Gail Christeson, Marine Geophysicist

Time Scavengers is collaborating with the International Ocean Discovery Program Expedition 390/393 to showcase the scientists recovering sediment and rock cores, and conducting science at sea! Click here to learn more about IODP, and visit the Research Vessel JOIDES Resolution website here to read more about the drillship. To learn more about IODP Expeditions 390 and 393, click here!

You can follow the JOIDES Resolution on Twitter @TheJR, on Facebook @joidesresolution, and on Instagram @joides_resolution!


I am a marine geophysicist that studies crustal structure. I use techniques that allow us to image the subsurface to study topics such as how ocean crust is formed or what an impact crater looks like in three dimensions. My favorite instruments are ocean bottom seismometers – we drop these off the side of a ship and they record sound waves that travel through the earth. Later we send a signal to each instrument and it lifts off the seafloor for recovery.

I was part of a team that acquired site survey data in the South Atlantic for IODP expeditions 390 and 393. These data allowed us to choose the best sites to recover both sediments and basement rocks. It is very exciting to see the drill cores from the sites we picked! The cores provide the ground-truth that allows us to better interpret our geophysical data over the South Atlantic region.

Image of a woman in slacks and a green shirt standing between rows of ocean equipment- bright yellow seisomemters with red flags sticking out of the top.
Gail with her favorite instruments – ocean bottom seismometers.

A previous project I was involved in was studying the Chicxulub impact crater which formed 66 million years ago when a meteorite struck at the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico; effects from the impact led to the extinction of the dinosaurs. When I first started out as a research scientist I was part of a team that acquired geophysical data over the Chicxulub structure and confirmed that it was an impact crater. More recently I was in the scientific party that drilled into the structure and recovered rocks from the impact crater!

Growing up I was always interested in science but didn’t know much about earth science. In high school I received information about applying for a scholarship to study geophysics – which I learned was studying the physics of the earth. Once I took my first geophysics course and discovered plate tectonics I was hooked! After graduate school I became a research scientist at the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics (UTIG) where I worked for almost 28 years. I recently took a position as a Program Director at the National Science Foundation in the marine geology and geophysics program. I now get to manage the review process for proposals to conduct cool science all over the world’s oceans!

My biggest hobby is soccer. I love going to see Austin’s new soccer team Austin FC, and my favorite way to spend a Saturday morning is to grab a breakfast taco and watch Premier League soccer matches. I also enjoy reading science fiction and fantasy and watching movies.

Gail is currently a Program Director at the National Science Foundation in the Division of Ocean Sciences; she is also a Research Affiliate at the University of Texas Institute for Geophysics. You can follow Gail on Twitter @glchristeson.

Jeffrey G. Ryan, Petrologist/Geochemist (“Hard rock” geologist)

Time Scavengers is collaborating with the International Ocean Discovery Program Expedition 390/393 to showcase the scientists recovering sediment and rock cores, and conducting science at sea! Click here to learn more about IODP, and visit the Research Vessel JOIDES Resolution website here to read more about the drillship. To learn more about IODP Expeditions 390 and 393, click here!

You can follow the JOIDES Resolution on Twitter @TheJR, on Facebook @joidesresolution, and on Instagram @joides_resolution!


I’m Jeff Ryan, a Professor of Geology in the University of South Florida’s School of Geoscience.  On IODP Expedition 393, I’ll be sailing as an Inorganic Geochemist.  It’s my third IODP research drilling cruise, all sailing this role.

Dr. Jeff Ryan on the JOIDES Resolution during Expedition 366, which drilled rocks and sediments from the northwest Pacific Ocean.

In terms of geology subspecialty I’m a “hard-rock” geologist, as I mostly work on igneous and metamorphic rocks.  My research primarily focuses on subduction zones, where Earth’s tectonic plates head down deep-sea trenches and cycle back deep into the Earth’s mantle. I study subduction chemically, using key trace elements and isotopic ratios to understand how the old, cold, wet ocean crust reaching deep sea trenches changes as it subducts, and how fluids and melts driven off subducting plates change nearby mantle rocks and lead to volcanism at island arcs, and even at oceanic hotspots like Hawaii or Iceland.  My interest in Expeditions 390-393, which will drill sites in the south Atlantic, nowhere near a subduction zone (!!), is to better understand how the composition of ocean crust changes as it ages, and so what the differences are between the young seafloor subducting beneath the Cascades, and the very old crust going down beneath the Lesser Antilles, or the Mariana Islands in the Pacific.

In my courses at USF I use the ocean drilling research I’m doing directly in teaching our Geology students. My Junior-level Mineralogy/Petrology course has for the past six years examined unusual volcanic rocks from the Izu-Bonin subduction zone that I helped recover as a Shipboard Scientist on IODP Expedition 352.  The students made some very cool discoveries about the minerals and textures in those samples, which led to a recent student-authored scientific paper in the journal American Mineralogist (Scholpp et al 2022).   I hope to do something similar for my future students with Expedition 390-393 basaltic samples.

People come to geology a bunch of different ways, I’ve found.  In my case it was a childhood interest in rocks and minerals, combined with a penchant for creative writing.  Geology is at its core a storytelling science: we divine and tell the “stories” behind the places in the Earth that we examine.  When I encountered the science fully for the first time, as a Freshman in my first undergraduate college course at Western Carolina University, it was a perfect fit.  I’m looking forward to helping tell the story of how the south Atlantic Ocean crust formed and evolved as part of IODP Expedition 393.

Colin Boisvert, Paleontologist (in training)

Describe your hobbies and interests outside of science. I am an avid reader both in non fiction related to paleontology, evolutionary biology, a lot of different scientific subjects in general and fantasy, science fiction and some other fiction. A few of my favorite authors include Pierce Brown, Christopher Paolini, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Frank Herbert. I am also a huge nerd when it comes to a lot of popular media franchises such as Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, MCU, DCU and  Ghostbusters to name a few and quote movie lines all the time. I am a big costumer and have built my own Mandalorian armor among other costumes such as  the First Avenger Captain America  and Obi Wan Kenobi. I love to hike with friends, swim, and travel to new places (especially those with paleo stops).  I love spending time with my family and friends and am a big foodie.

Colin sitting next to a neck vertebra in a room full of bones.
Me in the middle of taking photos of a cervical (neck) vertebra from my specimen in the North collections at the BYU Museum of Paleontology as part of the photogrammetry process. This process is used to make 3d models of the neck bones for my specimen of Apatosaurus excelsus.

Discuss anything else about yourself that you’d like to share that doesn’t have to do with your career. I grew up in the Silicon Valley in Northern California which shaped my love for paleontology and my love of some of my hobbies. I spent a lot of time outside, especially as my Grandparents moved when I was younger to the Santa Cruz Mountains where I fell in love with the forests there. Much of my family lives in Northern California and I have remained close with all of them.  I love meeting new people, especially other scientists! 

What is your role? I am a Vertebrate Paleontology Graduate Student working towards my Masters in Geology focused on Vertebrate Paleontology at BYU. Currently that just makes me a Mr. Boisvert but working towards eventually becoming Dr. Boisvert! I am currently working with Sauropods and specifically the neck biomechanics of Apatosaurus excelsus to understand more about how this animal held its neck and what the species’s possible feeding envelope was.

Do you conduct outreach? I would love to get into more outreach with school age kids here in Utah. I was an education intern this past summer at the Mammoth site in Hot Springs, South Dakota and loved it! However nothing is set up at the moment, so the only science outreach I communicate on is with my fossil Friday posts! 

Colin holding up a cast of an Allosaurus skull.
The BYU Museum of Paleontology recently had professional shots done with photographers from campus using some of the specimens on display. This is a favorite shot of mine illustrating a pose similar to the classic Alas poor Yorik pose from Shakespeare with a cast of the skull of Big Al ( famous specimen of Allosaurus jimmadseni). While I do love studying sauropods, Allosauroids will always have a special place in my heart.

What is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science? My favorite part of being a scientist is getting to work to uncover the past every day and sharing my discoveries with people.  I get some of the greatest joy when I get to give tours or share what I have learned about prehistory and learning that while doing research is an equally amazing feeling. Having conversations about current topics in the field of paleontology is an exciting prospect that I always look forward to at conferences or over zoom. I became interested in paleontology at a young age, took earth science, biology, and chemistry in high school. From high school, I attended UC Davis where I did a double major in biology and geology. I had a status year where I was a tutor and then worked as a Mammoth Site Intern in the summer of 2021 and since August of 2021 have been working on my Masters at  Brigham Young University.

Besides paleontology, I love learning more about geology, evolutionary biology, phylogenetics and biogeography in general. I also enjoy learning more  about the history of different sciences including paleontology, geology, and the theory of evolution. Besides my project I would love to tackle scientific questions relating to the Mid-Cretaceous Sauropod Hiatus where we don’t see Sauropods in North America and Europe for between 25-30 million years in the fossil record.  I would love to help close the gap between the transition of Dinosaur fauna in Western North America between 95-80 million years ago as well as what dinosaurs lived in Appalachia, the Eastern half of  North America. Finally it would be interesting to test comparisons between famous North American faunas like that at La Brea Tar Pits vs the Morrison Formation and what similarities in ecological roles there are between the two ecosystems.

How does your work contribute to the understanding of evolution and paleontology? My work contributes to paleontology through how this research with Apatosaurus can help us more with understanding this sauropod’s neck posture and range of motion. By understanding how this animal moved and what it fed on, we can better understand the Morrison environment in one small aspect. At the time of my specimen, we have 5-7 large coeval sauropod species and by understanding the diet of this species we can begin to piece together the puzzle of how all these animals were able to coexist. The specimen I am studying is unique as it does not suffer from several of the problems plaguing sauropod neck studies such as bone distortion and incompleteness of specimens.

Colin standing outside of the BYU Museum on a snowy day, with snow covering the pines and cars behind him.
Me standing right outside the BYU Museum of Paleontology where I have conducted most of my research so far ! It has a world-class paleontology collection and is a fantastic place to visit.

How does your outreach contribute to or benefit society? Fossil Friday posts such as mine  are important for helping to engage those connected to scientists through social media, spreading information about unique species, specimens and collections that  are out there and providing recognition of the work that is done in our field and localities people should visit. A smile put on someone’s face learning about the past today, can inspire a budding scientist for tomorrow.

What advice do you have for up and coming scientists? Science is rough and not always a 9-5 job. It may require early mornings/late nights but the work is worth it and there is such an amazing feeling you get when you can present research at a conference and talk with colleagues about what you are studying. I wish I had known that jobs are difficult to come by as are graduate student positions so working really hard helps with being more competitive when applying to positions. Reading scientific papers is important for developing a good understanding and field vocabulary.

Have you received a piece of advice from your friends, mentors, or advisors that has helped you navigate your career? Looking for a variety of programs can help with applying to graduate school, publishing is very important and problem solving is key for scientists. I also learned two key tips for investigating possible graduate programs. 1, it is very important that you and a possible adviser can get along and will you get along if you attended there. 2, are they studying similar organisms/using techniques you wish to learn about so they can help you more when you have trouble with projects.  Making an attempt to establish contact with a potential advisor before applying is a great way to build a relationship with them and can help with your application. It can be as simple as having a zoom meeting to discuss their research lab and interests.

Learn more about Colin by following him on Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn

Aaron Avery, Biostratigrapher

Tell us a little bit about yourself.  My name is Aaron Avery, and I am a geologist who specializes in calcareous nannofossil biostratigraphy. I spent 6 years working as a biostratigrapher in the oil and gas industry, often working offshore on oil drilling installations in the Gulf of Mexico. More importantly, I am a father of one beaming sunray of a 4-year-old girl named Jori. I love spending time showing her around the world and cultivating the same curiosity and wanderlust that has gripped me my entire life. I’m a nerd at heart who loves science fiction and fantasy, but that never stops me from enjoying a great day outdoors; fishing, going to the beach, and hiking are always on the table. My love for adventure led me to sail with an NSF funded science outfit known as the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program (IODP). As I write this, I am currently sailing for the second time. With IODP, you get the experience of a lifetime through deep ocean drilling where you recover cores of sediments and basic rocks that are unique to the world. It is pure, unadulterated science for two months. I don’t have enough room here to talk about all of the reasons why sailing with IODP is amazing, so I’ll say this: it is the most incredible scientific experience of a lifetime where you will meet brilliant scientists, make connections, and try to answer some questions about the Earth’s mysteries. For anyone who has the stomach for being on a ship and away from home for two months, I highly recommend it.

This photo is staged in a diner. You can see Halloween decorations in the background. The people in the image are a mid-30s white male with glasses and a beard. A four-year-old white girl sits to his right, making a silly face in the picture. The little girl is wearing a Halloween costume of a black cat. They are father and daughter.

What kind of scientist are you and what do you do? I’m a trained biostratigrapher who specializes in calcareous nannofossils, which are tiny marine algae that calcify shells around their cell(s). I got my MS in Geology from Florida State University and used my micropaleontology specialty to land a job with a consulting firm working as a biostratigrapher for oil companies. The company was based in New Orleans, LA, which was a lot of fun, but the rigor of having to go offshore to an oil platform on a day’s notice, missing holidays, and missing important milestones in my daughter’s life really wore on me. The solution was to move to Tampa, FL and start my PhD at the University of South Florida. I’m hoping to combine my knowledge of biostratigraphy and paleontology with a more advanced background in marine geology and paleobiology to study long term climate fluctuations and turn that into informative research for conservation purposes.

What is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science? My favorite part about being a scientist is always having an interesting question to try to answer. That is also the most difficult part of science for me. I have an incredibly hard time deciding which project should receive priority. I just want to study anything, take advantage of any opportunity that comes my way. I’m interested in climate science, broadly. My specific focuses are biostratigraphy, climatology, stable isotope geochemistry, evolution, conservation paleobiology, and marine geology.

My path into science included a lot of change of major forms. I began my college career as a biology major with the idea that I would go to vet school. After a year, I was lured into being an English major by my love for writing. From there, I thought I would follow in my mother’s footsteps and become a high school teacher, so I added an education major to my program. Just one semester passed, and I quickly realized this was not the path for me. In the meantime, I had been doing very well in Earth science elective courses and fell in love with Earth science. I switched my major to geography with a focus on environmental science and picked up a geology minor for good measure. That is where I found my true passion. I decided I would start applying for graduate school and pursue a masters in geology. After a year of rejections, I finally landed a spot at Florida State University where I would earn my MS in geology with a focus on micropaleontology.

A picture of a large ship. The ship is blue and you can see that it is named the ‘Joides Resolution’. To the right of the picture (stern of the ship) you can see a helicopter pad. Towards the bow of the ship, you see a large derrick rising towards the sky. The derrick is where all the drilling equipment is set up for use.

How does your work contribute to the betterment of society in general? I mentioned above that I worked in the oil industry as a biostratigrapher. This contributes directly to the production of fossil fuels to keep society running. However, this was always a means to an end, and after a while I wanted my work to be more meaningful than whatever the current price of a barrel of oil happened to be. This led me to start a PhD at the University of South Florida and focus on conservation paleobiology: research that will help me (hopefully) directly inform policy makers and the public about the best practices for preserving our world. I also hope to be able to provide unique insight and perspectives on biologic change through time that will help us make impactful decisions that have real positive impacts on the environment.

What advice do you have for up-and-coming scientists? If you want to be a scientist, my best advice is to never stop asking questions, and never be afraid to be wrong. Cultivate a passion for learning and discussion that allows you to be open minded in all facets of your career. Understand that science isn’t always glorious and that sometimes you have to grind to get to the things/answers you are passionate about. It may sound cliché, but network in whatever way is comfortable for you and cultivate relationships as they will bring opportunities to your doorstep. 

Never succumb to imposter syndrome—you deserve to be here as much as anyone, and you earned it! As I write this, I’m sailing for the second time with the Integrated Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) and everyone, absolutely everyone, is brilliant. It was daunting the first time I sailed, but I learned on my first expedition that intelligence isn’t something to be afraid of, or to compare yourself to, it is a lifeline to a world of possibilities and learning. Everyone has something wonderful to offer, and you will too!

A mid-30s white male wearing a light brown long-sleeve shirt, a black and gray striped knit hat, glasses, and a blue surgical mask. He is standing over a core section of sediment drilled from a deep ocean basement. He is sampling this core using toothpicks in order to make smear slides.

 

Nora Fried, Physical Oceanographer

Hi everyone!

Picture 1: Poster presentation at Ocean Sciences in San Diego 2020
Image credits: Femke de Jong

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. 

Nora working on a research vessel
Picture 2: CTD work on board RV Pelagia in summer 2020
Image credit: Elodie Duyck

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.

Nora working on a research vessel in yellow rain gear and an orange helmet
Picture 3: Cleaning instruments after recovery on board RV Pelagia 2020
Image credit: Elodie Duyck

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.

Follow Nora’s updates by following her @fried_nora or https://norafried.de/

Alyssa Anderson, Geologist

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. 

A white woman with short dark hair stands in front of a stream filled with large, flat rocks, smiling up at the camera. She is dressed for hiking and stands in the stream on a sunny day.
Figure 1: Hiking through the mountains in North Carolina, overjoyed at finding a stream filled with wonderful rocks.

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. 

A group of students pose near some rocks, two girls and a guy. The girl in the middle is white with short dark hair. The field surrounding the rocks is wide and open, with mountains in the distance.
Figure 2: On a geology field trip with some Mineralogy and Petrology friends, near part of the Appalachian Trail in Virginia. I am the dashing figure in blue posing by the rocks.

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!

Ohav Harris, Undergraduate Geology Student

Ohav sitting in gravel in a museum exhibit under a T. rex.
Me with Stan the Tyrannosaurus rex at my internship at the Wyoming Dinosaur Center.

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!

A dinosaur skull in rock with the sclerotic ring highlighted in purple.
The sclerotic ring (highlighted in blue) is a bony structure found in the eye of some dinosaurs and all modern-day birds. I am very interested in studying what those rings did for dinosaur eyes and how they developed. (source: ecomorph.wordpress.com)

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.

Fossil sea lilies embedded in rock.
A crinoid fossil. I have been researching the geographic distribution of these ancient sea lilies and other echinoderms, like sea stars, and I thought this was a very nice fossil to show how neat they are! (source: fossilera.com)

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.

Kaleb Smallwood, Undergraduate Geology Student

A 20-year old African American male (me) wearing a blue beanie, black shirt and wristband, a watch, headphones, and a turtle necklace looking down at his turtle with dark green and yellow stripes.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.

An African American male (me) smiling at the camera. His face fills most of the image, and he wears a blue beanie and red shirt.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.

Abdur Rahman, Biogeochemist

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.

Man and girl in a lab with a yellow wall, looking at vials.
Trying to explain what we do in our lab to a 6th grade student on National Science Day (NSD) in GeoSIL, Physical Research Laboratory. (We were posing for the pic.)

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.

Man walking in a shallow lake holding a tube, with cloudy sky in the background.
Taking a break to pose for photographs during sample collection for the biogeochemical study.

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.

Three men in a lake, with their heads just above the blue water, with a blue, clear sky in the background.
Getting relaxed and enjoying the lake with my lab colleague after completing the sample collection.

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!

Werner de Gier, Carcinologist (Crustacean biologist)

Werner in the foreground of the museum where he works with signage in the background.
Werner stands in front of the Naturalis Biodiversity Center, three banners in the Progress Pride patterns can be seen in the background.

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. 

A shrimp in the foreground as an example of camouflage.
An example of a camouflaged symbiotic shrimp species, the Caribbean Periclimenes perryae, living between the arms of a basket star (a brittle star). Image credit: Charles Fransen.

 

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.

Image depicting the author on a TV interview.
Werner is kneeling next to a screen, where the “Jeugdjournaal” (Kid’s news) can be seen. Werner is visible on the screen in an interview.

 

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? 

 

Werner in his work setting. microscopes and specimen jars are on the desk indicating he is working on these specimens.
Werner de Gier in the Naturalis labs, a microscope and various jars filled with crustaceans can be seen on the desk.

 

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. 

Take care!

– Werner

Two people in the foreground taking a picture of themselves with mountainous terrain in the background.
Werner stands in front of a mountainous area, together with his boyfriend Jeroen.

You can follow Werner’s updates on Twitter or Instagram @Werner_degier