My name is Nora Fried and I’m a third year PhD student at the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research. I did my Bachelor “Physics of the Earth System” and my Master “Climate Physics: Meteorology and Physical Oceanography” at GEOMAR in Germany. This was also where I joined my first research cruises. My highlight so far was probably the chance to join the PAMARCMIP campaign to northern Greenland in 2018 during the last year of my Masters. An experience I will never forget.
I think my journey starts at the age of 10 when I joined a science project in primary school. I’m still grateful for my teachers during all those years in high school who supported my way into science and helped me getting prepared for university. At the end of my Bachelor I got the chance to join a research cruise on the RV Meteor to the tropics and a year later one on the RV Maria S. Merian to the subpolar North Atlantic. I remember that after this cruise my best friend said: “Do you remember that this has always been your dream to join an expedition on a boat and to see ice bergs?”. I’m glad she made me remember that by that time I had already reached one of my biggest dreams.
So, after years of studying I am very proud to call myself a physical oceanographer. I’m glad that I found a PhD project that suits me so well and gives me the opportunity to join cruises on a regular basis. Cruises are still one of my favorite parts in science. Most of my colleagues think that I work with models because I’m sitting in front of a computer most of the time. But as a sea going oceanographer I mostly work with observational data.
For my PhD project I’m studying a current in the North Atlantic which is a continuation of the warm and saline Gulf Stream. Observations in the ocean are still rare which makes a time series in remote places like the subpolar North Atlantic very valuable. Currents in the ocean are important for all of us as they impact the weather and climate. We use so-called ‘moorings’. They look like a necklace hanging upright in the water column with instruments attached to it, measuring temperature, salinity and velocity. With those observations we hope to get more insight into how the current is changing over time, and whether changes are an effect of climate variability or if they can be linked to climate change.
The pandemic made me realize that there are so many things more important than work. Friends and family who we as scientists don’t really see very often as we change location often in our career. I’m glad that I now have opportunity again to follow my hobbies: Singing and wheel gymnastics (or Rhönrad). During lockdown I went for long walks which helped my head calm down after a day of work.
My advice for the new generation in science is: Ask for help. Science is a tough environment and I wish it would be less competitive. So, I encourage everyone to ask for help when they are stuck. Being stuck is normal in science and asking for help should become more normal, too. And to make clear what I mean with being stuck. I’m talking about being stuck science wise when you need someone to bring a new perspective into your work. But not less important I’m talking about being mentally stuck. Work-Life-Balance in science is hard as we all feel emotionally involved in our work. Ask for help early enough, science is not the only thing life has to offer.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. My name is Alyssa Anderson, and I am an undergraduate student at the University of South Florida studying for a Geology and Environmental Policy B.S. I was born in New Jersey, but since Florida’s been my home since I was four years old, I consider myself more a Floridian. Outside of science, I enjoy world-building, writing, sewing, and reading. I think that’s part of why I enjoy geology so much, because I love creating worlds and making them geologically and scientifically accurate! But not completely, because I am a big fan of fantasy and fiction novels, so a little magic is fun, too.
What kind of scientist are you and what do you do? My path as a scientist leads me towards geology and the environment. Some of my major interests are hydrology and oceanography, but I am also very interested in other roles such as GIS and policy work. I am also beginning an internship managing climate change and climate data in some Florida counties, which fits in with my goal of being an environmental scientist.
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 the discovery. I love learning and being able to apply the knowledge I’ve learned into real-world applications is gratifying. I could study most any science field and be as happy as a clam because there is always something new for me to discover.
How does your work contribute to the betterment of society in general? My work in my current internship will benefit the Florida county I am assisting with, as it strives to understand and manage climate change impacts. It also gets students and staff involved in their local environment and brainstorming ways on how to solve some of the major environmental issues of our generation, i.e., climate change. Plus, it encourages more students to get into science and policy and I believe having a science background in a policy related field is extremely important for more well-informed laws and regulations.
What advice do you have for up and coming scientists? My advice for new scientists is this: spending some of your free time on hobbies you enjoy is a good thing. Sinking all of your effort and energy into studying without breaks will lead to burnouts and breakdowns. So, please, do take your time and don’t think that more work will lead to more results if you aren’t resting in between!
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Outside of science I enjoy reading manga, collecting Pokémon cards, and playing video games.
Describe what you do. I am an undergraduate researcher. I recently finished a project which involved entering geographic information of echinoderms (animals like and including sea stars, sea lilies, sea cucumbers, etc.) into a database so that we could analyze their biogeographic patterns (how the animals moved through time and space) in the geologic record.
I have done class visits with groups of fourth graders as a part of the Scientists in Every Florida School program to teach them about geology.
Discuss your path into science. I used to want to be a lawyer for as long as I can remember, but on my 17th birthday, I visited the American Museum of Natural History and was smitten with their dinosaur exhibits! After leaving, I was unsure if I wanted to continue pursuing a career in law, so I did some basic research of how much I could expect to make as a paleontologist (to make sure I could still support myself and a family) and decided to commit to the switch. After that, I have been pursuing dinosaur paleontology as best I can!
Discuss other scientific interests. I’m very interested in birds and reptiles, specifically snakes. If I couldn’t study nonavian (non-bird) dinosaurs, I would study one of those groups of animals in the fossil record. I’ve also become quite attached to crinoids since starting my undergraduate degree, so they would be my invertebrate pick!
How does your work contribute to the betterment of society in general? Hopefully, with the echinoderm geographic data that I’ve collected, we can better understand of echinoderm evolution through time as well as how they dispersed across the world over time.
I hope that I’ve convinced the classes I’ve visited that geology is a science that rocks! More than that, I also hope that I’ve made them more curious about how our world works, and to keep asking amazing questions and finding equally amazing answers.
Is there anything you wish you had known before going into science? Mainly, what classes I would have to take. In my case, I had multiple major options, but didn’t look too far into them. I’m very happy where I am now, although I’m sure there is an alternate universe version of me that is going down the biology route.
Have you received a piece of advice from your friends/mentors/advisors that has helped you navigate your career? I’ve gotten good advice about grad school. In particular, I should be reaching out to professors I would like to work with a good while before applications are due.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Hello, my name is Kaleb Smallwood, and I am an undergraduate geology student at the University of South Florida. My main geological interest is in paleobiology, but I am also interested in sedimentology, volcanic processes, and igneous rocks and processes within the field. Outside of academics, I enjoy role-playing games, both table-top games and video games, with a few favorites being Dungeons and Dragons and Persona 4. I play other types of both forms of game, but RPGs are by far my favorite genre with which to pass the time. On top of my love for video and table-top games, I am a massive anime fan. So, in summary, I am a gargantuan nerd.
What kind of scientist are you, what do you do, and how will it benefit society? As I mentioned previously, my focus in college is on paleobiology, and while I am not yet a fully-fledged scientist, my goal is to enter the field conducting research on dinosaurs and paleoecology after I obtain my PhD. Ecology is the study of the interactions of both biotic and abiotic factors with their individual ecosystems, and paleoecology simply focuses on ancient organisms. I hope to perform research on dinosaur paleoecology, studying their interactions with the environment to better understand their modes of life. In so doing, I plan to draw links between the ways in which these ancient animals lived and how modern analogs survive. In the process, I will be providing scientists and the public with a better idea of how dinosaurs lived, and, by extension, how modern animals live. Paleontology plays a crucial and often overlooked role in our knowledge, as understanding the past helps us better comprehend the present and predict future trends. For example, knowing how climate change affected the world and how it proceeded in the past allows us to understand what a large issue it is today and how it will impact our ecosystems. By the same token, understanding ancient ecological interactions has implications for current ones. Knowing how an apex predator such as Tyrannosaurus rex interacted with its environment, prey, and the carrying capacity of its ecosystem helps us understand how modern apex predators do the same today, for example.
How did you get interested in science? I have always had an interest in science, likely because I aspired to be like the odd and often socially awkward geniuses portrayed on television and in books in my youth. However, my interest in geology and paleontology specifically began in very simple ways. I have collected rocks since starting elementary school and identifying the rocks in my collection (which was very easy since I only ever picked up sandstone, quartz crystals, and limestone) brought me extreme joy. It felt like a unique form of science that only I could do, since I was the only weirdo in my classes interested in objects like rocks. As for paleontology, I was hooked the moment I read my first book about dinosaurs in 3rd grade. Seeing the pictures and reading about the interesting and distinct ways in which these animals of wildly ranging sizes went about their lives was enthralling, and that childlike whimsy never truly faded away.
What advice do you have for up and coming scientists? My advice, especially for scientists coming from minority racial groups, is to believe in your own capabilities and understand your own worth without needing acknowledgement from others. While praise is always nice, alternatively, sometimes people will immediately assume you to be inferior just by how you look. Challenge those biased expectations indirectly through your own brilliance and show that you are just as capable as those around you if not more so. Finally, remember that if you were truly inferior, you would not be in the position you are in.
Hi everyone! I am a postdoctoral candidate at the Geosciences Division, Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad, India. I have recently submitted my thesis and am now waiting for the final defense/viva. My primary research interest is in the field of biogeochemistry in different ecosystems (terrestrial and aquatic) using stable isotopes.
My current research revolves around the biogeochemical study of the early ocean during the late Neoproterozoic-Cambrian transition period. I obtained limestone rock samples from Marwar Supergroup (Rajasthan, India) and am extracting the remnant of ocean life (organic matter) from those rock samples for stable isotope analysis. I will use carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur isotopes of organic matter to address the outstanding questions about the early Earth’s biology and associated biogeochemical processes. I am a curiosity driven early career researcher, always motivated to learn new techniques/methods and gain knowledge that would help develop a better understanding of the Earth’s environment. To expand my expertise, I am also involved in various parallel works. In one of my ongoing projects, I am using black carbon in Himalayan lake sediments (produced during the partial combustion of biomasses) to decipher the paleofire events and vegetation history of the region. I am also involved in the establishment of the clumped isotope measurement of carbonate (speleothems) in our lab. Clumped isotopes are a newly introduced technique to reconstruct the temperature of the water body in which carbonate precipitates.
During my Ph.D., I have focused on the reconstruction of the Himalayan environment and lake biogeochemical evolution using stable isotopes in live- and paleo- lake sediments. My Ph.D. work has covered the last 45 ka of Himalayan environmental history and highlighted various extreme cold periods in the region. In one of the studied western Himalayan lakes, the carbon isotopes of occluded organic matter within diatom frustules have shown the influence of catchment geology on the lake carbon-biogeochemical cycle during 45-29 ka. The nitrogen isotopes of bulk sediments and carbon isotopes of authigenic carbonate and diatom in the western Himalayan lake sediments (Manasbal Lake, Kashmir, India) have shown the influence of climate on the lake stratification and associated biogeochemical cycles. Apart from the impact of natural stress, my Ph.D. also focused on the impact of the increasing human population and associated urbanization on the biogeochemistry of Garud Lake, Nainital, Uttrakhand during the last 70 years. This study has been performed using the stable carbon isotopes of organic matter and black carbon along with the nitrogen isotope of bulk sediments.
What is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science?
After receiving my high school degree, like any other kid from my village, I was told to go for an early job and get settled. But the rebel child under the guidance of a few wise cousins ended up enrolling for a Bachelor’s degree in Geology at a reputed Central University. Being an avid reader, I connected with the subject in no time. Geology turned out to be more than a mere paper, it took me back to my early village days where I would take several breaks from school to roam around the banks of Ghaghra River (A major tributary of the Ganges, that flows through Uttar Pradesh, India), along with my friends. The little observations made out of sheer curiosity, the colored rocks, the ripples on the sands, the meandering river, all of those childhood observations, all of those many questions and crazy theories made sense then. The time spent in the university and the several departmental field trips brought me a bit closer to nature. Looking at things, sedimentary structures to predict the dip and strikes, it was a fun journey of learning and falling in love with the subject.
I eventually followed the course and joined the Masters of Science with Geology as the major. Me and my batchmates were now quite familiar with academia. Like in several other Indian hostel dorms, famous for heated debates and loud late-night discussions we would often end up talking about the career ahead. I still remember that after several long hours, we did manage to agree on a single point, that the most beautiful element a career in research would constantly provide, was the uncertainty in the knowledge acquired and the constant pursuit for truth. For me, pursuing a scientific career means to be a curious student forever in the class of nature.
What advice do you have for up and coming scientists?
Based on my personal experience, I would encourage you to be patient, have faith in yourself, be bold and fierce, and always inspire yourself. In this profession, setting a major goal for a long period of time can be frustrating, so I propose defining small objectives for a day or a week and ticking them off as you move ahead. When you reach your objective, you will feel inspired and happy, which is necessary in our field. Another point I’d want to make is that you should be open to criticism, suggestions, and comments from people both inside and beyond your field of expertise. It aids us in our professional development.
Learn more about Abdur by following him on Instagram, Twitter (@shant_admi), and Facebook!
Hi all! My name is Werner de Gier, I’m a Dutch PhD candidate at the biggest natural history museum of the Netherlands, the Naturalis Biodiversity Center. My work focusses on the evolution of symbiotic crustaceans, specifically two families of crabs and shrimps. I did my Bachelor’s and Master’s degree at Leiden University, after which I got the opportunity to continue my work on crustaceans at the museum. Outside of research I’m a fan of taking pictures of everything nature brings together with my boyfriend: insects in the summer and spring, birds in the winter, mushrooms in the fall (and a bit of tide pooling all year though, of course). In addition, I enjoy making line-art illustrations of invertebrate animals, taking care of my many indoor plants, and helping people out validating observations on online nature platforms. So yes, I do take my work home, but I enjoy it!
I always have a hard time giving myself a label in science, but I do love the sound of a “carcinologist”, so someone who is studying crustaceans. However, I also check the boxes of a taxonomist, or evolutionary zoologist. My work focuses on the evolution of the adaptations of tiny symbiotic crabs and shrimps living in- and outside of various reef organisms. Think of bivalves, ascidians (sea squirts), but also on urchins, sea cucumbers, corals, etc.. Using specimens from Europe’s largest symbiotic crustacean collection at Naturalis, I study links between the ecology and the morphological adaptations of a group of species. Sometimes these adaptations are microscopic and I need to make illustrations or CT-scans in order to get all the details right. Combining newly constructed family trees with the morphological character states, I can place the host-choice and the linked adaptations of the studied shrimps or crabs in an evolutionary context.
I got into biology at a very young age, passively being taught quite a lot about nature by my parents. In my first year of my Bachelor’s, I fell in love with taxonomy, natural history, and invertebrates, namely snails, insects and crustaceans. Since Naturalis is well-known throughout the whole country, we as PhD candidates can get quite a lot of opportunities to showcase our research through the media, or in the museum itself. Although crustaceans are not as flashy as dinosaurs, or other charismatic megafauna, it’s still nice to tell the general public about marine biology, invertebrate research, and the diversity of so-called “cryptofauna” – hidden biodiversity. When I present my research, I’m always keen on showcasing a lot of tiny, beautiful and plain weird species of crustaceans, to inspire students, but also kids, to look more closely at nature around them. It helped me find my passion for science, so I hope I can help them as well.
Although my projects are now still stamped as “fundamental research”, I do believe taxonomy needs more attention due to its capability to show us there’s way more to discover in so-thought “well-studied” ecosystems. By studying the hidden biodiversity of coral reefs we can maybe even predict which species will adapt better to the changing climate and which species need to be protected. Symbiosis show us everything is connected, and how we are destroying this network between species. Without fundamental research we can’t properly understand which and how many species are playing their part in an ecosystem, so how can we protect them without that knowledge?
After my years at the museum, I think I can give out advice to all new students starting here. Mostly on writing tips, the peer-review process, and expectations management in science. But more important are the bigger live-lessons I learned: listen to your supervisors, but don’t let them tell you exactly what to do. I had some problems with focusing on just my research, by doing way too many side-projects in science communication. I listened to my supervisors, and now I’m not afraid to say “no” anymore. But this doesn’t mean I can’t do anything outside my own research. I still give lectures, do presentations at the museum, and work with people outside of my field of research. In addition, people kept telling me I should not bring my work back home, and you should never date someone who is also in science – but as long as it doesn’t feel like work but as a hobby, what’s there to worry about? My partner and I are both scientists, both really passionate about marine biology, and both massive nerds. We can talk about everything in and outside of science, creating a really nice environment without judgement.
I’m currently a third year PhD candidate in the Department of Geology at the University of Cincinnati. I completed my undergraduate degree in geology at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. My primary field of study is conservation paleobiology, which applies practices and methodologies of paleontology to the preservation and conservation of biodiversity and ecosystems.
How did you get interested in science in general? I spent a lot of my childhood in the Adirondack Park region of Upstate New York, an area in which continued environmental preservation and conservation is a priority. A degree in environmental or earth science was really appealing to me because of my connection with the Adirondacks. I was introduced to conservation paleobiology by my undergraduate research advisor. I love that this field combines the practice of conservation with the field of paleontology, as it connects my personal interests with work that is hopefully contributing to a broader positive impact.
What do you do? I study the headgear grown by female ungulates (hooved mammals). Headgear, like antlers grown by deer and horns grown by bovids, are typically thought of as something males use as a weapon or display when competing over mates. However, many different female ungulates also produce headgear, even though they don’t typically participate in mate competition like the males do. As a result, we don’t fully understand why female ungulates grow headgear, though it could be attributed to defense against predators, competition over limited food resources, or even as a visual mimicry of young male calves to deter against aggressive adult males. To better understand the evolutionary pressures driving female ungulate headgear growth, I focus on the antlers grown by female caribou.
Interested in learning more about this research? A part of this project was summarized in a Paleo News post!
What are your data and how do you obtain your data? A large part of my research relies on shed caribou antlers from the spring calving grounds of the Porcupine Caribou Herd in Alaska. These antlers have been collected over the course of about 8 years, using surveys completed across the area where female caribou give birth each year. Female caribou shed their antlers within days of giving birth, so calving grounds accumulate years and years of primarily female antlers. I’m interested in the consumption of these shed antlers by female caribou. When animals bite or gnaw a bone, they often produce characteristic bite patterns on the surface of the remaining bone. I evaluate those bite marks that we see on antlers and other bones to determine what kind of animal (carnivore, rodent, or caribou) has consumed that bone. This helps us to understand the diets of different animals, including caribou, as well as how they might compete with other animals over available bone resources.
What is your favorite part about being a scientist? My favorite part about being a scientist is that I get to ask really interesting questions. I think there’s a misconception that science is all about generating answers. However, I have found that projects and papers are most exciting when they create even more questions than we had before. It’s very rewarding to find one of those new questions that frames your work in a slightly different perspective and allows it to evolve. I also love brainstorming about these big questions with my peers. Everyone has a different set of skills and expertise, so even an hour long conversation with a group of excited collaborators can advance a project by huge leaps!
What advice do you have for aspiring scientists? I would suggest that you read as much as you can about the topics that interest you, whether it be in books, scientific journals, blog posts by other scientists etc. Really critically evaluate each piece, write down questions you have, interesting methodologies used, or ideas that are sparked. Finally, if you consistently connect with research done by a specific scientist or lab group, I would reach out to them and ask to talk about your questions or their work in general. Most scientists I know are very enthusiastic when someone takes an interest in their work, and would be more than happy to help you reach your personal goals, whether that be learning about a new topic or pursuing a degree or career in their field.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Hi! My name is Blandine, and I am a master’s graduate in vertebrate paleontology. I specialise on dinosaurs (taphonomy, histology). I did my geology bachelor’s degree in Lille (France) with an Erasmus+ mobility in Tomsk (Russia), followed by a master’s degree in paleontology done in Lille for the first year, and an Erasmus mobility in Bonn (Germany) for the second, with my master’s thesis. Outside of paleontology, I am interested in modern Japanese literature, gothic fiction, taking care of plants and animals. But to be honest, I’m having the most fun when I’m in a museum!
What kind of scientist are you and what do you do?My career is only beginning, and I like to try out everything related to paleontology.
For my master’s thesis, I had a research project on green-colored dinosaur bones from Utah (USA). The remains belonged to several diplodocines (large long-necked dinosaurs), and an unusual fossilization turned them green. Histology (study of bones microstructures) is a technique which has many uses, one of them being the determination of the age of an animal by the observation of its bone tissues. This method is particularly useful in bonebeds where dinosaur remains have been mixed because of river flows (for example). Through the observation of bone sections under the microscope, I could determine that the diplodocine remains came from animals of different ages, which meant several dinosaurs’ carcasses were mixed in the quarry.
Before that, during my bachelor’s, I learned dinosaur bone preparation in the vertebrate paleontology laboratory of the Tomsk State University. It’s a tedious work, but you really learn a lot by preparing the fossils by yourself. There are so many details you can miss when you observe a bone taken out of its context! The surrounding sediments, the geometry of the deposition, the state of preservation of the remains… all those clues are very important when doing a paleontological investigation! I see things in this way: a vertebrate paleontologist is often like a medical examiner in a murder case. When the body is removed from the crime scene, they are able to tell the cause of death, but not who killed the victim. To get the whole picture, we need the crime scene as well. For paleontologists, this corresponds to the quarry/bonebed, or at least the sediments around the bones. This is what field excursions, and thorough documentation on excavations are for!
During the bachelor years I had in Lille, I worked as a curating assistant for the geology department of the Museum of Natural History, and helped organising several public outreach events, giving talks on the need of paleontology in our societies to understand today’s climate emergency.
A few months ago, I helped dismantling the “Big, Bigger, Dinosaurs” exhibition at the Museum Koenig in Bonn, and returning to this kind of environment after a 3 years break felt really good. Since then, I occasionally help setting up and dismantling exhibitions around dinosaurs, and it is so much fun! (PS: I created an instagram account to try to share the behind the scenes of dinosaur research and exhibitions… @dinosaurs_forensics 😉 )
What is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science? When I was a child, I developed an interest for bones early on. I would collect bones and skulls from diverse animals I would find in the fields, clean and sort them in different categories. As my mother thought this was a horrible hobby for a little girl, she got rid of my collection as soon as she found out it was not a short-lived interest. I then moved on to snail shells, but this collection was really stinky, and ended up in the trash like the former one. To me, keeping those bones and shells were like preserving memories of what once was. I wanted to understand what had happened to those animals, and their remains were a way to find out. One day, a friend of my parents showed them a plant fossil. It was a trace of a thing that lived in the past, it was beautiful, did not stink.. and my parents liked it? From that moment on, I started asking questions about fossils and collecting them. My dad brought me to the Museum of Natural History in Lille, and there I could show my treasures, get answers about them, and see which stories could be uncovered through fossil remains. I decided I would become a paleontologist one day. Growing up, I received a great support from my dad, one museum curator, and three school teachers who encouraged me to follow my passion, despite everyone around saying that I would “never make it” in paleontology.
My favorite parts about being a scientist are to question the current knowledge, go on field excursions to look for fossils in places where nature has been untouched, and also try to close the gap between scientists and the public. In the same way older people made me want to do paleontology and pushed me to follow my dreams, I want to transmit the knowledge and will to understand our world to younger generations. I love speaking to kids, grandparents, families who want to know about what was, and what extinct forms of life can tell us about our present and future.
How does your work contribute to the betterment of society in general? Dinosaurs make kids and adults dream and wonder, and even if this field of paleontology can be considered as “less meaningful” regarding climate change than micropaleontology as an example, I like researching about them just for the sake of knowledge. Why did they look this way? What were their habits? Why were they so big?
I believe there is nothing wrong in trying to answer questions which do not appear as “useful” for today’s societies. All questions deserve to be answered. On the other hand, understanding dinosaur’s ecology, biology, environment and habits definitely help us refine the knowledge we have about evolution and other aspects of the living.
Dinosaurs are also useful in another way: as they are part of the worldwide pop-culture, they are very often the first step into paleontology for many people. Through dinosaurs, it is possible to speak to people about fossils, geology, evolution, extinction events. As a result, for public outreach, scientists (including me) use them as an introduction to topics such as climate change. That’s why so many scientific articles use “dinosaur” in their title, even when those animals are not involved in the paper.
What advice do you have for up and coming scientists? “Do or do not. There is no try.” if you want to do science, go for it. Do your best, always, and if it does not work, you won’t have any regrets because you did all you could to make it happen. And when obstacles will come along the way, never forget that for each problem there is a solution. If you have passion, you will get to meet similar-minded persons who will help you reach your goals, and you will end up finding your spot in this field.
If you are a LGBTQ+, disabled, POC or woman-identifying person: there is space for you in science. Together, we should and will make this environment a safer place, where we all can grow equally. We need diversity, please don’t give up on your dreams.
Hi! I’m Danijela, a first year PhD student at FAU University Erlangen-Nürnberg in Germany. I am from Serbia, but I have been living in Germany since 2018 when I started a master’s degree in Paleobiology at FAU.
What kind of scientist are you and what do you do? My research is all about corals and reefs through time. I study the evolution of scleractinian corals also known as stony corals, from the time when they first appeared in the mid Triassic, around 250 million years ago until today. I am so happy to be working on these super organisms because everything about them is fascinating – their biology, ecology, and geology. They build coral reefs in shallow tropical seas which harbour the highest diversity of organisms in the ocean. They also live in a mutually beneficial relationship with tiny algae which perform photosymbiosis while living within the coral’s soft tissue and provide corals with 90% of necessary nutrients. Corals are also hunters at night, and some of them can live at depths of thousands of meters. Unfortunately, their future fate and the fate of many organisms that live on reefs and depend on them are also affected by the climate change and other anthropogenic disturbances such as pollution and overfishing. I could talk for hours about how cool are corals and reefs they form, and how we need to do everything we can to keep them from disappearing, so I have been lucky that this semester I have been given the opportunity to teach the course on geobiology of reefs to our Master students (in English of course!).
For my research, I am particularly interested in how their morphological characters changed through time and if their extinction risk was related to changes in their traits. For example, in my Master thesis I looked at changes in corallite diameter through time. Corallite is a skeletal cup in which the coral polyp sits. The size of the corallite could be related to their efficacy of obtaining nutrients and I was interested to see if this change was related to major warming events or reef crises in Earth’s history. This would help us predict their future fates under global warming scenarios. For this kind of research, we used datasets such as the one we created by collecting data from the literature into the database called ART which stands for Ancient Reef Traits. This database has been built for the past two years by the team of scientists at Paleo group at FAU and soon will become available to everyone.
How did you become a palaeontologist? Unlike many paleo people, my story of getting into the paleo world is untraditional one. I wasn’t into dinosaurs when I was little, and I didn’t even know much about palaeontology until a few years ago. However, I always loved nature and all its wonders, and have been fascinated by both the biology and Earth’s history. In high school I was also interested in social sciences and languages so choosing a bachelor’s degree was very difficult for me. It was one of the hardest decisions I had to make because at the time I believed that I would have to be forever stuck in the chosen field. But I actually switched fields several times. I started by studying a bachelor’s degree in environmental science at University of Belgrade in Serbia. Then, I did a master’s degree in applied ecology (IMAE) which was funded by the Erasmus Mundus scholarship program, and it meant that I had to change universities during the two years. It was one of the best experiences of my life – not only did I get the opportunity to study at Universities in France and Portugal, but I have also met many amazing people and made friends for life. Within this program we got to go on a month-long field trip in Ecuador and experience and study different ecosystems. From hiking at 4000 meters in the Paramo ecosystems in the Andean mountains, over living in the heart of the Amazonian rainforest, to swimming with hammerhead sharks in the Galapagos Islands. After all these experiences I was sure I wanted to be a scientist. My master thesis was about the diet of Antarctic penguins (no, I didn’t get to go there) and at the time I was in search of a PhD program where I could get the opportunity to go to the Antarctic and study penguins. However, during that search I also stumbled upon several palaeontology projects, and I was simply drawn to it. Palaeontology as a field offered so much more than contemporary ecology – it was the intersection of ecology, biology and geology and many other fields and it felt just right for me. Since I didn’t have any formal education in palaeontology, I wanted to learn more about it. So, to the shock of many I decided not to do a PhD, but to do another master’s degree in Paleobiology. It was maybe one of the hardest decisions I made and it set back my scientific career by a few years, but it was definitely the right one! I am now grateful to myself that I was brave enough over the course of years to follow my heart and change fields!
What advice do you have for up and coming scientists? My message to young prospective scientists is that it’s never too late for anything in life and especially not for pursuing your passion. I still believe that having to choose a career path when you are 19 years old (or even a bit older) is way too early. So, give yourself a time if you need to explore your interests. Most importantly, don’t allow yourself to be stuck in a box – being interdisciplinary and having many different skills are the great advantages for a scientist. So, believe in yourself and just follow your own path, because doing what you love is the greatest reward of all.
Hi! My name is Haley and I’m an undergraduate researcher at the University of Florida (UF) pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Microbiology and Cell Science. Before transferring to UF, I received my A.A. from Santa Fe College.
What do you do? I perform research in the field of astrobiology, the study of whether extraterrestrial life exists, and if it does, how might humans detect it. A common strategy for determining whether a planet used to, or currently does, contain extraterrestrial life is to look for biosignatures. A biosignature is anything that provides scientific evidence of past or present life. Rocks on Earth are commonly used for testing and validating biosignature detection strategies. However, rocks on Earth don’t perfectly match up to the rocks we would see on other planets, specifically Mars. One of the differences between the rocks on Earth and the rocks on Mars is that the rocks on Mars’ surface are much older (> 3.5 Ga) than those on Earth’s surface. This major age difference brings into question how accurate our Earth-sourced Martian analogs are. In order to address this question, my research focuses on how effective a specific biosignature detection strategy called tetramethylammonium hydroxide (TMAH) thermochemolysis is at detecting organic molecules in rocks ranging from 1.1-3.2 Ga.
My research directly supports multiple NASA astrobiology missions; however, its biggest impact is seen when interpreting the data gathered by NASA’s Curiosity rover which landed on Mars in 2012. Curiosity has performed TMAH thermochemolysis on Martian rocks and the data from this experiment has been downlinked back to Earth. My research directly helps the scientists at NASA interpret this TMAH thermochemolysis data.
What advice do you have for aspiring scientists? Understand and accept that science requires perseverance. Nothing about science is easy, but if you can persist in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success, you will go a long way.