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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Hi all! My name is Werner de Gier, I’m a Dutch PhD candidate at the biggest natural history museum of the Netherlands, the Naturalis Biodiversity Center. My work focusses on the evolution of symbiotic crustaceans, specifically two families of crabs and shrimps. I did my Bachelor’s and Master’s degree at Leiden University, after which I got the opportunity to continue my work on crustaceans at the museum. Outside of research I’m a fan of taking pictures of everything nature brings together with my boyfriend: insects in the summer and spring, birds in the winter, mushrooms in the fall (and a bit of tide pooling all year though, of course). In addition, I enjoy making line-art illustrations of invertebrate animals, taking care of my many indoor plants, and helping people out validating observations on online nature platforms. So yes, I do take my work home, but I enjoy it!
I always have a hard time giving myself a label in science, but I do love the sound of a “carcinologist”, so someone who is studying crustaceans. However, I also check the boxes of a taxonomist, or evolutionary zoologist. My work focuses on the evolution of the adaptations of tiny symbiotic crabs and shrimps living in- and outside of various reef organisms. Think of bivalves, ascidians (sea squirts), but also on urchins, sea cucumbers, corals, etc.. Using specimens from Europe’s largest symbiotic crustacean collection at Naturalis, I study links between the ecology and the morphological adaptations of a group of species. Sometimes these adaptations are microscopic and I need to make illustrations or CT-scans in order to get all the details right. Combining newly constructed family trees with the morphological character states, I can place the host-choice and the linked adaptations of the studied shrimps or crabs in an evolutionary context.
I got into biology at a very young age, passively being taught quite a lot about nature by my parents. In my first year of my Bachelor’s, I fell in love with taxonomy, natural history, and invertebrates, namely snails, insects and crustaceans. Since Naturalis is well-known throughout the whole country, we as PhD candidates can get quite a lot of opportunities to showcase our research through the media, or in the museum itself. Although crustaceans are not as flashy as dinosaurs, or other charismatic megafauna, it’s still nice to tell the general public about marine biology, invertebrate research, and the diversity of so-called “cryptofauna” – hidden biodiversity. When I present my research, I’m always keen on showcasing a lot of tiny, beautiful and plain weird species of crustaceans, to inspire students, but also kids, to look more closely at nature around them. It helped me find my passion for science, so I hope I can help them as well.
Although my projects are now still stamped as “fundamental research”, I do believe taxonomy needs more attention due to its capability to show us there’s way more to discover in so-thought “well-studied” ecosystems. By studying the hidden biodiversity of coral reefs we can maybe even predict which species will adapt better to the changing climate and which species need to be protected. Symbiosis show us everything is connected, and how we are destroying this network between species. Without fundamental research we can’t properly understand which and how many species are playing their part in an ecosystem, so how can we protect them without that knowledge?
After my years at the museum, I think I can give out advice to all new students starting here. Mostly on writing tips, the peer-review process, and expectations management in science. But more important are the bigger live-lessons I learned: listen to your supervisors, but don’t let them tell you exactly what to do. I had some problems with focusing on just my research, by doing way too many side-projects in science communication. I listened to my supervisors, and now I’m not afraid to say “no” anymore. But this doesn’t mean I can’t do anything outside my own research. I still give lectures, do presentations at the museum, and work with people outside of my field of research. In addition, people kept telling me I should not bring my work back home, and you should never date someone who is also in science – but as long as it doesn’t feel like work but as a hobby, what’s there to worry about? My partner and I are both scientists, both really passionate about marine biology, and both massive nerds. We can talk about everything in and outside of science, creating a really nice environment without judgement.
I’m currently a third year PhD candidate in the Department of Geology at the University of Cincinnati. I completed my undergraduate degree in geology at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. My primary field of study is conservation paleobiology, which applies practices and methodologies of paleontology to the preservation and conservation of biodiversity and ecosystems.
How did you get interested in science in general? I spent a lot of my childhood in the Adirondack Park region of Upstate New York, an area in which continued environmental preservation and conservation is a priority. A degree in environmental or earth science was really appealing to me because of my connection with the Adirondacks. I was introduced to conservation paleobiology by my undergraduate research advisor. I love that this field combines the practice of conservation with the field of paleontology, as it connects my personal interests with work that is hopefully contributing to a broader positive impact.
What do you do? I study the headgear grown by female ungulates (hooved mammals). Headgear, like antlers grown by deer and horns grown by bovids, are typically thought of as something males use as a weapon or display when competing over mates. However, many different female ungulates also produce headgear, even though they don’t typically participate in mate competition like the males do. As a result, we don’t fully understand why female ungulates grow headgear, though it could be attributed to defense against predators, competition over limited food resources, or even as a visual mimicry of young male calves to deter against aggressive adult males. To better understand the evolutionary pressures driving female ungulate headgear growth, I focus on the antlers grown by female caribou.
Interested in learning more about this research? A part of this project was summarized in a Paleo News post!
What are your data and how do you obtain your data? A large part of my research relies on shed caribou antlers from the spring calving grounds of the Porcupine Caribou Herd in Alaska. These antlers have been collected over the course of about 8 years, using surveys completed across the area where female caribou give birth each year. Female caribou shed their antlers within days of giving birth, so calving grounds accumulate years and years of primarily female antlers. I’m interested in the consumption of these shed antlers by female caribou. When animals bite or gnaw a bone, they often produce characteristic bite patterns on the surface of the remaining bone. I evaluate those bite marks that we see on antlers and other bones to determine what kind of animal (carnivore, rodent, or caribou) has consumed that bone. This helps us to understand the diets of different animals, including caribou, as well as how they might compete with other animals over available bone resources.
What is your favorite part about being a scientist? My favorite part about being a scientist is that I get to ask really interesting questions. I think there’s a misconception that science is all about generating answers. However, I have found that projects and papers are most exciting when they create even more questions than we had before. It’s very rewarding to find one of those new questions that frames your work in a slightly different perspective and allows it to evolve. I also love brainstorming about these big questions with my peers. Everyone has a different set of skills and expertise, so even an hour long conversation with a group of excited collaborators can advance a project by huge leaps!
What advice do you have for aspiring scientists? I would suggest that you read as much as you can about the topics that interest you, whether it be in books, scientific journals, blog posts by other scientists etc. Really critically evaluate each piece, write down questions you have, interesting methodologies used, or ideas that are sparked. Finally, if you consistently connect with research done by a specific scientist or lab group, I would reach out to them and ask to talk about your questions or their work in general. Most scientists I know are very enthusiastic when someone takes an interest in their work, and would be more than happy to help you reach your personal goals, whether that be learning about a new topic or pursuing a degree or career in their field.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Hi! My name is Blandine, and I am a master’s graduate in vertebrate paleontology. I specialise on dinosaurs (taphonomy, histology). I did my geology bachelor’s degree in Lille (France) with an Erasmus+ mobility in Tomsk (Russia), followed by a master’s degree in paleontology done in Lille for the first year, and an Erasmus mobility in Bonn (Germany) for the second, with my master’s thesis. Outside of paleontology, I am interested in modern Japanese literature, gothic fiction, taking care of plants and animals. But to be honest, I’m having the most fun when I’m in a museum!
What kind of scientist are you and what do you do?My career is only beginning, and I like to try out everything related to paleontology.
For my master’s thesis, I had a research project on green-colored dinosaur bones from Utah (USA). The remains belonged to several diplodocines (large long-necked dinosaurs), and an unusual fossilization turned them green. Histology (study of bones microstructures) is a technique which has many uses, one of them being the determination of the age of an animal by the observation of its bone tissues. This method is particularly useful in bonebeds where dinosaur remains have been mixed because of river flows (for example). Through the observation of bone sections under the microscope, I could determine that the diplodocine remains came from animals of different ages, which meant several dinosaurs’ carcasses were mixed in the quarry.
Before that, during my bachelor’s, I learned dinosaur bone preparation in the vertebrate paleontology laboratory of the Tomsk State University. It’s a tedious work, but you really learn a lot by preparing the fossils by yourself. There are so many details you can miss when you observe a bone taken out of its context! The surrounding sediments, the geometry of the deposition, the state of preservation of the remains… all those clues are very important when doing a paleontological investigation! I see things in this way: a vertebrate paleontologist is often like a medical examiner in a murder case. When the body is removed from the crime scene, they are able to tell the cause of death, but not who killed the victim. To get the whole picture, we need the crime scene as well. For paleontologists, this corresponds to the quarry/bonebed, or at least the sediments around the bones. This is what field excursions, and thorough documentation on excavations are for!
During the bachelor years I had in Lille, I worked as a curating assistant for the geology department of the Museum of Natural History, and helped organising several public outreach events, giving talks on the need of paleontology in our societies to understand today’s climate emergency.
A few months ago, I helped dismantling the “Big, Bigger, Dinosaurs” exhibition at the Museum Koenig in Bonn, and returning to this kind of environment after a 3 years break felt really good. Since then, I occasionally help setting up and dismantling exhibitions around dinosaurs, and it is so much fun! (PS: I created an instagram account to try to share the behind the scenes of dinosaur research and exhibitions… @dinosaurs_forensics 😉 )
What is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science? When I was a child, I developed an interest for bones early on. I would collect bones and skulls from diverse animals I would find in the fields, clean and sort them in different categories. As my mother thought this was a horrible hobby for a little girl, she got rid of my collection as soon as she found out it was not a short-lived interest. I then moved on to snail shells, but this collection was really stinky, and ended up in the trash like the former one. To me, keeping those bones and shells were like preserving memories of what once was. I wanted to understand what had happened to those animals, and their remains were a way to find out. One day, a friend of my parents showed them a plant fossil. It was a trace of a thing that lived in the past, it was beautiful, did not stink.. and my parents liked it? From that moment on, I started asking questions about fossils and collecting them. My dad brought me to the Museum of Natural History in Lille, and there I could show my treasures, get answers about them, and see which stories could be uncovered through fossil remains. I decided I would become a paleontologist one day. Growing up, I received a great support from my dad, one museum curator, and three school teachers who encouraged me to follow my passion, despite everyone around saying that I would “never make it” in paleontology.
My favorite parts about being a scientist are to question the current knowledge, go on field excursions to look for fossils in places where nature has been untouched, and also try to close the gap between scientists and the public. In the same way older people made me want to do paleontology and pushed me to follow my dreams, I want to transmit the knowledge and will to understand our world to younger generations. I love speaking to kids, grandparents, families who want to know about what was, and what extinct forms of life can tell us about our present and future.
How does your work contribute to the betterment of society in general? Dinosaurs make kids and adults dream and wonder, and even if this field of paleontology can be considered as “less meaningful” regarding climate change than micropaleontology as an example, I like researching about them just for the sake of knowledge. Why did they look this way? What were their habits? Why were they so big?
I believe there is nothing wrong in trying to answer questions which do not appear as “useful” for today’s societies. All questions deserve to be answered. On the other hand, understanding dinosaur’s ecology, biology, environment and habits definitely help us refine the knowledge we have about evolution and other aspects of the living.
Dinosaurs are also useful in another way: as they are part of the worldwide pop-culture, they are very often the first step into paleontology for many people. Through dinosaurs, it is possible to speak to people about fossils, geology, evolution, extinction events. As a result, for public outreach, scientists (including me) use them as an introduction to topics such as climate change. That’s why so many scientific articles use “dinosaur” in their title, even when those animals are not involved in the paper.
What advice do you have for up and coming scientists? “Do or do not. There is no try.” if you want to do science, go for it. Do your best, always, and if it does not work, you won’t have any regrets because you did all you could to make it happen. And when obstacles will come along the way, never forget that for each problem there is a solution. If you have passion, you will get to meet similar-minded persons who will help you reach your goals, and you will end up finding your spot in this field.
If you are a LGBTQ+, disabled, POC or woman-identifying person: there is space for you in science. Together, we should and will make this environment a safer place, where we all can grow equally. We need diversity, please don’t give up on your dreams.