Pennsylvania State University - Anthropology Ph.D. Graduate Student
and NSF Graduate Research Fellow
Tim Ryan's Primate Functional Morphology Lab
What is your elevator pitch? AKA what do you do/study?
My research focuses on understanding variation in human bone structure as it relates to environmental, biological, and behavioral factors including things like climate, diet, disease load, and physical activity level. To do this I use microCT to create 3D models, and then I use computer software to measure bone structure variables and compare them between populations [keep reading for more amazing images!] .
Check out Lily's Twitter page for updates on her anthropology and human evolution outreach activities at Penn State (below) and beyond (right)!
Hmm…that’s tough. Picking only three is so hard, I guess my favorites change depending on the day. But today, I think that Honey Bees (Apis) are really cool and ecologically important organisms. I also really like honey. My second pick is the Barred Owl (Strix varia). Owls are so majestic and there are so many different species with cool adaptations. Finally, even though it is a bit cliché I think Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) are really awesome because they are so intelligent and beautiful to watch in the water.
It would be so cool to be able to breathe under water. I was a swimmer growing up, so this has always been a dream superpower. It would also be amazing to talk to animals. How cool would it be to know what goes on in the minds of other animals! Can I pick both? [I'm gonna say hell yes because then you could have dolphin friends!]
I have always thought learning different languages is really fun and useful. In addition to getting a BS in Anthropology, I also got a BA in Spanish. But, if I was going to learn another language I think I would go with French, I like the way it sounds and I would love to visit France someday.
When I need to vent I usually talk to my friends Kate and/or Diego, both are graduate students so they understand school/work related frustrations. I also vent to my husband, John. He is a really great listener, and not in academia, so he is good at reminding me to take a step back and reevaluate things when I need to.
Yes! I have a Pembroke Welsh Corgi named Maggie [see below]. She’s two years old and a bundle of energy! She is a great study buddy, most of the time. Sometimes she wants all of the attention, but that usually means it is time to take a break! She loves to go hiking and play with squeaky toys—the louder the better, in her opinion!
I love to swim, hike, do yoga, and read novels (or listen to them). I also really enjoy cooking! Since I started grad school I have been doing a lot of meal planning and prepping so I have food ready to go for the whole week. I also volunteer at the local animal shelter (Center County PAWS) and walk the dogs once a week, which has been a really great way to meet people outside of school/work. It is also great to get to know the dogs—and that’s where I adopted Maggie!
If you could travel anywhere, where would you go?
I love to travel and I have a really long list of places I would like to visit someday. I have always wanted to visit the UK. I find the history really interesting and I also love British TV especially Great British Bake Off and any crime show (Midsomer Murders, Father Brown, Grantchester, Shetland, etc.). Downton Abbey is another go to for me. I also really like books based in the UK like Harry Potter, Outlander, and the Discworld Novels (which have loose geographic similarities at least).
When I’m studying or working I tend to listen to music without words and that I don’t know very well. Otherwise I get distracted. The Pandora station “Classical Music for Studying” is one I listen to frequently. I also really like the soundtrack music for movies and TV shows like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Outlander, and the Hunger Games. If I’m not studying then I like music I can sing along to!
When I first started taking biological anthropology classes as an undergraduate I was really surprised by peoples reactions to telling them I study biological anthropology. The two most common responses I have encountered are: 1) “What is anthropology?” or 2) “Oh! I took an anthropology class when I was in college. It was so interesting” (almost always cultural anthropology or archaeology). So I guess the main thing I want people to know is that biological anthropology is a really diverse and interesting area of research that at the most basic level involves studying humans from a biological perspective. One of the coolest things, for me, about biological anthropology is how much overlap there is with other scientific fields, and how many different ways there are to answer questions related to biological anthropology.
I think I have always wanted to do scientific research—even if I didn’t know it at the time. When I was in elementary school I was absolutely set on being a marine biologist (I’m not really sure why, other than I liked dolphins). As I got older I became less and less sure about what I wanted to do, and I really didn’t know how you even get started once you do decide. Then I got to college and ended up taking a bio anth course as a general education requirement and things sort of snow balled. I took more and more anthropology courses, and started volunteering in a couple of labs helping other people do their research and I was hooked!
For me, one of the hardest things about research is that it can be really easy to get stuck and be overwhelmed by the whole process. It has been really important to be stubborn and keep going even when things get harder or seem impossible. Asking for help when I need it, and breaking projects down into manageable steps have been crucial.
My biggest weakness is that I can be a bit of a perfectionist. Sometimes I get caught up in the details and lose sight of the bigger question. Details are really important especially when designing a research project, but sometimes things take longer than I anticipate because I want everything to be exactly right. It is important to know when it’s time to move on, which is something I am still working on.
In all honesty I struggle with this, there always seem to be a million things on my to do list, for both school/work and everything else I have to do. I make a to do list for the week, and then I break it down by day so I have specific goals. Although recently I have been having trouble finishing everything on my list… I also try to schedule breaks and make sure I leave at least a little bit of time for things I enjoy like cooking, working out, spending time with my husband, and reading non-academic books. Definitely a work in progress!
Like: I really like using microCT in the context of anthropological questions. It is awesome to start with the actual bone, scan it, and then measure the 3D model virtually using computer software. It is also really cool to be able to visualize the internal structures of bone [see below].
Dislike: I wish that it didn’t take so long to process data. The image datasets I work with are quite large so it can take a really long time to do anything to the data, even just opening the files.
Like: I love being in an environment that encourages continuous learning. I like being able to learn new information and skills, whether in a class or from another student or a faculty member. I love that there is always new and exciting research and people are pushing the boundaries of scientific understanding. There are always so many cool ideas and projects going on.
Dislike: I really don’t like how disconnected academia can be from the rest of society. Sometimes it feels like we are in our own bubble, separated from other people. I try and do as much outreach as possible. It is so fun to help out at workshops or go to local schools and talk to kids about science and anthropology!
I have always thought that research on renewable energy is really interesting. It would be really awesome to someday have a house that is off the grid and only uses renewable energy! I also was recently introduced to pedagogy, or how people teach and learn. As someone who has spent a lot of time in school it is really fascinating and useful for thinking about the way I have taught and how I want to improve my teaching philosophy in the future.
Gosh, so many people are inspiring to me, I don’t think I can pick just one!
I usually need tea (hot or iced), I’m a strange grad student but I don’t really like coffee. I work best when its quiet, except maybe some background music. I like to work in large blocks of time, to really get a lot done I need a few hours so I can get into a good groove. If I get stuck I usually take Maggie for a walk, get a snack, and then try again. I really don’t work well if I’m hungry— if hanger sets in I’m not at all productive.
In the near future, I am excited about getting my dissertation research going. More long-term I hope to be able to have a job that combines research, teaching, and education outreach! I would also love to live somewhere I can have a big veggie garden, chickens, goats, and maybe a couple of bee hives.
Miss Tick sniffed. "You could say this advice is priceless," she said. "Are you listening?"
"Yes," said Tiffany.
"Good. Now ... if you trust in yourself ..."
" ... and believe in your dreams ..."
" ... and follow your star ..." Miss Tick went on.
" ... you'll still get beaten by people who spent THEIR time working hard and learning things and weren't so lazy. Goodbye."
--Terry Prachett, The Wee Free Men