About Me

I wrote the following piece for a science communication course at Stony Brook University's Center for Communicating Science. The objective was to write about a transformative experience that helped me become the scientist I am today.

Why does this girl love dinosaurs, lions, and sharks?


I once heard a story on NPR titled: "Why do girls love horses, unicorns and dolphins?" This title resonated with me, but not in the way most people would imagine. In fact, it is precisely this stereotype of girls that I have rejected as far back as I can remember, and serves as the underlying motivation for my chosen career as an evolutionary biologist. Back then (and still today), it annoyed me that in order to be a girl who loves animals, there are specific animals that I am "supposed" to love more than others.

As a child, my first loves were dinosaurs. I had dinosaur picture books, a dinosaur themed 7th birthday party, and went often with my grandparents to see the massive fossils at the American Museum of Natural History. I had a brief infatuation with lions, wanting desperately to go to Africa and be the star of my own "Born Free" story. The majority of my adolescent and teen years, however, were devoted to passionately studying sharks.

When I told people I wanted to be a marine biologist when I grew up, they often asked if I wanted to study dolphins โ€“ "No", I would say emphatically, "I want to study sharks." My passion for all things cartilaginous culminated in a 10-week summer internship, after my junior year of college, at the Center for Shark Research (CSR) at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, FL. At school, I had recently been introduced to my future fields of study, ecology and evolutionary biology. Then, all of a sudden, I had found my niche, my place in science. There I was, with eight other young women my age โ€“ all the CSR interns except one were female โ€“ spending up to 12 hours a day out on a boat, fishing for some of the oldest creatures on earth.

That summer, I was no longer just bucking a stereotype, but doing something I loved with like-minded women who were equally fascinated by beautiful fish. I am a girl who loves dinosaurs, lions, and sharks.

Today, my focus has shifted from a group of organisms, like sharks, to a suite of questions about where new species come from, how behavior evolves, and how features of the environment drive the movement of genes within a population - questions that are more readily studied in the salamanders I currently work with. Sharks still hold a special place in my heart, I still hold a mild resentment of horses and dolphins (likely undeserved - horses for instance have a fantastic fossil record!), and I know deep down that I would not be where I am today if I didn't, at a very young age, decide that no one could tell me what a girl was "supposed" to like or do.

Outside of the lab and my job, I am an avid hiker and nature photographer (see my Flickr stream), reader of science fiction and fantasy (Ursula K. LeGuin and Kurt Vonnegut are favorites), pet owner (proud parent of Orm, Percy and Rufus, pictured below), and gluten-free baker (I have Celiac disease). I also belong to two curling clubs, South Shore Curling Club and the Canadian Club of Boston, and thus spend the much of the winter throwing stones at houses.

Rufus, a basset-golden mix Orm, a New Caledonian crested gecko, <em>Rhacodactylus ciliatus</em> Percy, a western hognose snake, <em>Heterodon nasicus</em

Clockwise from the left: (1) Rufus, a basset-golden mix. (2) Orm, a New Caledonian crested gecko, Rhacodactylus ciliatus. (3) Percy, a western hognose snake, Heterodon nasicus

Last Updated: December 21, 2016