Ph.D. student & graduate teaching assistant, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Dept. of Earth & Atmospheric Sciences

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I love the discovery potential of STEM. I really enjoy figuring out the big picture with data.

Devra Hock

What do you do?

As a graduate student, I conduct research and teach introductory geology labs for my department. My research is focused in paleontology and museum informal learning. I gather data about how mammalian traits can predict regional biomes that they live in, and apply that to the fossil record to interpret what past environments were like in different parts of the continent. I am also looking at how mammalian traits have changed from the historical/non-human impacted distributions and modern distributions. I am also researching how people think about paleontology in natural history museums, and how we can build new exhibits to encourage better learning experiences.

Why did you choose this field?

I've always thought paleontology is a really cool field, because it allows us to essentially travel back in time to figure out what the past environments were like. I became interested in earth sciences in middle school, with an earth sciences focused field trip. On that trip, we visited some caves in Southern Arizona and talked about earth sciences as a whole. The following year in 7th grade, I did a research paper on radiocarbon dating and using woolly mammoths as an example. During that and after it, I started watching paleontology documentaries on T.V. and became more interested in paleontology. In high school, I had a few opportunities to go on some field digs, which solidified my interest in paleontology, and I knew I wanted to study it in college. I was lucky enough to have my biology teacher haven been trained as a paleo-anthropologist, and I was able to do independent study classes with her on paleontological topics.
Once I was in college, I started to see museums as more of an interesting career choice. I think it's the perfect intersection of science and the general public, and where the public is the most engaged in learning for their own interests.

What do you look at and think, "I wish younger me would have known this was possible"?

Recently, I was added to an international research team looking at how science is portrayed in natural history museums by one of my advisors. Two of the researchers are in Israel, and the last group meeting that I was included with took place in Israel to meet with everyone in person. I'm Jewish, so being able to travel to Israel was always something I had wanted to do at some point, but there was never a clear opportunity until now. I don't think a younger me would have thought it was possible that I'd be traveling to Israel by myself to help write a scientific paper on the nature of science in museums, as well as meeting some distant family members while I was there.

Why do you love working in STEM?

I love the discovery potential of STEM. I really enjoy finding and seeing new ways of seeing data and making connections, and figuring out the big picture with my data.

Best advice for next generation?

I think the constant encouragement throughout your education journey is key, plus full acceptance of all your interests. I was never told I had to pick one interest over another, or that I wasn't smart enough etc to be interested in science. I also think seeing female scientists as multi-dimensional human beings helps girls get and stay interested in STEM.

Inspo quote / fun fact / role model

"Stop worrying if your vision is new.
Let others make that decision
They usually do, you keep moving on" - Stephen Sondheim

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