Hey, I am Rinu Fathima, a second year Ph.D. student from National Institute of Oceanography, India. I am originally from Kerala, a beautiful coastal state in India and currently lives at Goa which is also along the coast. Lucky me. I am a dreamer, thinker, crazy about movies and love spending time reading novels or watching sunsets.
My research focuses on understanding past monsoon patterns using microfossils preserved in the ocean. Among the different microfossils that are present in the ocean I specifically make use of single celled, very beautiful, and extremely diverse organisms called foraminifera. Despite being so small the amount of information these organisms can share is huge. Both their shell morphology and composition tell a lot about the environmental conditions in which they lived. This aspect is used to understand past climate. I am particularly interested in a climatic event called mid-Pleistocene transition event that occurred between 1200 to 750 ka. Before this transition Earth’s glacial cycles followed obliquity dominated cyclicity and after this they changed to eccentricity dominated cycles. What caused this change in periodicity of glacial cycles is still a debated topic in the scientific community. I am very much excited about what results my research beholds about this mystery time interval.
I cannot really recall myself wanting to be a scientist from a very young age. I was good in school which made me believe I should pursue science. Later, I enrolled for Bachelors in Geology. Even then, I was not very much aware of what I was stepping into. But things took a quick turn later. The field visits during the course, practical classes, workshops everything excited me. The best thing was getting to travel all around the country as a part of the field work. The science suddenly felt personal. Later I joined for my masters in Pondicherry University. This was a beautiful ocean facing campus, where I learnt the different research potential of geology and an interest in oceanography. When COVID struck I was preparing for exams to get into Ph.D. during which I read a lot of books on Oceanography. By the time I qualified my exam I was a hundred percent sure on the topic in which I wanted to do my research. Yes, you guessed it right, Oceanography.
I feel connected to my research because I think I can make an impact. Coming from an agrarian country that depends heavily on monsoon, I believe understanding monsoon is very important. To have better predictions and climate models the past studies with well-defined forcing/response and boundary condition information is very crucial.
I always felt that I should have joined the field and identified my passion a bit earlier, but I am really grateful that I found it even if a bit late. Right now, I feel like getting paid for doing something I love. My advice to anyone working in science will be to enjoy the process, that’s what I have been told by my supervisor and I have never been happier.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Hello, my name is Josh Abbatiello. I have a Bachelor’s of Science in geology and am currently a PhD. Candidate (geology as well) at the University of South Florida. I’m a huge fan of movies, – my favorite genre is horror (I don’t think I can pick a favorite, so be prepared for a long conversation if asked). I also love watching T.V. and anime. If I had to pick, Breaking Bad may be my favorite T.V. show and I can’t possibly pick a favorite anime. I’m an avid Sci-Fi and fantasy reader. Isaac Asimov is my all-time favorite author, and I am on a constant mission to collect all of his physical books. I’ve been a cat person my whole life and currently have two cats: a tortoiseshell named Reina and a black cat named Nefertiti. Since middle school, I’ve played trombone. I performed in the marching band throughout high school and college. I don’t play as much as I would like to. Being a band nerd has heavily influenced my music tastes. I love to listen to literally any kind of music. Due to having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), when listening to music, I tend to analyze different facets of the music (e.g., why people like it, time signature, and meaning of the lyrics). I have the tendency to do this with all forms of media. Thank you for reading and getting to know a little about me.
What kind of scientist are you and what do you do? In the broadest sense, I’m a biogeochemist. I use techniques of biology, geology, and chemistry to understand the element phosphorus. I study how phosphorus pertains to the origin of the earliest molecules billions of years ago and its immense importance to us today. I also relate that information to determining potential for life on other planets.
What is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science? My favorite thing about being a scientist is getting to think about questions that we don’t know and working towards solving them as a scientific community. My path to getting interested in science came from a young age. My stepdad would rent the Carl Sagan (a famous astrobiologist who pioneered the field of exobiology) version of Cosmos on VHS from the library, and I became enamored with space. His ability to teach and connect to a wide audience in a way that inspired many including myself. I believe it’s important to be able to communicate with and inspire the next generations.
How does your work contribute to the betterment of society in general? I believe that working towards unanswered questions such as the origin of life betters society. This research provides a framework for possible environments of life on other planets, while providing a better understanding of how humans came to exist on Earth. I’m a part of the Scientist in every Florida school (SEFS) and Skype- a- Scientist programs where they give scientists the chance to reach students and hopefully inspire them to pursue a career in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (S.T.E.A.M). One of my goals is to encourage students with learning disabilities (like myself) that they can do anything neurotypical people can. Growing up, my mom didn’t really believe in diagnosing issues. As such, looking back after my adult diagnosis, I had all the hallmark signs of ADHD and unfortunately constantly heard “If you tried harder or applied yourself” comments from teachers and even siblings. These comments would send me into a spiral of depression and anxiety. Even so, with mental health treatment and gaining a support system in my adult life, I was able to work through my depression and anxiety. I’m soon going to be graduating with my PhD.
What advice do you have for up and coming scientists? As cliché as it sounds, you can do it. Persevere and don’t give up. The world of science is huge, and you can mix and match disciplines to match your interests, like how I have mixed biology, geology, and chemistry. Stay inquisitive and never stop learning. It’s never too late or early to pursue what you’re passionate about.
Hello! My name is Alex Corsello and I recently graduated from Binghamton University studying Biology and Earth Science. I’m originally from Virginia, but grew up in Katonah NY, about an hour from New York City (yes there are dirt roads). Additionally, I will be staying at Binghamton to pursue my Masters of Arts in Teaching Earth Science. I am a big fan of hiking, running and baking. While not in the lab I have visited over 100 national parks across the United States, ranging from Yosemite to a tiny house on the corner of a street in Philadelphia.
I am a paleontologist who studies foraminifera, or forams for short, particularly within the Miocene Period (roughly between 5 and 23 million years ago). My research specifically focuses on determining two things. First, where does the foram species Globoquadrina dehiscens live in the water column in a mid-latitude site? Second, can G.dehiscens be used as an indicator for past ocean temperatures conditions? Samples are taken from cores drilled through the International Ocean Discovery Program, washed and then picked by size for the particular species that I am studying. Then, using the shell of the organism my samples are sent to Hamilton College, where they are analyzed for both oxygen and carbon isotopes. These isotopic ratios help to provide a picture of the temperature of the water where the organism lived and how productivity there was in the region where this was taking place. Thus it becomes possible to reconstruct ocean conditions. The goal of our lab is to help determine how ocean conditions changed in response to various climate variables in the past in order to best predict how they might change again under a warming climate.
I have always been a bit of a nature nerd… I went to ecology camp starting in first grade. But growing up I always thought I would be a historian. This changed when I took Biology in high school and I became fascinated with how life works. Every part of life, even if it seems really distant, is connected in some way and I think that’s really cool. I started as a Biology major and after taking my first geology class as part of my Biology degree I was hooked. I have been working on earth science research ever since. My favorite part of science is getting to tackle real world problems and to try to make a positive difference for others through your work. You never know what idea could be the key to a big discovery or the tool that solves a pressing problem. There is also something incredibly magical about getting people interested in science. The excitement that comes with learning is infectious and watching those who may have previously been adverse to science start to connect is really powerful.
Take risks- That seemingly crazy idea that you came up with while on the toilet at 3 am may help define your path. A lot of the time, yeah, you’ll fail. But it is those few experiences where you succeed that can help to define your path both as a scientist and human being. They are what lead to more opportunities and a whole host of new people and places. Also don’t be afraid to use your resources. There are people who are in your corner who will be there to advocate for you. Don’t be afraid to get their help. You will be much better off for it.
My name is Quinton Vitelli-Hawkins, and I am an adjunct instructor at the University of South Florida (USF). I received my Bachelor’s of Science in Geology and a minor in Astronomy in 2020 and my Master’s of Science in Geology in 2022 from USF.
I have always had a love for space. Initially, I wanted to be an aerospace engineer designing rockets that would take us back to the Moon and eventually to Mars. However, in my first semester at USF, I took a course called “History of Life” where I discovered the field of astrogeology and found my passion.
As an undergraduate, I worked in Dr. Matthew Pasek’s astrobiology lab with Chris Mehta, a former USF graduate student, on the ability of meteors to deliver organic compounds to Earth. I assisted in calculating the minimum velocity necessary for a carbonaceous asteroid to enter the atmosphere of the Earth. We discovered meteors only provide trace amounts of organic matter to the surface and other processes (i.e., hydrothermal vents) are most likely responsible for many of the organic constituents necessary for life on Earth.
My master’s thesis focused on ice deposits in lava tubes in west-central New Mexico as archives of past volcanic eruptions and climate change. Currently, the Southwest is experiencing a “megadrought” phase. My thesis had an important objective: is the current megadrought plaguing the Southwestern United States a result of anthropogenic (i.e., human) warming? To answer this question, I conducted field work at El Malpais National Monument in New Mexico where I extracted a 1.1 m long ice core from a lava tube. I then melted the ice and transported it to the USF geochemistry lab, where I conducted geochemical analytical techniques (stable isotopes, tracer elements) to unravel the Southwest’s paleoclimate. The ice also contained charcoal deposits from Ancestral Puebloans that used it as a source of drinking water during precolonial droughts. By examining past droughts and determining their possible causes, I am potentially able to learn how significant human factors may be causing the current megadrought. Trends in the Southwest’s paleoclimate record demonstrate that the Southwest should be undergoing a period of wetter conditions from stronger summer rains; however, the current megadrought suggests this is possibly being inhibited from occurring by anthropogenic effects. Furthermore, the ice in the lava tubes at El Malpais is rapidly depleting, making their examination a priority.
I am also a member of the Scientist in Every Florida School (SEFS) Program in which every couple of weeks I speak with primary and secondary education students about what I do. I feel it is extremely important to make an impression on children in the American education system of the importance that science has in today’s world and help inspire them to pursue a career in STEM.
I plan on pursuing a career in planetary science and eventually obtaining a PhD so I can work for a NASA research center or academic institution, and my ultimate goal is to be an astronaut.
When I am not working, I am most likely playing or watching hockey. I have been playing since before I can remember, and my favorite team is the Nashville Predators. Additionally, since I currently live in Florida, I have the privilege of seeing rocket launches. I typically take the perilous trek on I-4 from Tampa on the west coast to the Kennedy Space Center on the east coast at least once a month to catch one. Some of the memorable launches I have been to are the Space X Crew Demo-2, STS-133, Curiosity, and Artemis I.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. I have a Bachelors in Marine Biology and love to admire nature and the fascinating designs evolution and the planet have produced. I do art in my downtime, specifically painting, although I have interests in ceramics, woodworking, and sculpture. Most of my inspiration for art comes from interesting animals or landscapes. Swimming, snorkeling, and hiking are things I love to do given the opportunity. I like to write, discuss philosophy, and have been a martial artist for over ten years.
What kind of scientist are you and what do you do? I am a Geology Master’s student at the University of South Florida, Tampa. I study food webs in aquatic environments and the transfer of different nutrients and metals between fish species. I am interested in using geochemical methods and data to look at ecological relationships. Specifically, I analyze tissue samples and look at proportions of different compounds to determine what level of predator they are and how quickly those chemical signals can change over time. I am also hoping to incorporate computer programming into my research by developing data processing code that can be used by any researchers using similar data.
What is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science? My favorite aspects of science are the creative challenges associated with it, such as experimental design and problem solving, and the opportunity to constantly be learning new things. In environmental science, there are multiple fields that intersect including biology, chemistry, geology, physics, ecology, and so on—in my research, I am constantly reading and learning about these things as part of my job. I was always interested in science as a kid, and specifically ocean life. Curiosity about how those organisms lived and what determined how much or how little we knew of them made me want to study science.
How does your work contribute to the betterment of society in general? I am hoping that the methods I am studying for my thesis can be applied to a variety of fields, including future geochemistry work, conservation biology, and fisheries management. One advantage to the geochemical methods I use, which include mass spectrometry, is that small sample sizes can be used. This means that we can monitor live fish populations without using lethal methods. The techniques are being studied with fish populations, but these can hypothetically also be applied to other biological systems, to medical research, and to different subfields of geology.
What advice do you have for up and coming scientists? My biggest advice for other people (like me) who are beginning or early-on in their academic careers would be to focus on what you find interesting, even if you don’t have the ability to study that right away. Part of that drive or curiosity, in my mind, is critical to long-term success in science. My second piece of advice would be to learn as many skills as possible. Outside of books and coursework, knowing things like knowing how to use hardware tools or how to write computer code can be very useful. Knowing PVC plumbing can help with knowing how to put together an aquarium for study animals—and it’s stressful to only be learning it once the skill is needed immediately. Diversity in experience is also something that generally helps with confidence and being able to find a place to make yourself useful.
In 2017, I began my academic journey majoring in Political Science and International Affairs at Florida State University. Throughout this time, I learned how ingrained politics is in every aspect of our society and how important it is to get involved in civic duties such as voting and researching legislation on major social and fiscal issues. A significant part of politics involves the country’s history as well, which was required curriculum taught by several courses including American History, Protests in America, European History, and International Affairs. These courses taught critical material about the oppression and discrimination that has shaped the legislation still in existence today targeting all minority groups living in the U.S. These courses helped to dismantle unconscious biases and stereotypes that help us become more educated voters in the future. My courses also focused on the processes of the U.S. government system, as well as how the U.S. interacts with other countries and global entities. This is especially important when it comes to global issues where it is crucial for all states, countries, and territories to work together. In this day and age, one of the most pressing and time-sensitive issues of all is climate change.
In 2021, I decided to take my political science background and apply it to a master’s degree in Environmental Science and Policy at the University of South Florida. Above all, I realized that my passion has always been to protect and conserve the planet’s biodiversity and natural ecosystems. I knew how much policy determined either the protection or destruction of the environment, and I made it my goal to use my background to be on the side of preservation and restoration. Since then, I have begun my third semester of graduate school and have learned about environmental policy, conservation in urban environments, geology, remote sensing, and environmental ethics and philosophy.
This summer, I also had the opportunity to spend two months working with the Student Conservation Association in Yellowstone National Park. During my time there, I volunteered alongside a National Park Service conservation crew replacing a bridge with sustainable materials. The purpose of this is to ensure that people can appreciate nature in a safe way for both themselves and the wildlife and minimize impacts to areas outside of the trails. I plan to continue pursuing these opportunities that expand my knowledge on best practices for environmental policy and learning first-hand from the most experienced people in the field. These experiences have only augmented my appreciation for this field, and I hope to build a career in conservation in Florida upon graduation next May.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.