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  • Writer's pictureS. Yoshi Maezumi

How I became a woman in science

“What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” ― Jane Goodall

Today, February, 11th is the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. In honor of our special day, I wanted to share my story of how I became a woman in science. My mom has a Masters degree in Anthropology and always encouraged me to get a good education. At a very early age, she began cultivating a reverence for smart, independent female scientists introducing me to some of my most influential female science hero's including Dian Fossey, Marie Curie, Mary Leaky, Marry Anning, and Dame Jane Goodall. When I was about 10 years old, I read Goodall's book 'Reason for Hope'. I later had the privilege of meeting her while I was in college and she was as inspiring and lovely as I imagined. Although I did not circle back around to science until I was much older, I always knew about these women and how they changed the world.

It was about the same time the question arose: what do you want to be when you grow up? My go to response was usually a dancer, but archaeologist, doctor, astronaut/astronomer, and international ambassador were intermittently in the running. When I was in High School, we were lucky enough to have one of the only schools in the district that offered the option to take an Anthropology elective. For our term project we had to choose a field work assignment ranging from primate observations at the zoo to archaeological excavations in the desert. As the later involved a weekend camping trip, I opted for that and mom and I set out to the thriving metropolis of Barstow California to what was then known as the "Calico Early Man Site" (originally discovered by Louis Leakey). Although there has subsequently been considerable debate over the age and authenticity of Calico, during that time, volunteers could visit the site and learn to excavate. At the end of our last day, I found my first archaeological artifact: a limestone hand scraper. My first foray into Archaeological field work changed my life forever.

I went on to obtain a double B.A. in Anthropological Archaeology and Religious Studies at UC San Diego. Since that time, I have been on archaeological excavations in Jordan, Italy, Spain, Guatemala, Brazil, and throughout the western US. It was during my masters in Analytical Archaeology that I started thinking about how pre-historic peoples impacted the environment and focused on paleoecological (past ecology) reconstructions of the Huntington Beach Wetlands. I worked with Dr. Christine Whitcraft at CSU Long Beach who is one of the most engaging, supportive, and encouraging mentors I have had. I headed out to the University of Utah for my PhD in Physical Geography. My first field experience in the Unita Mountians ice coring (see photo, ice. Literally ice) confirmed my decision to conduct my research in the tropics and leave the -45°F windchill to the more stout of heart. My PhD research focused on paleoecological reconstructions of savanna and rainforest ecosystems in the Bolivian Amazon. Through some networking and several trips to Europe to train in various analytical techniques, I met the PI of my current post-doc position. I am continuing my research on how pre-historic peoples impacted the Amazon with particular interests in ancient farming and fire management strategies. We are learning a lot about long-term, sustainable land use practices from pre-Columbian peoples (indigenous inhabitants before European contact). The difference I hope to make is to use these lessons from the past to improve sustainable land use and fire management strategies in the Amazon moving forward.

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