Women in Paleontology Webinar Series: A Summary and Review

by Joyce Drakeford

Women in Paleontology: Tara’s Take with Tara Lepore


Taormina (Tara) Lepore kicked off the second FOSSIL webinar series promoting Women in Paleontology. If you missed this inspiring webinar, you can visit the myFOSSIL.org website and view it under the Videos & Tutorials section (http://www.myfossil.org/video-tutorials/#tara)

Tara is a science teacher and research associate at the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology and The Webb Schools in California. She started off by speaking about some famous historical women in paleontology: Mary Anning, Mary Lyell, and Mary Mantell. They often had to work under the names of their husbands. Supporting women from diverse backgrounds through visibility and mentoring is what women in paleontology is all about. Tara says her mentors are Margery Coombs (UMass-Amherst)and Karen Chin (Univ of CO-Boulder).

Tara’s curiosity about the natural world is what drove her, at a very young age, to write to paleontologist John Ostrom. When he wrote back to her, encouraging her to pursue her interests, it made her believe she could achieve her dream. Tara had a strong interest in biology and geology from childhood. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Biology from UMass-Amherst in 2006 and a Master’s degree in Museum and Field studies from CU-Boulder in 2012. Tara is passionate about education and started teaching first at the Harmony School of Science (Sugarland, TX) and then Waltrip Senior High School (Houston, TX).  Later, she moved to California where she currently teaches at the Webb Schools.

Tara’s graduate research was on tissue-bearing coprolites from the Upper Cretaceous of Colorado. She was trying to answer the following questions: Why were weird impressions preserved? What are they? What animal made the droppings? Can the inclusions be classified? Her findings suggest that they were tyrannosaurid droppings. Implications for taphonomy include bacterial mat preservation associated with the coprolites.

When considering a career in paleontology, Tara states that finding a good support/mentoring network is essential. Do not let road blocks hold you up. Push through difficulties in your weaker subjects or testing anxieties. If you have to take a break, you can always come back to it. Don’t get discouraged.

In conclusion, Tara says STAY INVOLVED! Volunteering can vary from museum projects to field work. Volunteering is the best way to network and get your foot in the door. You may get the opportunity to meet potential advisors and get recommendation letters. Checking out local opportunities for volunteering and internships, like Geo Corps, can be a great gateway into research. She advises checking out local fossil and geological clubs/societies for more opportunities. The more experience, the better. Beef up on your reading. Read everything you can get your hands on — books, magazine articles, and research papers. And read every day. She also suggests staying in touch online by starting a blog or connecting on social media.

My Life as a Curator with Brenda Hunda

Brenda WiP Webinar

Brenda Hunda was the second webinar speaker for the Women in Paleontology series. If you missed this webinar, you can view it at http://www.myfossil.org/video-tutorials/#brenda.

Brenda is the curator of Invertebrate Paleontology at the Cincinnati Museum Center in Ohio. Her passion for paleontology initially came from a love of dinosaurs. At age three, she knew that she wanted to be a paleontologist. In eighth grade, her class took a trip to the Royal Tyrell Museum of Paleontology and that sealed her fate: she had to become a paleontologist. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Honors Paleontology and a Master’s degree in Geology at the University of Alberta. She then went on to earn her PhD in Earth Sciences from the University of California-Riverside, and from there went straight to her position at the museum.

Brenda’s research deals with the morphology of trilobites in the Cincinnati Arch geological region. This is done by using geometric morphometrics (in Brenda’s case, trilobite head shapes) to quantify the ancient environment. This can identify water depth changes through time. She has worked on other projects with students on fossil sea scorpions and on the preservation of crinoids (taphonomy). Having given talks all over the world, she loves travel. Brenda is the lead editor of the Journal of Paleontology and a Council Member of the Paleontological Society.

The Cincinnati Museum Center has one of the largest Upper Ordovician collections in the world. The majority of these specimens are housed at the Geier Collections and Research Facility. Over five million objects are housed at the Geier. You can find their invertebrate collections uploaded to the digital repository at iDigBio.

So, what is a curator? Curators are charged with preserving and presenting the regional history of an area by curation, database development, and care of collections. Brenda takes care of collection management. This is not only cataloging specimens, handling specimens on loan (and acquisitions), but also requires her to have database skills, use georeferenceing, do photography, and predict future museum needs. She even handles budgeting and personnel management. Many curators also contribute to global scientific knowledge through research which involves writing grants, publishing in peer-reviewed journals, and speaking nationally and internationally.

The public often views the curator as a manager or overseer working behind the scenes with the institute’s collection, never dealing with the public. Brenda explained that a good curator actually wants public interaction. They have a whole host of duties including developing and implementing educational floor programs, creating exhibit concepts, design and implementation, holding community talks about science topics, media interface for the museum, handling social media accounts, and answering public questions. Some of these duties can vary depending on the museum.

Brenda has assisted in the creation and running of STEM science programs at the Cincinnati Museum Center. One such program is called G.I.R.L.S. (Girls in Real Life Science). Though she has no formal training in the museum exhibits, she does help with exhibit development. She also works closely with local paleontological societies in the area. Two of those groups are Dry Dredgers and the Kentucky Paleontological Society. Brenda agrees that amateur collectors are invaluable to science: they donate specimens, time, and funds.

Brenda also gets help from students. Students may be eligible for internship credit, but whether for credit, pay, or volunteering, experience in collections would definitely boost one’s resume. Upon concluding the webinar, she wanted to let all the young professionals that you can balance family and career – so as a woman scientist, do not think you have to compromise!

Fossil Volunteering with Cindy Lockner


Cindy Lockner was the third webinar speaker. You can view her webinar at http://www.myfossil.org/video-tutorials/#cindy

The goal of Cindy’s webinar was to encourage the viewer to volunteer for fossil-related events. Though she has no formal paleontology education, Cindy has logged over 1500 hours of volunteer work with various fossil programs since 2011. As a child, Cindy was obsessed with dirt. Her class once took a trip to the National Museum of Natural History and that is when she decided to be a paleontologist. As she got older, she was discouraged by school counselors who stated that paleontology was not a “woman’s field.”

Upon moving to Florida, Cindy joined the Florida Fossil Hunters group. She has performed fieldwork for the Florida Museum of Natural History at the Thomas Farm and Montbrook fossil sites. At one of these digs she was introduced to Chris DeLorey, the Director of the Academy of Natural History & Preservation teaching lab, and this is where Cindy was developed fossil preparation skills. While in the prep lab she met one of the Board of Directors from the Two Medicine Dinosaur Center in Montana. After taking their paleontology training course, she went on to be a field/lab volunteer.

There are over 400 fossils catalogued in the vertebrate collection of the Florida Museum of Natural History database that were discovered by Cindy. She has volunteered with the Florida Paleontological Society on National Fossil Day for the last three years, and she co-authored an article on volunteering that is published on the National Park Service website. Cindy also prepped an oreodont skull for the NPS Junior Paleontologist Educational Kits. Additionally, she is coordinating the upcoming Florida Fossil Hunters’ Women in Paleontology Day celebration on May 6th at the Orlando Science Center. With volunteer experiences at both the Maitland Public Library outreach day (The ‘Real’ Jurassic Park dinosaur exhibit and presentation) and National Dino Day, Cindy says she documents every hour of volunteering so she can remember the experience.

As an exceptional volunteer, Cindy was recognized in 2016 by the Florida Museum of Natural History with the Howard Converse award for contributions to Florida paleontology. She has also received a “Paleo Patron” Letter of Appreciation from the Florida Paleontological Society and the Florida Museum of Natural History. Further, the Florida Fossil Hunters awarded her with a Certificate of Appreciation and she was recognized under the Amateur Spotlight in a previous edition of the myFOSSIL newsletter.

To find a fossil volunteer opportunity, Cindy recommended that you check out your local fossil clubs, paleontological societies, universities, and museums. Whatever your area of interest may be, whether it is field research, preparation/restoration, screen washing, collections, or being at events – there is a volunteer opening for you.

The big question is, “Why volunteer?” Education and friendships are two great reasons to take the plunge. More importantly, you are helping to build museum collections so fossils may be studied and displayed for the generations to come. But overall, just HAVE FUN!

The final webinar in the series in April 26:

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