the wind, which seems to be quite strong. The background is a desert landscape with high dunes and a couple of fences but no vegetation. The sand is bright red. The sky is grey with dust, indicating a mild sandstorm.
Me, two other PhD-students from our lab and my supervisor Gösta at a field trip in the Wahiba Sands in Oman. Pro tip for everyone pursuing a career in science: choose your lab based on the people not on the prestige, the lab gear or the expertise… you can get all of these elsewhere. A good relationship with the PI is irreplaceable.

Elizabeth Rohlicek, Podcast host and Paleobiologist

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Living on Vancouver Island in the Pacific Northwest, I’m so lucky to be in such a great environment. I love packing up my car and going for hikes, camping, island hopping, and paddling on the ocean. My summer days are spent reading and camping, and my winter (rainy) months are spent playing board games on my couch in front of the fire after a day of skiing. One of my passions outside of my research is my podcast Below the Tide. I get to chat with scientists about their marine research, and make it accessible to the public.

Elizabeth stands in a museum exhibit at the Royal BC Museum with an image of an Orca Whale behind her. She is wearing a striped shirt while she holds large vertebra fossils in her hands.
© Kristina Blanchflower with Hakai Magazine (photo is from the article Whales in the Cliff Face https://hakaimagazine.com/features/whales-in-the-cliff-face/)

What kind of scientist are you and what do you do? I started my research as an undergraduate project, for course credit. The curator of paleontology at the Royal British Columbia Museum is an adjunct professor at the University of Victoria, where I was completing my degree. I had been volunteering with Dr. Arbour for a couple of weeks before March 2020. In September of 2020 she offered me a project that involved looking through some cabinets of cetacean fossils from Vancouver Island that had been collected over the last few decades. The fossils had never been evaluated nor published on. So I jumped in, and learned about fossils as I went. The fossils are from the Oligocene period, which is a geological time period that defines the time of about 23-33 million years ago. This is such an important time in whale evolution; it is the time where we see toothed whales and baleen whales diverging. Before this time, all whales were toothed, and hunted their food. But something happened in this time period where whales started to grow baleen plates in their mouth, and the fun part is that nobody is completely sure why! A really thrilling part of this work is that the fossils were found on Vancouver Island, where I live. My research is helping to contribute to the fossil record of the North Pacific, and putting Vancouver Island on the map to prove the importance of the fossil record here. Oligocene-aged whale fossils are not found everywhere in the world; there are only select geographic areas where fossils from this time period can be found easily, and it just so happens that one of my favourite beaches on the island is a prime fossil hunting location!

Through this project I did some outreach work through the museum; creating accessible learning material in different media types and presenting my research at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology conference in 2021!

I discovered this immense passion for public outreach and making science accessible, through this research project. That was what pushed me to start my podcast: Below the Tide. The goal of Below the Tide is to create a space in which marine scientists can share their research and stories in an accessible way to the public. We break down their research and chat about what their path and fieldwork looks like. I love the idea of bringing attention to so many realms of marine science, but also showing that scientists lead such remarkable lives.

Elizabeth sits at a table with her computer open, and three vertebrae fossils in front of her. She is wearing a mask, and has an open notebook in front of her with sketches of the fossils on her desk.
© Victoria Arbour

What is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science? I’ve always been into science, since I was a kid. My parents were in the science field, but they always encouraged me to follow my own path. My interest in science was different from theirs – I was really intrigued in the inner workings of ecosystems, and marine science. I moved across Canada from Montreal to Victoria to study marine science at the University of Victoria, and completed a bachelor’s degree in biology and earth and ocean sciences. Through my degree I got really interested in paleobiology, specifically cetacean evolution. My other interest in the scientific field really is science communication. I’m excited to see where my podcast takes me, and I hope making science accessible is something I can continue in.

How does your work contribute to the betterment of society in general? Paleobiology in general is really important for understanding ecosystem and organism evolution, and their responses to changes in the environment. Even looking at cetacean evolution; we can see there was an immense amount of diversity in cetacean populations about 33 million years ago. Today’s cetacean populations are commonly struggling in the face of climate change, and other anthropogenic influences.  We can use the past millions of years of changing climate to assess how populations today may face the current issues. The field of anything paleo related isn’t all about fossils; it also includes ancient climates, ecosystems, influences, changes, and so much more. I love how the realm of paleo is so collaborative and is just one big puzzle.

Five fossils sit on foam on top of a table. There is a large canon camera mounted on a tripod, facing them. Rulers and calipers are also on the table next to Liz’s computer.
© Elizabeth Rohlicek

What advice do you have for up and coming scientists? Take opportunities as they are presented to you, and reach out to people. I’m a believer in no opportunity is a waste of time, it definitely is a growing opportunity. If you start a volunteer position in a lab and realize you aren’t keen on lab work; you’ve learned something about yourself! Congrats! It means that you now know that a career or position in a lab may not be your cup of tea. And on the second point; reach out to people if you want to learn about their research. Ask questions, ask for potential volunteer positions, ask for career advice. The worst that will happen is that they will say no. So if you are interested in a certain field, find someone who is in that field and ask to connect. They are your most valuable resource. That way you can ask all the questions, ask for advice, and network.

Follow Liz’s updates on Twitter (hyperlink) and her podcast on Twitter (hyperlink) and Instagram (hyperlink)!

Blair Stuhlmuller, High School Science Teacher and Science Communicator

Blair standing in front of the Grand Canyon in Arizona on a family vacation.

I am a high school science teacher and love sharing my knowledge and passion about the natural world with my students and anyone who will listen. I specifically love marine science and geologic history. I currently teach a marine biology course and another course on the big 5 mass extinctions. Both of which I designed myself. I am hoping to branch out beyond just the four walls of my classroom and share the weird and wonderful world of science with others as a science communicator.

I dreamed of being a teacher for a very long time. I loved the idea of being a forever learner and working with the future generations. But I had no intention of being a science teacher until the end of my freshman year of college. I wanted to be a history teacher and was well on my way to getting all my prerequisites done when I took a freshman writing seminar on the History of the Earth. This class expanded my perception of what was history and left me fascinated with deep time, the evolution of life and landforms. I was hooked and set off to get a Bachelors of Science in Geology and Environmental Science. After undergrad, I got a Masters of Education and my Virginia teaching license and then proceeded to move clear across the country to the west coast to explore some of the tidepool studded coasts and more geologically active rocks of California and Oregon.

Blair looking cool while diving along a reef near South Caicos in the Caribbean and conducting coral health and biodiversity surveys.

Now I help inspire the next generation of scientists and planetary stewards. I believe that science is for everyone and do everything in my power to encourage others to give it a chance. You never know what class, lab or cool fact can send you spinning down a different path. The world needs more passionate scientists to answer the next level of questions and help solve the problems of tomorrow. 

When I’m not teaching, I’m typically nerding out on the latest Marvel movie, excessively reading for fun or exploring the beautiful Pacific Northwest. I’m always down for a good hike especially if it ends in a waterfall. I’m also PADI SCUBA certified and love exploring the world under the waves despite how cold the water gets. I do all of these things with my identical twin sister who has stuck with me through every step of my life so far.

Anna Geldert (she/her), Geobiology Undergraduate Student

background: greenery with trees and leaves and grassy area. foreground: Anna hugging a tree trunk and smiling. Tell us a little bit about yourself. Hi! My name is Anna Geldert (she/her). I’m from Minnesota, but I’ve spent the past year living in Vermont where I’m working toward my undergraduate degree at Middlebury College. In my free time, I enjoy reading, writing, practicing music, and playing volleyball on my college’s club team. I’m also a huge outdoor enthusiast, and I always look forward to camping, hiking, canoeing, or skiing with friends and family. Spending so much time outdoors as a kid is one of the factors that sparked my interest in the natural sciences in the first place, and the main reason I am so passionate about sustainability today. 

What kind of scientist are you and what do you do? Currently, I’m working toward a joint undergraduate degree in Biology and Geology. I’m fascinated by the way Earth’s natural systems function, and how they’ve evolved around the world and across geologic time. While I’m not totally sure what direction I want to go in this field, I’m ultimately hoping to pursue a career doing field research in relation to ecosystem response to climate and other anthropogenic change. 

What is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science? In many ways, my interest in science developed long before I took any classes or considered a career in the field. One of my biggest supporters is my dad, who is a physics teacher. Growing up, he always encouraged me to stay curious and frequently used me as a guinea pig for demonstrations he planned to do in class the following day. I also spent a lot of time camping and hiking as a kid, which sparked my interest in the natural sciences. My favorite part about science is that it allows me to spend time outside with lots of hands-on experiences. Seeing first-hand how something we learned in class presents itself in the real world is really gratifying and reminds me why I wanted to study science in the first place.

background: light blue sky with clouds and darker tree line. Foreground: Anna rowing a canoe on a calm lake

How does your work contribute to the betterment of society in general? I hope my work will be used to help human societies coexist with the Earth in a way that makes sense for both parties. For example, last year I studied the potential of using fungal mycelium as a sustainable option for treating acid mine drainage. I think Earth’s natural systems have a lot to offer, and studying them can help us better understand how to act sustainably in our own life. 

background: trail in a forest with bright green leaves and a brown trail. foreground: Anna dressed in hiking gear with binoculars.What advice do you have for up and coming scientists? Science can be whatever you want to make of it. It is such a broad field, and there are so many opportunities to tailor your education and research to something you’re passionate about. Personally, I wasn’t super interested in science until I was able to do more hands-on experiments and independent research.. That was when I realized I could apply interests I already had – such as sustainability and the outdoors – to actual scientific study in Geo-Biology. I would encourage future scientists to keep an open mind and use science as a means to explore whatever sparks their curiosity.

Michael Hallinan, Undergraduate Student

Tell us a bit about yourself. 
My name is Michael Hallinan, and I am currently an undergraduate student at Colorado School of Mines studying for a B.S. in Quantitative Bioscience and Engineering. Although I love science, I am also super passionate about painting, music, and esports! I have a huge fixation on international music and love to analyze the relationships between globalization and culture the same way I enjoy analyzing ecological relationships.

Person wearing a grey cap and yellow jacket in the foreground. In the background, there are tan rocks and mountains in the distance.
Hiking through the arches of Arches National Park, within Moab, Utah.

What kind of scientist are you, what do you do, and how does it benefit society?
My current focus in science is predominantly in biology, with an emphasis on computational methods to model and analyze biological data. While I’m still learning and progressing through my bachelor’s, my goal is to enter research regarding biotechnology and sustainability, with an emphasis on communication and making science more accessible to policy-makers and the general public. Information is one of the most powerful and freeing tools we can have as people, and my work will encourage solutions to our rapidly expanding sustainability issues as well encourage more people to engage with science. My most recent work was centered around investigating the power insecurity in Puerto Rico as a result of the hurricanes across the last decade, including educating and communicating the geopolitical landscape and data through various presentations.

What is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science?
I didn’t know what I wanted to do for the longest. I’ve had so many passions and was originally lined up to pursue a degree in the arts after winning an art award through the United States Congress. However, throughout secondary school, I was introduced to the concept of genetic modification and was completely fascinated by the potential of humans to understand and improve the world around us through genome editing. Soon after, I heard about the brand new Quantitative Bioscience program at Colorado School of Mines and just knew it was the perfect fit as I entered college.

As for my favorite part of being a scientist, it’s simply how what you learn begins to explain so much of the world around you. Whether it’s something as simple as the basics of plant growth or as complicated as the inner workings of recombinant DNA, all the information you learn helps you better engage with, understand, and appreciate the world around you.

A self-portrait, with a person with dark hair, red lips, and gold eyes against a background of varying shades of grey.
“Fragmentum” – The award-winning piece mentioned, a self-portrait investigating identity and how we present ourselves to the world.

What advice do you have for up-and-coming scientists?
My best advice is to not be afraid of not knowing. So often I used to be scared of what people would think about me asking certain questions or I wouldn’t want to do things because I wasn’t fully comfortable. I wouldn’t ask questions in lecture or I wouldn’t take a guess if I was not totally certain. Asking questions and engaging with what is uncomfortable is some of the best ways to learn and develop your capabilities both as a scientist, but also as a person. In my own experience, I have learned so much more from situations where I was uncomfortable. Taking the time to talk to those who know more than you lets you learn, grow, and even build up your network. So, take that opportunity you’re unsure of, ask your “dumb” question, be unafraid!