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.

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. 

Michaela Falkenroth, Sedimentologist

The image is a selfie of a girl in a black jumper. She has a green toothbrush sticking out of her mouth and an amused look on her face. The background is a backbeach area with reddish sand and a couple of thorny shrubs. You can make out tire tracks and footsteps on the sand. The sky is whitish blue and the lighting shows that the sun is just rising.
When you are a field geologist that studies beaches, chances are you have to work at the beach, sleep at the beach, eat at the beach and brush your teeth there, too.

Hey there! My name is Michaela and I am a cat-lady, sci-fi-nerd and hobby illustrator, who gets paid to hang out on tropical beaches a lot – how is that possible, you ask? Well… I got lucky.

The first time I got lucky was when I was eight years old and announced to my flabbergasted parents that I had decided to become a paleontologist like my hero at the time: Dr Alan Grant (also known as “guy with the cool hat in Jurassic Park”). My parents, who did not have the opportunity to go to university themselves and had never heard of paleontology, would have been perfectly justified to believe that my career goals were nothing to be taken seriously and move on, but they did not. Instead, they bought piles of dinosaur books, spent countless hours in museums and corrected everyone who confused paleontology with archeology with admirable patience. I was still set on becoming a paleontologist 11 years later, when I first set foot in the geoscience department of University Bonn. It is certainly not my parents’ fault that I didn’t.

The image shows a broad river flowing through a deep valley with high but not very steep, rocky walls. A bright blue sky in the background, no vegetation except for some palm trees by the water and bright sunlight indicate a desert environment. The water is calm, completely clear and shallow, the ground is covered in light grey gravel. A girl is standing knee deep in the water looking at a smoothened cliff that is twice as tall as she and boarders the river. The cliff is almost white and consists of well-rounded gravel in different sizes that is held together by a white matrix. The girl wears long, green pants, a dark T-Shirt and a cap that casts a shadow over her face. She points at something on the cliff to show it to a guy standing a few meters behind her.
Sedimentology is the study of rocks that were broken down into smaller pieces and transported on the surface of the planet by wind, gravity, and water. Here, I look at a river sediment in Oman that was turned into hard rock by a natural cement.

The second time I got lucky has to do with the fact that becoming a paleontologist in Germany requires you to become a geologist first. It only took a couple of rock identification classes for me to realize that yes, dinosaurs are amazing, but evolution is only one of the natural processes that shape our planet, and the others are even more fascinating to me. I had never thought about mountains being crumbled into tiny pieces by weather and time, these pieces then being transported by wind and rivers into the ocean, while being reshaped again and again, before they come to rest somewhere along the way. As a sedimentologist you look at the pieces of rock that are shuffled around on the planet’s surface and make them your own personal window through time. Sedimentary rocks let you study rivers that rushed by millions of years ago or watch coral reefs grow and die and regrow in a millennial cycle. By the time I finished my bachelor’s degree I was hooked. I still have a cool dinosaur model on my desk, but sedimentary rocks are what is on my mind, what pays my bills (sometimes) and what got me into another field of science with a very relevant application: sea level research.

A strongly fractured, uneven surface of brown and crumbly-looking rock fills most of the image that was taken from a heightened position. On top of the rock stands a smiling girl in fieldwork attire. She has her hair in a ponytail, arms akimbo and a broad grin on her face. One corner of the background shows a rough, blueish-green ocean with big waves breaking on a rocky platform in white foam.
Me on a beach in South Africa, happy about a freaky beachrock that I just discovered. The rocks that I am standing on formed within the last 77 years, before that it was just a sandy beach.

This brings me to the third time I got lucky. This one really did not feel like luck at the time. In 2016, I got rejected for three possible projects for a master thesis and thus one day stumbled into the office of the new professor at the department, who had nothing to do with sedimentology. I stood in the doorframe a little desperate and ready to take whatever the man would offer. This professor, who would later become my PhD supervisor and close friend, offered me an opportunity to study sea level change at the coastline of Oman – turns out you can squeeze sedimentology into any project.

Sea-level and coastal research became the focus of my scientific journey and Oman somewhat of a second home. For my masters and PhD, I studied beachrock. That is essentially beach sand that turned into hard rock, because a natural cement forms in between the individual grains of sand. Think of it as a bunch of sand and gravel glued together by carbonate, the white stuff that forms in your kettle or washing machine. Beachrocks are not only very cool, but also useful when we are trying to understand how sea level changed in the past and make assumptions on how it is going to change in the future. Climate driven global sea level rise might be something you are familiar with, but that is only part of the story. Yes, global sea level is rising, but the land might move as well. In some areas it is sinking, making global sea level rise an even bigger problem, in other areas the land is uplifting, mitigating the effects of global sea level rise. Beachrocks can help to understand what is happening on one individual stretch of coastline, giving coastal communities the chance to adapt and me the chance to hang out on tropical beaches a lot. While on the beach, I study the sedimentological characteristics of the beachrock and take samples. The samples are then taken to the lab – either to determine their age or to use a microscope to look at the cement between the grains.

The photograph shows a magnified image of four sand grains and the empty space between them. A scale in the corner shows that the grains are between 200 and 400 microns in diameter. The grains have smoothed surfaces and show different colors: transparent pale blue, transparent pale green or black with a grainy texture. The empty space between the grains is black. A 50 to 100 microns thick rim surrounds the grains. It has a greyish color and looks like a palisade fence with pointy tips reaching into the empty pore space. The individual grains do not touch but their rims overlap, holding them together.
Beachrock under the microscope. The empty space between the sand grains is filled by a natural cement that first forms as a rim around each grain and will later fill up the entire pore space turning loose sand into hard rock within years.

Right now, I am (sadly) neither at a beach nor in a lab, but at a desk in Germany preparing for my PhD defense and applying for postdoc positions – a tedious task that involves a lot of rejection. I don’t think there is a career in science without tedious tasks, be it repetitive lab work, marking piles of exams or never-ending application forms to fill out. Nevertheless, science allows me to keep my inner child alive, it allows me to follow my curiosity, all while making a contribution that helps coastal communities deal with the threat of sea level rise. I don’t know if I’ll get lucky one more time and be allowed to do this for a few more years, but I certainly hope so. One thing that I wish I had known from the beginning is that people are more important than the academic disciplines they belong to – looking back I would always choose a mentor outside my specialty with whom I have a great connection over the greatest expert in my field who does not care about me.

Update: By the time this is posted, I successfully defended my PhD thesis and started a Postdoc position in Heidelberg, Germany, where I get to teach sedimentology (yay) and work on a grant proposal for studying the incorporation of trash into beachrock on the Bahamas (even bigger yay)!!

The image shows four smiling people in fieldwork attire standing next to a one-humped camel. All four are wearing sandals and scarves wrapped around their heads. Three of them are girls and one is a bearded man, who is slightly older than the others. One of the girls is stroking the camel’s neck. The scarves and loose hairs of the girls are flapping in the wind, which seems to be quite strong. The background is a desert landscape with high dunes and a couple of fences but no vegetation. The sand is bright red. The sky is grey with dust, indicating a mild sandstorm.
Me, two other PhD-students from our lab and my supervisor Gösta at a field trip in the Wahiba Sands in Oman. Pro tip for everyone pursuing a career in science: choose your lab based on the people not on the prestige, the lab gear or the expertise… you can get all of these elsewhere. A good relationship with the PI is irreplaceable.

Elizabeth Rohlicek, Podcast host and Paleobiologist

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Living on Vancouver Island in the Pacific Northwest, I’m so lucky to be in such a great environment. I love packing up my car and going for hikes, camping, island hopping, and paddling on the ocean. My summer days are spent reading and camping, and my winter (rainy) months are spent playing board games on my couch in front of the fire after a day of skiing. One of my passions outside of my research is my podcast Below the Tide. I get to chat with scientists about their marine research, and make it accessible to the public.

Elizabeth stands in a museum exhibit at the Royal BC Museum with an image of an Orca Whale behind her. She is wearing a striped shirt while she holds large vertebra fossils in her hands.
© Kristina Blanchflower with Hakai Magazine (photo is from the article Whales in the Cliff Face https://hakaimagazine.com/features/whales-in-the-cliff-face/)

What kind of scientist are you and what do you do? I started my research as an undergraduate project, for course credit. The curator of paleontology at the Royal British Columbia Museum is an adjunct professor at the University of Victoria, where I was completing my degree. I had been volunteering with Dr. Arbour for a couple of weeks before March 2020. In September of 2020 she offered me a project that involved looking through some cabinets of cetacean fossils from Vancouver Island that had been collected over the last few decades. The fossils had never been evaluated nor published on. So I jumped in, and learned about fossils as I went. The fossils are from the Oligocene period, which is a geological time period that defines the time of about 23-33 million years ago. This is such an important time in whale evolution; it is the time where we see toothed whales and baleen whales diverging. Before this time, all whales were toothed, and hunted their food. But something happened in this time period where whales started to grow baleen plates in their mouth, and the fun part is that nobody is completely sure why! A really thrilling part of this work is that the fossils were found on Vancouver Island, where I live. My research is helping to contribute to the fossil record of the North Pacific, and putting Vancouver Island on the map to prove the importance of the fossil record here. Oligocene-aged whale fossils are not found everywhere in the world; there are only select geographic areas where fossils from this time period can be found easily, and it just so happens that one of my favourite beaches on the island is a prime fossil hunting location!

Through this project I did some outreach work through the museum; creating accessible learning material in different media types and presenting my research at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology conference in 2021!

I discovered this immense passion for public outreach and making science accessible, through this research project. That was what pushed me to start my podcast: Below the Tide. The goal of Below the Tide is to create a space in which marine scientists can share their research and stories in an accessible way to the public. We break down their research and chat about what their path and fieldwork looks like. I love the idea of bringing attention to so many realms of marine science, but also showing that scientists lead such remarkable lives.

Elizabeth sits at a table with her computer open, and three vertebrae fossils in front of her. She is wearing a mask, and has an open notebook in front of her with sketches of the fossils on her desk.
© Victoria Arbour

What is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science? I’ve always been into science, since I was a kid. My parents were in the science field, but they always encouraged me to follow my own path. My interest in science was different from theirs – I was really intrigued in the inner workings of ecosystems, and marine science. I moved across Canada from Montreal to Victoria to study marine science at the University of Victoria, and completed a bachelor’s degree in biology and earth and ocean sciences. Through my degree I got really interested in paleobiology, specifically cetacean evolution. My other interest in the scientific field really is science communication. I’m excited to see where my podcast takes me, and I hope making science accessible is something I can continue in.

How does your work contribute to the betterment of society in general? Paleobiology in general is really important for understanding ecosystem and organism evolution, and their responses to changes in the environment. Even looking at cetacean evolution; we can see there was an immense amount of diversity in cetacean populations about 33 million years ago. Today’s cetacean populations are commonly struggling in the face of climate change, and other anthropogenic influences.  We can use the past millions of years of changing climate to assess how populations today may face the current issues. The field of anything paleo related isn’t all about fossils; it also includes ancient climates, ecosystems, influences, changes, and so much more. I love how the realm of paleo is so collaborative and is just one big puzzle.

Five fossils sit on foam on top of a table. There is a large canon camera mounted on a tripod, facing them. Rulers and calipers are also on the table next to Liz’s computer.
© Elizabeth Rohlicek

What advice do you have for up and coming scientists? Take opportunities as they are presented to you, and reach out to people. I’m a believer in no opportunity is a waste of time, it definitely is a growing opportunity. If you start a volunteer position in a lab and realize you aren’t keen on lab work; you’ve learned something about yourself! Congrats! It means that you now know that a career or position in a lab may not be your cup of tea. And on the second point; reach out to people if you want to learn about their research. Ask questions, ask for potential volunteer positions, ask for career advice. The worst that will happen is that they will say no. So if you are interested in a certain field, find someone who is in that field and ask to connect. They are your most valuable resource. That way you can ask all the questions, ask for advice, and network.

Follow Liz’s updates on Twitter (hyperlink) and her podcast on Twitter (hyperlink) and Instagram (hyperlink)!

Blair Stuhlmuller, High School Science Teacher and Science Communicator

Blair standing in front of the Grand Canyon in Arizona on a family vacation.

I am a high school science teacher and love sharing my knowledge and passion about the natural world with my students and anyone who will listen. I specifically love marine science and geologic history. I currently teach a marine biology course and another course on the big 5 mass extinctions. Both of which I designed myself. I am hoping to branch out beyond just the four walls of my classroom and share the weird and wonderful world of science with others as a science communicator.

I dreamed of being a teacher for a very long time. I loved the idea of being a forever learner and working with the future generations. But I had no intention of being a science teacher until the end of my freshman year of college. I wanted to be a history teacher and was well on my way to getting all my prerequisites done when I took a freshman writing seminar on the History of the Earth. This class expanded my perception of what was history and left me fascinated with deep time, the evolution of life and landforms. I was hooked and set off to get a Bachelors of Science in Geology and Environmental Science. After undergrad, I got a Masters of Education and my Virginia teaching license and then proceeded to move clear across the country to the west coast to explore some of the tidepool studded coasts and more geologically active rocks of California and Oregon.

Blair looking cool while diving along a reef near South Caicos in the Caribbean and conducting coral health and biodiversity surveys.

Now I help inspire the next generation of scientists and planetary stewards. I believe that science is for everyone and do everything in my power to encourage others to give it a chance. You never know what class, lab or cool fact can send you spinning down a different path. The world needs more passionate scientists to answer the next level of questions and help solve the problems of tomorrow. 

When I’m not teaching, I’m typically nerding out on the latest Marvel movie, excessively reading for fun or exploring the beautiful Pacific Northwest. I’m always down for a good hike especially if it ends in a waterfall. I’m also PADI SCUBA certified and love exploring the world under the waves despite how cold the water gets. I do all of these things with my identical twin sister who has stuck with me through every step of my life so far.

Makayla Palm, Science Communicator

Young woman with long, braided hair in a black jacket, black ball cap with a backpack stands in front of a large fish skull in a display case. She is holding up two fingers, representing her second year at the event where the photo was taken.Tell us a bit about yourself.
I am currently a junior in college. I am a transfer student; this summer, I am getting ready to transfer to Augustana College  as a geology major from community college. While in community college, I published a couple of pieces in a literary magazine. The first is a creative work called Cole Hollow Road, and the other is a personal reflection piece called Est. 2001, Discovered 2021. Est. 2001, Discovered 2021 reflects on my mental health and growing into who I am. I work about 30 hours a week at a retail store called Blain’s Farm and Fleet. I have been working there since October of 2020. I work in Men’s Clothing, and I mainly sell denim jeans and work boots. With the little free time I have, I explore the outdoors with Noah, my boyfriend, work on my unpublished novel, The Gamemaker,  read books on science communication, and write articles while participating in the Time Scavengers VIP SciComm Internship.

What kind of scientist are you, and what do you do?
Since I am a junior in college, I am still figuring out what my role is within the scientific community. I love to read and write, and I aspire to be a science communicator, but I’m still figuring out what role best fits me. What I do know is there is a distinctive difference between an intelligent person and a good teacher, and I want to teach others about science in an engaging way. 

One of my favorite things about being a scientist is seeing so many cool rocks and learning their stories! I’ve been collecting rocks and fossils since I was seven or eight years old! I enjoy showing others what fossils I have bought or found and telling the stories that accompany them. I also love public speaking and can see myself being successful in either an in-person capacity or creating videos/content online. I also think being a tour guide or research scientist for a National Park would be awesome! I am looking forward to exploring my options as I continue my education. 

What is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science?
My beginning journey into the scientific community is a little bit unusual. I was first introduced to fossils in a Worldview, Logic, and Apologetics class (which is about advocating for the Christian Faith). I worked on an extensive project that asked the students to study a field of science of their choice in order to find evidence in support of the Christian faith. It was a very intriguing and motivating project that has led me down a now six-year philosophical and scientific journey to figure out how these two pieces of my life, religion and science, can coexist. Because of this class, I wanted to be a geologist because I wanted to know as much about our origins as humans, but also what has happened to our planet in geologic time. I also want to know how to learn from nature about our history, but also what we can do to maximize our future. 

I grew up with a stigma that in order to be a scientist, you needed to be an expert in math, lab activities, and memorization. I grew up attending a college prep school where STEM majors usually were pre-med or engineer inclined. I knew I was not interested in studying those fields (even though they are awesome in their own right!), and felt it was hard to keep up with kids in my classes because my focus was different.  It was a very competitive environment, especially because I lacked confidence in my ability in the skills I thought were necessary. However, after learning what geology was about in college, I knew I had found my place. Geology integrated my love for weird creatures, writing, and being outside! Combined with my natural inclination to write, I quickly fell in love with the idea of becoming a science communicator.

oung woman wearing a blue shirt and denim skinny jeans sits in a navy blue wooden lawn chair. She sits in front of a college campus with a hill in the background. The building behind her, on top of the stairs which climb the hill, is an old academic building with dolomite (a hard, sand-colored mineral) walls and arched windows.How does your work contribute to the betterment of society in general?
I once had a classmate tell me he used to be interested in paleontology, but they thought it was a “dead” science and became readily disinterested. The more I delved into the literature, the more I knew he was far from the truth! My goal as a scientist  is to advocate for the amazing things we can learn about our world through science (but especially paleontology!), and to hopefully encourage aspiring scientists that they can find their place in the scientific community. One way I have begun to do so is by starting my blog called Perusing the Primeval. My blog currently has a Book Review Section that includes the latest books in science communication. I have a review template that shares how technical the book is to help the reader get a sense for who the book’s intended audience is. There are a wide variety of books available, and my goal is to help someone looking for new recommendations to find something they will enjoy. I am currently working on a Species Spotlight section that will highlight a certain extinct species represented in the fossil record.

What advice do you have for up and coming scientists?
As I said before, I grew up in a competitive academic environment. I often felt like I was in academic “no man’s land”; I was bored in regular classes, but I was crawling to keep up in the advanced classes. I enjoyed school and wanted to challenge myself, so I was often comparing myself to kids who were more academically inclined in subjects that did not come naturally to me. I felt like I needed to compete against them in order to get a spot in a good college. Rather than focus on my strengths when applying to colleges, I pushed myself to do things I didn’t really like because I thought I needed to compete for my spot. I thought “being amazing at everything” was my ticket to a good school, but I found out very quickly that wasn’t true. If you are interested in going to college (or trade school or an apprenticeship), I would encourage you to lean on your strengths. If you have strong passions or interests, fuel the fire! Continue to hone in on those skills. If you aren’t quite sure of what you want, try different things and see what you like – but maybe not all at once. Your physical and mental health will thank you. If we as individuals were all “amazing” at everything, we wouldn’t need each other!

 

Tessa Peixoto, Scientist at heart and Educator in the world

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!


Person holding up a skeleton of a shark's mouth framing their face, smiling.Tell us a little bit about yourself. 
My name is Tessa Peixoto and when I was younger I was referred to as shark girl. I was super obsessed with sharks, which is what got me into science. Outside of science though I am a fan of doing art, specifically painting and building things, and I like baking for friends and family. Movies are a go to past time for me, and I am one of those people that really like b-rated sci fi movies. For instance, Tremors, highly suggest watching it. I am a science enthusiast so when I go out for walks on the beach, hikes in nature, or anywhere else I am still observing what kind of life I see. It is a way of connecting with the planet for me. However, my friends just give me a pat on the head when I yell excitedly about finding Codium fragile on the beach. One time, I found a carcass of a skate on a beach and I ran to anyone who saw me holding it so I could show them.

What do you do?
So I studied marine biology as an undergraduate student. During my studies and soon after I was able to conduct or participate in research on intertidal blue mussels, describing freshwater stingrays, and describing the morphology and function of the armor for a family of fish called Poachers. Soon after I was able to be a seasonal aide for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and got exposed to doing trawling surveys in river tributaries.

Person on a boat with a bright orange life jacket on in the foreground, with calm lake waters in the background and a low mountain range in the distance. After graduating and my bopping around the US for a variety of temporary science positions, I found myself working as a museum educator. It was the funnest thing to be around so many specimens for every kind of field of natural sciences. Plus, I was able to use a lot of those specimens as part of my teaching practice during classes that field trips could sign up for. Unfortunately, as the position was part time, life demanded I find a position that could provide me benefits that would support me more efficiently. I now work as a science instructor for an Adult Education program in Boston, MA. It is truly a rewarding position because as I get to share my love and fascination of science with my students, I know I am helping them get closer to obtaining a high school diploma, which only improves their job prospects.

What is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science?
When I was younger, I remember my brother was always doing something with his hands. I remember always seeing him carve up soap bars and for some reason I understood it to be science, or rather an experiment. I also was really into ocean documentaries, anything on Discovery Channel that highlighted the ocean or environment would be something I would pay attention to. And yes my attention was even more peaked if sharks were in it. At one point during our youth my brother told me that if I wanted to keep learning about sharks that I would have to be someone who studies marine biology. And thus began my stubborn journey in declaring I will become a marine biologist.

Fast forward to college, I entered Northeastern University to study marine science, as I had stated repeatedly since I was younger. Interestingly enough, the more science classes I took the more I realized I just liked science, all of it. It took a bit of time for my fisheries teacher to get me to let go of my stubborn obsession with sharks, but I would say once I did, my understanding of marine biology as a whole was improved. Bachelors of science is where my formal education ends, therefore I have not yet become a marine biologist. Nevertheless, my enthusiasm for science has not dwindled away. It is still very present and of course with a slight favoring of anything ocean.

I have enjoyed the opportunities I had in college and since college because I kept getting to learn from the people around me. Especially, in the two science conferences I participated in. I love being able to see other people’s posters and discuss with them their thoughts and their research.

Person wearing a black jacket and black pants in a poster hall, standing in front of a poster with scientific results. How does your work contribute to the betterment of society? 
As much as I did not for-see myself as being an educator, I am happy I am in it. Mainly for the reason that I can finally share science with adults that avoid science because they had horrible experiences from their last time in education or didn’t really get a chance to do formal education in their youth. So when I teach I aim to be open and caring of their learning journey, and to never dismiss their questions. It benefits society as they become great learners and more confident in their skills. Being an adult educator is very important  because it can help disseminate science in a way that helps the world presently. Essentially, I work with individuals that have the current and immediate ability to be stewards of the planet as their understanding of the world improves. As much as education of children is very much needed, I want to improve the science literacy of the adult population. A future goal of mine is to help increase options that are free, supportive, and open to questions that adults have about science, and the inner workings of the planet.

Person standing on a dirt path, in the woods, with thin trees behind them, low shrubs in the foreground. Person is looking up towards the sky. What advice do you have for up and coming scientists and educators?
Something I want everyone to know is to not judge yourself on your performance in classes. Just because you might have gotten a lower grade in a science class does not mean you would be a bad scientist. I also want to say the science or career you might think you want to do might be a completely different field of science or career by the time you graduate, finish a PhD or look for private corporation positions. If you are reading this as someone in high school or college, try out different internships. I know when I was younger I would only look for internships with sharks, and that stubbornness sometimes prevented me from just learning about different fields. Therefore be open to options that come your way. If you are reading this as someone that is mid career, I would say to talk to people in the field that you are interested in. Find others interested in a similar field and hang out with them. For example, there are many groups of mycology fans that meet up every now and then to go foraging and talk mycology. Science in its purest form is about curiosity and asking questions, so keep asking questions and explore our wonderful world.

What is something exciting you are doing at the moment?
I currently am the outreach officer for the JOIDES Resolution that falls under the International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP). This position provides a great view into the world of science communication that is different from the that of the communication done in a formal education position. The outreach officer has the chance to reach out to anyone in the world and share the life of living on the ship and doing research on the ship. This is just a temporary position for the summer, but offer the chance to learn about geosciences, and other ways to explore the Earth. If you are reading this know that you can call into the ship during an expedition and get a tour of your own, it might not be with me but it will be an outreach officer that has the same excitement as I do. (https://joidesresolution.org/about-the-jr/live-video-events-with-the-joides-resolution/)

 

 

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.

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!