One of the best things about conferences is the amazing people one gets to meet while there. The people you meet make and break a conference experience and TFUI Founder Melissa feels lucky that she's met nothing but inspiring and supportive peers. Emma-Louise Nicholls is one of these people. She and Melissa met at a conference in the UK and have stayed in touch since then. We were lucky enough that Emma had some spare time in her busy schedule to talk to us about what she does (it's like nothing we've ever talked about at TFUI). Dive on in!
The Fins United Initiative: Tell us about the beginning of your career story.
Emma-Louise Nicholls: My career began 30 years ago when I was five. No, really! I didn’t know the word paleontologist then, but I decided when I was five years old that I wanted to be a ‘fossil person’ and work in a museum. I used to dig holes in my parents garden looking for dinosaurs. Once I dug a hole in the middle of the lawn, which was the last time I was allowed on it with a trowel.
TFUI: Did you envision yourself being where you are now?
ELN: It wasn’t until my master’s degree that sharks muscled dinosaurs out of the way in the obsessive part of my brain and subsequently grew to become a huge part of my life and career. For my master’s research I studied a fossil locality in the UK that had both terrestrial and marine species in it, with the aim being to find out what was going on and how that had happened. That’s when I first began to study sharks, albeit only fossil species at this point.
My Ph.D research, to put it in a nutshell; was to investigate cohabiting groups of both fossil and modern sharks and rays, and compare how patterns in cohabitation had changed over geological time. It was a novel way of grouping sharks and rays and must have been good science as they gave me a Ph.D for it, hooray.
TFUI: What are you up to now-a-days on a professional note?
ELN: I am now, I say proudly, the Deputy Keeper of Natural History at the Horniman Museum and Gardens in London, UK.
TFUI: That is awesome, congratulations!
ELN: I still study sharks and am currently compiling a database of Chondrichthyan specimens held at the museum in both the natural history department and in the anthropology department. That sounds odd but, many indigenous peoples have historically used shark teeth in weapons such as this taumangaria (see image above) from Kiribati.
TFUI: That is, as we say here at TFUI, fintastic!
ELN: I find these objects fascinating from a history-of-natural-history point of view. Once the database is complete, which can take a while with an historic collection due to the varying levels of documentation, I will be able to evaluate how best the museum specimens can inform current research on Chondrichthyans.
TFUI: What is your current project(s)? (Any interesting tidbits the public is allowed to know?)
ELN: Currently I am working with a colleague on a project to offer UK aquariums and museums a temporary loan of a museum grade display case with a variety of Victorian sawfish rostra specimens to raise awareness of sawfish and promote the work of the Sawfish Conservation Society, The Deep aquarium, and the Shark Trust on sawfish conservation. The loan will be free, specifically to enable smaller institutions to benefit from it, and will be accompanied by the option of a talk or set of talks by a shark scientist (that’s me) on sawfish conservation.
TFUI: Who has inspired you most in your science career?
ELN: I have been inspired by a lot of people in my life, but the one who stands out is not a person, it is a feeling. That feeling you get when you’re doing something or looking at something that fills you with awe and excitement. That’s how I feel whenever I see sharks, visit an aquarium, or walk through a museum.
TFUI: I definitely know that feeling. It's a great one!
ELN: That feeling re-inspires me with every conference I attend, shark paper I read, or documentary I watch. Having said that, Ellie Sattler and Alan Grant from Jurassic Park have been pretty iconic role models to me too.
TFUI: Do you have any advice for those hoping to follow in your career footsteps?
ELN: It is a tough field to get into but if it’s what you really want, don’t ever give up. Enthusiasm goes a long way, both in keeping yourself motivated and in peaking other people’s interest in you and your work. Get involved in everything, get your face and name known, and if anyone tells you that you can’t do it… don’t listen and delete them from Facebook.
TFUI: That is GREAT advice.
the fins united initiative would like to thank emma for her time and
TFUI Founder Melissa C. Marquez is author of all animal bios and "Behind the Fins" segments.
SEE MELISSA'S TEDx TALK HERE:
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