Lian Anderson, Paleontologist

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Hi! My name is Lian and I am a recent graduate of the University of Michigan! I am originally from Missouri but currently call Michigan home. I am in an in-between period in my life, I graduated this past spring with a degree in Earth and Environmental Sciences and a minor in paleontology and plan on applying to graduate schools this upcoming fall. Outside of science, you can find me spending my free time outdoors biking, hiking, or just sitting on a porch. I love to paint, learn about geography, and cook.

What kind of scientist are you and what do you do? My research has focused on using morphology as a tool. Morphology is the study of the shape of something, it can be applied to something as simple as a single tooth or as complex as a whole fish skeleton! As an undergraduate, I produced an honors thesis that focused on an extinct clade of echinoderms known as blastoids. I investigated whether varying ratios in blastoid’s underlying skeletal components were indicative of deeper taxonomic relationships. To do this, I first produced 3D models of specimens through a process known as photogrammetry. Once the models were produced, I then placed a set number of landmarks on each specimen, in homologous places. Once the landmarks were placed, I then ran a principal component analysis (PCA) in R. The PCA helped to determine if varying ratios in blastoid’s underlying skeletal components, taxonomic separation, and geological periods occupied distinct regions in morphospace. In addition to my work with blastoids, I have also had the opportunity to apply similar techniques to epibionts on brachiopods and jaws of nautiloids!

Outside of research, I also worked at the University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology’s (UMMP) Invertebrate Paleontology collection as a museum technician. There, I have the amazing opportunity to handle specimens in a collection of over 2 million specimens! I work with type specimens, produce 3D models, and rehouse or unpack specimens. Museums typically only show a small fraction of their collection in the galleries that are open to the public, so being able to work behind the scenes and get a first hand view of the full collection has been incredible.

What is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science? As a kid, I always loved dinosaurs and fossils. I thought that it was so cool how millions of years ago the world looked completely different, almost alien-like. However, as I grew up, I thought that paleontology wasn’t a “real” career option. So, I went to college thinking I would major in something else. Once I got to college, I had to take a science distribution credit, so I randomly picked an Earth and life history course. There, I realized that being a paleontologist wasn’t so far-fetched of an idea as I had thought. I then took as many geology and paleontology related courses I could, before eventually transferring to the University of Michigan to further pursue paleontology.

What advice do you have for up and coming scientists? Growing up, I never wanted to ask for help or guidance. I was a solitary person who wanted to fix things on their own. However, once I got to college, I realized that asking for help is the best thing you can do. It doesn’t matter how big or small of a question or problem you have, it is never a bad thing to ask for help! A lot of the time, science can be painted as a solitary field where researchers keep to themselves. That is not the way things have to be! Science is done best when people work together.