Life as a Scientist: From Fascination to Understanding

There was never a specific moment in which I was called to science. I feel it has always been with me since birth, and possibly conception. I want to believe it is in everybody. I was just fortunate enough to be surrounded by the right people, situations, and environments that kept the passion for science very alive within me.

There is a story my grandma tells about my sister and I. She was about 3, and I was 4. My sister had turned to my mother, and asked the common question on why grass was green. I quickly told her to not ask our mom. She would lie and say it was God who made the grass green. I then informed her it was due to chlorophyll and photosynthesis.

I have faith, and I consider myself spiritual, but from a young age I naturally questioned everything. That is probably why my mother quickly took me out of Catholic school after a requested meeting in Pre-K. This was caused by my inability to stop challenging the teacher during a lesson on Creation when she brushed off my question about evolution. At that time, I had no idea it was a hot topic.

As small children, my sisters and I lived with my mom, grandma, and aunt. All of whom were nurses. This inevitably made biology my first science. I would look through all of their nursing books, occasionally attend nursing classes when schedules conflicted and there were no babysitters, and I would help them study.

Throughout school, I excelled in my science classes. In 4th grade, I was the only one in my district who received a perfect score on the NYS Science Exam. I continued to do well throughout middle school and high school. I had the GREATEST science teachers. They were all so different, but had such a love for what they taught. It made learning fun and exciting.

At 18, I had no idea what I wanted to do, or what I could do in the field of science. Earth Science was my favorite class, so I decided to pursue a major in Geology. I loved it! The courses, the faculty, the classmates, the research, the internships, the field study in South Dakota’s Black Hills. I had found my niche in life.

I was particularly drawn to hydrogeology and geomorphology. This started in an introductory course called Thirsty Planet, which addressed water issues of the world. Desalination, drought, countries having water wars, villages being forced to relocate so the direction of a river could be manipulated; my eyes were forced open. We even met a woman from India, whose whole day was focused around getting water to her family. Water unfit for bathing, let alone consumption. From that moment on, the professor who taught that content became my mentor. My internships became water intensive. He played a big role in me learning how to write as a scientist, think as a scientist, and truly understand the importance of science in the world in which we live.

When science is in my life, whether I’m working on a project, or answering questions on a fossil someone found, I always have a fulfilling sense of purpose. However, two big accomplishments stand out. The first was in an annual water report for Chautauqua County’s Waternet. Fellow interns and I compiled data for analysis from wells and creeks. My accomplishment occurred when I went from being a part of the “et al” to being the first name listed as the author. Another transpired when I was the first student to receive the Florence Eikenburg Scholarship. This scholarship honors a wonderful woman, who was not allowed to major in science due to a lack of women in the field. She didn’t let that stop her, and found other ways to follow her passion.

I took a small hiatus from science when I found out I was pregnant. Science was put on the back burner, but it wasn’t completely gone. When my oldest was 1, she was able to let people know the “rock” she carried around was actually a crinoid fossil.

Now the mother of two beautiful girls, I find life’s enjoyments through them. I try to share with them my love of science. While looking for fairies in the woods, they learn about old growth, how creeks carve out an area, why some areas are wet while others are dry. While riding in the car, they’ve heard about the Catskill Delta, and how this area was covered in warm tropical waters millions of years ago. My oldest likes to tell me about the giant fish she pretends to see as she gazes out the window. These conversations, as well as the excitement I derive during any random science based discussion, made me realize how much I’ve missed actively participating in science. This is what lead me to teaching; another thing I feel has always been a part of me.
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11 thoughts on “Life as a Scientist: From Fascination to Understanding”

  1. Hydrogeology and geomorphology are also my interests!

    I, too, have the habit of sharing about the environment around me with everyone I meet. Last Christmas, we took our four year old nephew to a science museum. His mom warned that he might be too young for it. We had previously always taken his much older brothers. I knew he could get something out of it though, and he did. As we walked up the granite steps, I told him that this rock is made from lava.

    The best moment was when we arrived at the museum. Outside was a giant Earth sculpture. I told him that that museum with the Earth in front of it is where we are going and he stated “No! I don’t like Earths!” He he he.

    1. Ha! Kids are the best. I love when I explain something to them, and then I hear them explain it in their own words to some one else. Usually it is a mix of truth and imagination.

  2. Oh my goodness, you were a precocious kid weren’t you? The stories about little-Tiarra are adorable! I know geology is not my strong suit, but I would be interested to learn more about water scarcity (hopefully we will during the Ontario project?) since that whole global warming thing I assume is not going to have a particularly nice impact on fresh water (salt water we might have a bit too much of…)

    Also your daughters are so cute, and already so inquisitive! You’ll have to do a post about them sometime so we can all coo over them!

  3. I was raised as a Muslim in a relatively conservative household. Your story about your mother and your spiritualism mirrors my own. I also consider myself spiritual, and I think that the faith has lots of good points. Fasting during the month of Ramadan is something I think I’ll be performing for the rest of my life, regardless if stay a Muslim or not. As my scientific literacy improves, I find it more difficult to reconcile the divide between concepts such as evolution and creation. And it has gotten to the point that when I go to pray at the mosque, I feel like I don’t belong, especially next to guys that believe so strongly.

    1. Ceb, I am happy you shared that. I have felt the same way before (not belonging). I was very nervous about going back to the Catholic Church, but recently started going again with my oldest daughter. I’ve realized that I’m not going to agree with everything, and that is OK. There is a lot of good I get out of it, as well as my daughter.

  4. In response to my initial comment:

    Joanne pointed out that granite is made from magma, not lava. I promise that I knew that! Just wanted to keep this scientifically accurate!

    In response to Ceb: When is Ramadan during the calendar year? Perhaps we can avoid snacking during class or something during that time, to respect that you can’t?

    Also, every time I write a comment, it tells me that I have the wrong CAPTCHA at least once.

  5. To jump in here… I think it would be awesome to look at the world of science from your daughters’ point of view. Instead of always being overly analytic (side effect from too many chem courses in college) I like to look at the big picture but I struggle doing so.

    1. It is really funny you brought that up. Today I took my girls to Corbett’s Glen, in Penfield. It is absolutely beautiful, and perfect for a hot day. Anyways, my oldest was running around in the creek, while my youngest was at first very cautious. I carried her up to a waterfall, and she fell in love. She squatted for a good 30 minutes running her hand back and forth through the water, scrutinizing the droplets that ran down her arm, and poking the current with a stick she found. She was so deep in thought. I wish I could have read her mind. We also saw a baby snapping turtle, which was pretty cool 🙂

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