Eleanor Shippen, Anthropology B.A. Undergraduate Student

Background: A tree line and body of water in the far back. Closer up there is a wooden bridge with a rocky shoreline with a few people and some equipment. Foreground: Eleanor smiling in a headband and wearing waders holding a small stone artifact
A bilface lithic I uncovered while wet screening at the 2022 UVic Archaeology Field School in Barkley Sound, British Columbia.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Hello! My name is Eleanor Shippen (she/her). I’m a fourth-year student from Nashville, Tennessee studying anthropology at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada. My interests include public history, ecology, and applied anthropology. I am a huge history buff and an avid fan of state and national parks. When I’m not hiking or reading every single interpretive sign at these parks, I am adding another cancellation stamp to my national park passport; so far, I have over sixty! In my free time, I enjoy volunteering in the Victoria community, visiting my local library, collaging, and getting cozy at home with a good cup of tea.

What kind of scientist are you and what do you do? Throughout the duration of my degree, I’ve had several incredible opportunities to engage in various scientific fields. These include archaeology, archival preservation, marine ecology, and ecosystem restoration. As an anthropology student, I have taken classes in biological anthropology, environmental history, biology, archaeology, artifact curation, and medical anthropology. These have introduced me to a wide range of scientific focuses and applications. I am fascinated by the close relationship history and science have and all of these experiences have highlighted how interconnected those fields can be. In the last year of my undergraduate degree, I am hoping to examine how historical knowledge can be utilized in educating the public on natural landscapes through my coursework and volunteering. While my goal to earn an M.A. degree in Public History situates my career more within the history field, I aim to continue my involvement in ecological and environmental studies in my work. I would love to see how community science and public history could be further incorporated together in education.

What is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science? My parents encouraged me and my sister to be curious and explore the world around us from a young age. Their support on family camping trips, during our visits to science centers, and when I entered my middle school magnetometry project into my state science fair gave me the confidence to take A.P Environmental Science in high school and continue exploring science into my undergraduate. I would recommend every college student take at least one science class in their first year – it helped me contextualize the required classes for my degree. I have a love for learning and getting outdoors that has led me to a variety of amazing, hands-on experiences in science. The part I love the most about being involved with science is the joy that comes with engaging holistically with the natural world and sharing your knowledge with others. Experiential learning in nature has changed how I think about the relationship between humans and the world, but it’s also shown me how enjoyable getting involved can be. For myself, this looks like volunteering at a local nature sanctuary, taking hikes with my friends and family, and practicing shinrin-yoku (forest bathing), the Japanese concept of immersing oneself in nature to relax.

Background: a cloudy blue sky with the rolling Appalachian mountains covered in green. Foreground: Eleanor standing on a grassy knoll with arms spread wide smiling.
Myself at Roan Mountain State Park while participating in the 2018 Governor’s School for the Scientific Exploration of Tennessee Heritage.

Do you engage in community science? How does your work contribute to the betterment of society? As a student, I would categorize the majority of the scientific work I have participated in as community science. My contributions have allowed scientists to continue their research and have helped ecosystems thrive. It has also shown me I have the ability to help make tangible change. In an ideal world, science benefits both the academic community and the world. I have been privileged enough to have participated in projects that have worked to accomplish that goal.

This summer I participated in the UVic Archaeology Field School in Barkley Sound, a collaborative project between the University of Victoria, the Tseshaht First Nation, Parks Canada, and Bamfield Marine Science Centre. While archaeology was the project’s focus, our professors and Tseshaht representatives brought Tseshaht history, a respect for the lands and ecosystems we excavated within, and considerations of colonialism’s impact to the forefront of our work. This intentional contextualization of our archaeological efforts changed how I approached my goals for the field school. I realized I was one part of a larger, impactful, and uniquely collaborative five-year project. During the six weeks of the field school, my peers and I endeavored to help Tseshaht First Nation community members expand their knowledge of their history and land while also assisting archaeologists studying the Barkley Sound region and the Pacific Northwest as a whole. The report I wrote summarizing my excavation unit throughout the project’s duration will be kept by the Bamfield Marine Science Centre for use by future researchers. This incredible experience inspired me to learn more about the natural history of Vancouver Island, which led me to volunteer at the Swan Lake Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary in Victoria, B.C. Each week I remove invasive plants and restore ecosystems in the sanctuary while discussing conservation and wildlife science with fellow volunteers. I wouldn’t consider my involvement in scientific fields to be the cause of any substantial betterment of society. I do, however, believe significant change is made possible by individuals coming together and doing the best they can the most they can to help, and I try to do just that every day.

What advice do you have for up and coming scientists? My go-to piece of advice about college is that it is what you make of it – I would say the exact same about science. During the completion of my degree, I’ve learned a multitude of life lessons that will help me in my future career and the rest of my life. Here are a few: get involved and stay involved, continue to ask questions, and you should always give intention and critical thought to whatever you are doing. Remind yourself what inspired/interested/got your heart pumping about science and hold onto that! It will help guide you through wherever you are in your life.

Ella Halbert, Undergraduate Student, Biology and Hispanic Studies B.A.

I’m holding a praying mantis found near the biological station where I completed my research.

Hello! My name is Ella Halbert (she/her/hers) and I’m from Nashville, Tennessee. I am a fourth year Biology and Hispanic Studies major at Oberlin College in Oberlin, OH. I’m interested in disease ecology, epidemiology, and human health. Outside of academics, I love doing anything outdoors, particularly playing sand volleyball and going on hikes. I also sing in an a cappella group and am part of a traditional Japanese Taiko drumming group.

My favorite part about being a scientist is getting to explore questions that interest me. I’m a very hands-on learner, so research has been a great way for me to learn about the world. My most recent research began in the summer of 2022 with a National Science Foundation funded Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at Mountain Lake Biological Station (MLBS) in Pembroke, VA. I was drawn to Dr. Chloé Lahondère’s work with mosquito thermal biology and interactions with plants and herpetofauna because of the wide possibility for projects. I joined a project that examines the interaction between Culex territans, a mosquito species present throughout the Northern Hemisphere, and its amphibian hosts. That’s right, this mosquito species feeds exclusively on amphibians (and the occasional reptile), and it couldn’t care less about humans!

Horton Pond was one of my sample sites at Mountain Lake Biological Station.

More specifically, I studied the interactions between Cx. territans mosquitoes and their frog hosts to determine what diseases they vector in that environment. So far, my work has focused on their potential as vectors of the Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) fungus, which causes chytridiomycosis, a deadly disease, in amphibians. The chytrid fungus is responsible for the decline of amphibian populations around the globe, so understanding how this disease is spread in the environment is critical. There is evidence that suggests that when a Cx. territans mosquito lands on a frog, it has the capability to pick up Bd spores and transfer them to its next host. By swabbing the frog population and testing the mosquito population in the same habitat, I was able to compare rates of Bd infection among species and get a better picture of how Bd is spreading in that habitat.

Here I am using the Giant Aspirator to vacuum up mosquitoes from their resting spots in the vegetation by a pond.

I’ve always loved science, even before I knew what it was. When I was in elementary school, I wanted to know everything there was to know about dinosaurs, and I was curious about why we lost those species 65 million years ago. I loved bugs, and asked for Eyewitness books for my birthday. Over the years, as I was formally introduced to science, I developed a strong desire to know more and to discover how the natural world works.

In high school, I participated in a program called the School for Science and Math at Vanderbilt (SSMV). One day each week, instead of attending my high school courses, I attended lectures and participated in hands-on science projects with my cohort at Vanderbilt University. This four-year long experience opened my eyes to the stunning variety that exists within STEM, and through this program I participated in several summer sessions that emphasized research. The SSMV solidified my interest in science and gave me a platform to engage with subjects that had fascinated me for so long.

I matriculated into Oberlin College in 2019 and declared my Biology major, eager to continue my exploration of the natural world. In the summer of 2021, I joined Professor Mary Garvin’s research lab at Oberlin. I investigated the role of nest mites in overwintering Eastern Equine Encephalitis Virus in Northeast Ohio. With the team, I worked to elucidate the mechanism that allows this disease to persist through the cold, harsh winters of Ohio using DNA and RNA extraction techniques. This experience made me more curious about how ecology and diseases interact and steered my interests towards a summer research internship in the summer of 2022.

My current research is part of an ongoing project at MLBS that seeks to understand how Culex territans, a mosquito species that feeds on cold-blooded hosts, locates and interacts with its hosts. This mosquito’s preference for cold-blooded hosts is intriguing and poorly understood, and by learning how Cx. territans interacts with its hosts, we can provide insight into how mosquito host-seeking behavior evolved. This will ultimately inform current-day disease control strategies regarding mosquito-borne pathogens.

My advice for up and coming scientists is to seek out mentors! Having an experienced scientist in your corner makes a world of difference, and the best research experiences I’ve had were all facilitated by incredible mentors who really took the time to teach me what they knew. The strong interpersonal connections I’ve made in science are what keep me going when an experiment fails or I lose a bunch of data, both of which are annoyingly common occurrences in science! So my best advice is to find people who will support you on the best and worst days of your journey in research!

My final REU project presentation at Mountain Lake Biological Station.

Jamie Stearns, Fossil Preparator and Museum Educator

Tell us a little bit about yourself. My name is Jamie Stearns. I am 34 years old, a trans woman, interested in gaming, sci-fi and fantasy, and have been with my spouse Mariah for six years. I volunteer at the Arizona Museum of Natural History as a fossil preparator and a museum educator.

Foreground: Jamie standing in a fossil gallery wearing a blue shift and holding a purse. Background: a mounted tyrannosaur skeleton in an action posture.
Jamie with a tyrannosaur.

What kind of scientist are you and what do you do? As a fossil preparator, I spend a lot of time preparing fossils in the laboratory after they have come in from the field. This typically involves opening up plaster field jackets used to transport specimens to the lab and carefully separating the specimens inside from the surrounding rock, or matrix. This can involve anything from dental picks and brushes to air scribes. To preserve specimens for the museum’s collections, I use special types of glue to stabilize anything fragile and to put broken pieces of a specimen back together. Sometimes support jackets have to be constructed for irregularly-shaped specimens. I also screen wash matrix from the fossil sites and sort through it for microfossils, and I occasionally help out in the field as well.

As a museum educator, I explain the significance of specimens to visitors and answer any questions they may have about what they are seeing. I have a number of smaller specimens used in demonstrations where visitors can handle and discuss them; everything from a Tyrannosaurus rex tooth cast to an ammonite preserved in mudstone.

Jamie sitting at the base of a mastodon skeleton mount in a large room.
Jamie with a mastodon.

What is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science? My interest in paleontology goes back to when I was only five years old. My family had just moved to the Washington, DC area a few months before, and I was in preschool when February 1993 was declared to be “Dinosaur Month”. In the process, I got my hands on a copy of National Geographic with a double feature on dinosaurs. I was immediately fascinated by all these different creatures with their sharp teeth, long necks, armor plates, horns, and crests and wanted more. I eagerly read through all the dinosaur books at the library and watched the latest documentaries, absorbing as much knowledge as I could find. My family took me to see the fossil halls at the Smithsonian afterwards where I could actually see them in person, too. At one point I even called my kindergarten teacher out when she said that dinosaurs were cold-blooded. Although I was exclusively a dinosaur nerd throughout primary school, I worked at a lot of different museums and fossil sites in and shortly after college, which helped me see a bigger picture; as amazing as dinosaurs were, no less impressive were the reptiles that shared the earth with them, or the variety of mammals that came later.

This interest led me into a bit of an uncomfortable spot with some of the Evangelical Christian groups I was with in middle and high school, where I initially thought nobody could possibly believe in a literal six-day creation due to all the evidence against it. It turns out, of course, that most of them did believe that the geological timeline I had come to memorize was nothing but lies, made up by people because they didn’t want to believe in God. I couldn’t accept this, and this was only the first point on which I started to disagree with them. I never lost my faith despite that, but given everything I eventually found out about myself, I am not sure what they would think of me now.

Jamie and Mariah with a hadrosaur bone that Jamie prepared.

My favorite part of working at the museum is when I discover something new in the field or uncover something in the lab for the first time. I’m the first person to see this thing in millions of years, and that’s pretty special. I also enjoy being able to share my knowledge and passion about prehistoric creatures and their environment with visitors and seeing them learn new things they hadn’t thought of before.

How does your work contribute to the betterment of society in general? My work in fossil preparation helps scientists find out more about what the world of the past was like and what kinds of animals lived back then, and screen washing for microfossils can reveal details of the environment of the time as well. This adds to our understanding of how the earth’s climate changed over time and how life evolved in response to that.

I would like to hope that I have made an impact on those visiting the museum as well. Many people come in with preconceived ideas about prehistoric life and earth’s history, and what I do helps challenge those ideas and get people to think more critically about what they may have read or seen.

Jamie standing behind a table that has a series of fossils set up on display for an educational event. The back wall has a series of educational posters related to natural history.
Jamie doing a fossil demonstration.

What advice do you have for up and coming scientists? Get involved in volunteer work in your field when you have the opportunity. There is probably a local institution of some kind that deals with what you’re interested in, so see if they have any opportunities. It’s an excellent way to get a feel for what working in your field is like, and you can make connections with experts who have already been working in the field too. Don’t lose sight of your goals, and never stop learning.

LGBT and a Scientist

This post was written by an anonymous member in the geosciences who identifies with the LGBT community~

Being part of the LGBT community and a scientist can be a lonely experience. I have been involved with academia in some way since I began my freshman year in 2003. During this time, I have met just six openly queer people in the sciences. This includes my time at three different universities, in four different departments, and at three professional conferences. Of course there were probably others, but where were they? It’s a question that many are asking (Why Is Science So Straight?, Is Science Too Straight?). From what I’ve read, there are about the same number of self-reported LGBT people in the sciences as in any other career field, but they are not as out as some other professions.

Yoder and Mattheis (2015) created an online survey of LGBT people in STEM fields (Queer in STEM) and published their results in the Journal of Homosexuality. A second survey was completed just a few months ago, but the results from the first survey showed: 1) participants were more open about their queerness with family and friends far more so than with colleagues and students, 2) individuals in STEM academia were about as open as those in nonacademic fields, 3) however, people in geosciences, engineering, mathematics, and psychology were less likely to be out than those in life sciences, physical sciences, and social sciences. They also found that people belonging to departments with more women were more likely to be out. Lastly, they confirmed that those who belong to departments that are perceived as being accepting and supportive were more likely to be out than those in departments less accepting and supportive.

So we’re out there, but there are many obstacles. Shame, fear, and the other usual suspects keep people in the closet. But in the sciences, there is the old idea that only the research matters, and the personal is not brought into the lab (‘No sexuality please, we’re scientists‘). It may be the there are some LGBT people who don’t care about revealing this aspect of themselves, and it may be indifference, not hostility on the part of their straight peers. Queer scientists are writing about their experiences and bringing awareness of our issues to a larger audience (Why scientists should march with Pride, LGBT in STEM: Progress but still many obstacles).

For me, whether I’m out or not has depended on a lot of variables. When I was an undergraduate in the early to mid-2000s, I was very cautious. As a freshman, only roommate knew, but I let more people know as I got older and made closer friendships. I was pretty comfortable with my bio cohort, but I really panicked at field camp because I just wasn’t sure how they would respond. It became a non-issue, I really worried about it. Grad school was fine, and I actually met other LGBT people in that department for the first time! However, there was an incident that has stayed with me. We were having a discussion about wild times in undergrad, and I told a story about going to the club (a gay one, of course), and one grad student said “Oh my god, everything has to be gay with you! You mention it all the time!” But that’s my life, and it was a gay club, so that is important. I’m still bothered by this.

I’ve been an adjunct for two different departments. With the geology department, I had no issues coming out right away to the faculty. Of course, I knew many of them already, so that helped. I even discussed it a bit with my chair. With the chemistry department, I’ve been very careful. I’m out to only two coworkers, and I don’t see that number changing anytime soon. As I’ve started preparing for new career as a teacher, I’m wondering what it will be like in a high school. There are no state or federal laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, so I may have to be in the closet again at work.

It’s been interesting writing and researching for this, because it’s made me look back on my time as a student, and I can see the progress we’ve made. The presence of persons who identify with the LGBT community is getting better, and we just have to be as authentic and honest as we can safely be. So if you are LGBT and can’t find anyone else, know that there are other scientists like you, and you will find us eventually!

Citations: Jeremy B. Yoder PhD & Allison Mattheis PhD (2015) Queer in STEM: Workplace Experiences Reported in a National Survey of LGBTQA Individuals in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Careers, Journal of Homosexuality, 63:1, 1-27, DOI:
10.1080/00918369.2015.1078632