Science depends on communication within the scientific community
By Taormina Lepore
Science truly depends on our community. Paleontologist Kayli Stowe found a welcoming, open, and supportive scientific community where she could pursue her passion and be herself.
I’m a PhD student at UC Berkeley in Seth Finnegan’s lab, and I’m interested in studying how the environment impacts the evolution of marine invertebrate animals.
This work really excites me because doing paleontology feels like doing a puzzle! When I’m asking these scientific questions, I feel like I can apply what I’m learning about the modern environment to the animals and environments I study using paleontology.
I feel like I was interested in paleontology when I was a kid, but I didn’t really know what building that kind of career meant, or how to become a paleontologist. My goals to stick with paleontology kind of faded as I went on in school, because people were encouraging me to pursue more well-known careers like medicine.
In college, I was exploring what I could do for a career, and my university had a pretty stable paleontology group. On a whim I decided to email the paleontology researchers to see if anyone would talk to me or have any research for me. All of the paleontologists ended up responding to my emails! It was such a welcoming and supportive community for me, and I was all of a sudden able to do all this kind of work, like work in the fossil prep lab, in the collections, and all these things that I’d heard about as a kid that I didn’t think were possible. I was able to join the world of paleontology and didn’t want to leave!
I came to grad school because my undergraduate advisor convinced me to apply. It wasn’t something I thought I would or could do, but getting support from graduate students and other mentors and advisors really helped me understand that I could do this research work. It really encouraged me to try and apply to graduate school!
What drives me is being able to answer even bigger questions than I was asking in undergrad, and to dive into research that is my own main interest rather than hopping on to someone else’s project. Your mind has to be so open in science, you never know when you’re going to find an idea or where it’s going to come from. You really have to be creative!
It’s so important to build welcoming, supportive, and creative environments for everyone to thrive in science. Science communication is about more than just publishing papers, attending conferences, or even just working together in a lab. Science community is built around all of the little interactions that keep scientists feeling fulfilled and supported in their fields. Kayli’s experience illustrates how day-to-day community and the quality of those interactions shape the course of science, and invite people into the community who might have otherwise pursued a different career path.