More than Just a Mentor
My first experience getting to know my faculty mentor, Dr. Karen Samonds, was on the Madagascar study abroad program that she co-led last summer. As a junior travelling to a foreign country with a group of people I barely knew, I was excited but understandably nervous. However, getting to know Dr. Samonds, hearing her stories about past paleontology expeditions in Madagascar, I not only began to feel at ease in an unfamiliar setting, but I also found myself wanting to learn more about her work and explore for myself the research she talked about with such passion.
Working with Dr. Samonds in Madagascar
The opportunity came in September of last year, when Dr. Samonds accepted me as a student worker in her lab at NIU. I learned practical skills such as how to catalogue and prepare fossils, while also gaining knowledge about Madagascar’s fossil record. Dr. Samonds was always supportive, understanding of my mistakes and an inspiration and role model to me, so wanting to complete my senior thesis under her guidance was a no-brainer.
Talking with her about options for my future research was thrilling, because she helped me realize just how many possibilities were within my reach. I felt encouraged to follow my passion and choose the path that most appealed to me, knowing that I would have the full support of Dr. Samonds’ knowledge, experience, and professional connections no matter what I chose. My decision to take on the Nosy Makamby sea cow project was exciting for us both, and she was incredibly helpful along every step of the way. She provided me with relevant publications, put me in touch with other experts in the field, arranged for us to visit the Field Museum collections, and planned many of the logistics of my trip so that the research could go as smoothly as possible. Going to Madagascar again this summer was even better than the first time, and neither would have been possible without Dr. Samonds.
The 2016 Paleo Team
Overall, I am exceedingly grateful for the opportunity to work with Dr. Samonds. I feel that I have gotten to know her not just as a mentor, but also as a fellow scientist and a friend. I have the utmost respect for her work – she has contributed to over 20 publications, co-founded the NGO Sadabe to help promote the coexistence of people and wildlife in Madagascar, and is helping to fill in the 65 million year gap in Madagascar’s fossil record – but more than anything, I appreciate her willingness to encourage and support me in my own.
By Rebekah Ernat