Later is Too Late: Paleosciences Must Be Integrated into Decision-Making for a Better Future*

by Julieta Martinelli

One of the things I’ve tried to balance as I move forward in my career is doing science I find intellectually stimulating and also useful for society. When I started working on my Ph.D., I felt my research would mostly be focused around biotic interactions in the fossil record. Three years after graduating, I still feel these questions are relevant, but over the past few years I’ve been more inclined to do science that contributes more directly to pressing issues our planet is facing today. 

The most relevant and undeniable of these issues is climate change, or more accurately, the climate and ecosystems crisis our planet is facing. When the first image of a black hole was taken, I read a Twitter comment saying “We can take photos of black holes but we can’t tackle climate change?!” It resonated with me because humans are constantly pushing boundaries and overcoming challenges, specifically through cooperative work and technology. But, why are we still looking away…

PhD and Parenthood: An Insider’s Story

by Nguyen Tan Thai Hung

A friend of mine who finished her PhD and then had a child told me having a child is like doing a second PhD. If she’s right, I had been doing two PhDs at the same time for three years, and since January, I have been doing three.

My son, Max, was born two months before I started my PhD. After my last job, I was a full-time dad for a month and grew really close to him. Then I started school, the transition was tough. Switching from having a rigid schedule as an engineer to having flexible time as a student, I faced the curse of flexibility: every day I had to make a choice whether to work at home and be around Max or to go to the office to be more effective. And I dreaded making that choice. I wanted to spend more time with Max, but I needed more time for work. I thought about Max when working and thought about work when parenting. I became severely stressed. We’ve heard about separation anxiety in children, but I felt like I was the one having it as I said goodby…

Redeemed by Charcoal

by Abraham Nqabutho Dabengwa 

“Not much pollen at ten sites!” was the dreadful proclamation. “This isn’t any good. There’s lots of charcoal but not much of a story without a vegetation proxy.”

The diagnosis was clear. It’s the type that shakes a palynologist’s stiff spine, normally adapted for slavishly counting pollen and other microscopic fossils. Disaster had struck me at the larval stage of my Ph.D. No pollen. What was I to do? How was I going to justify my inclusion in a pollen lab? Better yet, how was I going to rise from the valley of academic Hades where the Unfortunate fight to reach “heaven” or sink into oblivion? 

Now, I know some of you have heard or personally experienced research horrors. Yes, stuff happens. Bad stuff. Even to people who think they are innocent. Horrors or “game changers” are rarely due to lack of intelligence, poor foresight, and vile spirits. It seems life works on timetables different from the conventional academic assembly line. Even those lucky in aca…

Publications Ethics – Authorship Issues

by Carin Andersson

A few years ago, I was asked to be part of a small group to develop research ethical guidelines for my home institution. For the first time, I had to go into depth of the various components of research ethics and the topics that we addressed were many. We read and discussed guidelines for scientific dishonesty, protection of people and animals involved in research, protection of the environment, contract-based research, good research practice, as well as publishing, writing, and co-authorship. I started to be invited to give presentations on research ethics, and it quickly became clear that the audience was primarily interested in issues related to publication ethics, in particular matters concerning authorship. The topic of authorship sparked great interest amongst both early-career and more experienced researchers. It also became clear that things had not improved much since I was a Ph.D. student. The early-career scientists today seem to be working out of the same…

Tracking 800,000 Years of Climate Change: Snippets from a Field Campaign in Tajikistan

by Aditi Krishna Dave

Exploring loess deposits

Loess (or wind-blown dust) deposits are natural archives that preserve responses to past climate and environmental change – thus, allowing for reconstruction of climate over the past hundreds of thousands of years, especially in arid and semi-arid areas. The piedmonts of the Alai-Pamir ranges in southern Tajikistan (Figure 1) are blanketed by thick loess deposits that act as crucial archives for understanding palaeoclimatic variability in continental Eurasia [1]. Furthermore, owing to its topography and location, which lies at the intersection of major climate subsystems, the deposits in this region provide unique insight into the dynamic interplay between geomorphic processes and climate change on dust transport, deposition and preservation [2, 3]. However, these loess records have remained largely unexplored.

In 2018, our research group at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry (Mainz, Germany) undertook a 5-week campaign to continuously…

In Search of Past Underwater Light

by Marttiina Rantala

Importance of light

Have you ever been mesmerized by the beauty of light filtering through the water column, or the ripples of light dancing at the sandy bottom of a lake? While many can undoubtedly relate to such moments of awe, few have probably ever considered the implications of this play of light on the underlying biota or, indeed, on ourselves. In effect, light is essential for the underwater realm. As on land, light fuels life in lake ecosystems as photosynthetic organisms, such as algae, harness solar energy for their own growth, thereby making the precious energy available to all other lake organisms. Yet, sunlight also has a destructive side which most of us have very tangibly witnessed at some point in our lives. 

The fundamental importance of light in aquatic systems is, however, much more than energy input for photosynthesis or the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation. Notably, the energy from the Sun has a strong control over the movement of water …

How to Become a Paleobiologist

by Caitlin MacKenzie
A few weeks ago, in the middle of a busy rush of lab work on a sediment core, I spent a morning curled up in a comfy chair with a giant mug of coffee. While snow fell outside my window, I was reminiscing about spring in the Maine mountains. It wasn’t exactly daydreaming — I was reading the proofs for a paper from one of my dissertation chapters, ‘Trails-as-transects: phenology monitoring across heterogeneous microclimates in Acadia National Park, Maine. ’ The open granite ridges of Acadia were a second home during my PhD. Today, my relationship with Acadia’s plants is a little different: instead of recording their fresh flowers in the field, I’m counting the grains of pollen they left behind thousands of years ago. Reading through the proofs for this paper brought me back to my biology and ecology roots — somewhere along the way toward my chosen career as a conservation biologist, I became an accidental paleoecologist.

An alpine masters and a ridge top PhD

I’ve wo…