Mariah Scott is a 2nd year graduate student in the Biological Sciences Division at the University of Chicago. She was raised in Dearborn, Michigan; a diverse, suburban city most known for being the headquarters of Ford. With her parents and sister, growing up involved frequent road trips to Lake Michigan or the woods where her enthusiasm for the outdoors would frequently result in her clothes being caked in mud. This messy trait would later inform her career, as for years her research involved digging in the waterbeds of rivers and streams in the pursuit of her science.
These trips formed in her an appreciation for how different organisms are linked in their environment, how those links came to exist, and how humans can best conserve these connections. Her interests eventually led her to Central Michigan University where she obtained both her Bachelors and her Master’s degree in Biology. Along the way, she actively pursued ecology-related work including assistance in plant prep labs, the university greenhouse, and the local cultural and natural history museum where she gained hands-on experience working with both plants and animals. After meeting Dr. David Zanatta, she worked for the next 6 years in his lab studying various aspects of fresh water mussel ecology. Here, she was able to combine her inherent love of the outdoors with her desire to pursue conservation work.
Now at U. Chicago, she is looking at the evolution of life cycle strategies in animals. Initially inspired by how certain female clams will parasitize fish with their larvae, she wants to investigate how different evolutionary pressures can lead to varied maternal effort. For example, why do certain animals have extended parental care in offspring (as in mice), while others place the burden of care on a separate species (as in cuckoo birds [photo]), or have no care at all. Further, she wants to learn how these different strategies may benefit or hurt the species involved.
Photo credit: http://www.pbs.org
So what gets you jazzed about you study system(s)?
“There are too many things that are jazzy, but the top 3 are: This is a new approach to looking at reproductive effort and maternal cost, it can have real world implications of understanding how vulnerable a species might be based on reproductive effort/costs, and…I get to look at pretty shells.“
What initially made you want to pursue science as a career?
“The want to not just look at the natural world and feel awe, but to try and understand it, and truly understand the ‘awe’.
Is there anyone in particular, not necessarily a scientist, who has inspired you to be where you are now?
“I think my father’s quest for knowledge and love of nature is a large part of where I am now. I often think of him as the reason I am where I am now.”
Once you are done with your PhD, what do you plan to do after?
“I’m really hoping to be a professor who has a nice mix of teaching classes, because I love explaining complicated topics, and does research because I want to keep contributing to the knowledge base. I also would like to have a mentorship component because I want to help expand the next generation.”
What is something about yourself that someone might not expect from a scientist?
“I do identify as religious; my religion being Paganism. Also, I view my nature based faith as part of why nature means so much to me.”
Any advice for someone who wants pursue graduate school?
“It is exceptionally difficult to know if you want to do a job if you have never done it. I think if you want to start being a scientist or pursuing that, you should go volunteer in labs, try and get jobs in labs, talk to professors, ask them what their day consists of. Because it’s such an abstract concept of ‘I want to be a *blank* ’ if you’ve never experienced it.”
This question is going to be a bit more abstract. What do you want the greater community at large, scientific or otherwise, to know about you or the field?
“Oh my God…that is such a good question that I can’t think of an answer…I think there are a lot of paths that bring people to science and that’s a large part of what makes science strong. It’s a diversity of backgrounds and inspirations to be scientists. I’m going to go with that.”
*For more information about Mariah Scott you can visit her Linkedin page.*