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.