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#STEMStories: Melisa, Palaeontologist, England

1. Introduce yourself, who are you what do you do?

My name is Melisa and I am a Mexican palaeontologist doing my PhD in the UK. I am based at the University of Bristol, where I study the earliest mammals! I use engineering techniques to better understand how their jaws were built and how this relates to the way these animals were eating! I also love doing science communication and science graphic design.

2. How did you arrive at this career (or point in your life/work)? Was it always something you knew you wanted to do?

I always new I wanted to study biology and I had always been fascinated by palaeontology, but I never knew I could actually become a palaeontologist until I was doing my undergraduate degree. I was very lucky that my university had a large group of palaeontology researchers where I was able to do my dissertation on mastodons and also do some extra work on carnivore coprolites. I soon realised I wanted to do research on vertebrate paleontology for a living and so I decided to come to Bristol to do the Masters in Palaeobiology. Bristol has a huge palaeo research group with a very wide range of research interests, so I readily found a place to fit in. I did my MSc dissertation on North American camels and ruminants from the Neogene and I stayed to do a PhD on biomechanics of the mammals that lived alongside dinosaurs!

3. What about your job makes you jump out of bed in the morning, especially on those cold, dark mornings?

Being used to the Mexican weather, I do find the British winter mornings rather bracing! But I am lucky that I get to spend my days on topics that fascinate me. I love the feeling of figuring out small details of things that happened millions of years ago and no one ever witnessed! Like every paleontologist, I would love to have a time machine to see what the world actually looked like in the past. Through my work I can get a small glimpse into the past right from my desk!

4. What is your personal cure for stress or how do you raise your spirits in times of doubt? Can you share a story?

For me the best way to avoid becoming stressed is to have a good work plan and to stick to it, working only 9 to 5 and never on weekends! When I do get stressed I like to go for a walk outside, do mindfulness meditation or just go home and take some time off. I love running, reading and watching movies! I try to never compare myself to others (although sometimes it’s hard not to) and, when I do doubt myself, I like to think of my previous accomplishments to reassure myself I am able to do this!

5. Who is your role model? If no one, any thoughts on this?

My role models are my wonderful PhD supervisors: Emily Rayfield, Christine Janis and Pam Gill! All of them are incredibly accomplished women in science who are experts in their fields: Emily in biomechanics, Christine in mammal evolution and Pam in the study of Mesozoic mammals. More importantly, they are very kind people that have always supported me and encouraged me to do my best throughout my degree. I have learned so much from them and hope to one day be like them.

6. What advice would you give to yourself if you could go back in time?

I would remind myself that I am still a student and no one is expecting me to know everything! It is okay to ask questions and first drafts don’t need to be perfect.

7. Top 3 tips for girls starting out in STEM?

  1. Never listen to anyone who tells you STEM is not for girls
  2. Don’t compare yourself to others, everyone learns at their own pace and it’s okay not to be perfect at everything
  3. Go for it! It might be intimidating at first, but you will learn everything you need to know along the way.

8. How do you measure your success?

For me the most important measure of success is how much happiness my job brings me. Of course degrees and publications are relevant but, at the end of the day, being a researcher is just a job. I am very lucky I have a job that gives me a sense of satisfaction and happiness, and I think that is really the thing that matters the most to me!

9. Where can we find out more about your work?

My publications are available at ResearchGate (https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Nuria_Morales-Garcia), Google Scholar (https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=a3z20x8AAAAJ&hl=en), and the University of Bristol Website (http://www.bristol.ac.uk/earthsciences/people/nuria-m-morales-garcia/index.html).

10. Are you social? Will you share your Twitter handle, or LinkedIn profile, or Facebook so that young women can connect with you?

Yes! My Twitter handle is @NuriaMelisaMor1