Myria Perez has a bone to pick with the lack of diversity in STEM.
Myria Perez is a paleontologist and an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) IF/THEN ambassador. Currently, she is an assistant fossil preparator for the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas, Texas. She’s always known paleontology was her dream – Myria started volunteering for the Houston Natural History Museum when she was just 12! Myria earned her BS in Geology and BA in Anthropology at Southern Methodist University, where she was able to help on paleontology projects even as an undergrad. She’s gone on fossil excavations and some of the fossils she’s worked with are even on display at the Smithsonian!
As an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) IF/THEN ambassador, an initiative to support women in STEM fields, Myria is role model for middle school girls and even appeared on Mission Unstoppable!
How did you get into STEM?
As a young child, I have always had an obsession with dinosaurs and animals. I knew I wanted to be a paleontologist from the age of 2. And almost every birthday cake has been paleontology themed! When I was 12 years old, I asked the Houston Museum of Natural Science paleo curators about volunteering. They let me become one as long as I had a parent/guardian with me, and so I did! On my weekends and free time, I spent my time learning from my mentors how to prepare fossils in the lab, how to excavate fossils by joining them on digs, and how to do science communication through exhibit tours and presentations.
When did you know you wanted to be a paleontologist?
Since I was 2 years old! My mother would take me to the Houston Museum of Natural Science. The paleontology hall was the first and last thing I had to see.
What does the average day in your field for you look like?
Most of the time, I am preparing fossils with a variety of tools and teaching volunteers how to as well. Fossil prep can be buzzing away rock from fossil with airscribes (mini jackhammers), dental picks, or even toothpicks. Bones break and sometimes arrive at the lab already broken. We puzzle them and glue them back together. Sometimes, we get calls about local fossil finds and need to do fieldwork. Our team and volunteers go out to the fossil site and scientifically excavate the fossil. We also do science communication when we talk with the public and give tours for special museum events. So, a day varies a lot for a fossil preparator! A big aspect I love about my job.
Who inspires you in STEM?
Growing up, I learned about the first female paleontologist, Mary Anning. She became my idol and I even made a club after her in middle school. My mentors, David Temple (HMNS), Dr. Louis Jacobs (SMU), and Dr. Anna K. Behrensmeyer (Smithsonian NMNH) have been the biggest inspirations for me. They all have helped and guided me in my path towards becoming a paleontologist. I appreciate all what they have done and I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for them.
How has working in Museums of Natural Science been?
I knew without a doubt that I belonged working in a museum when I joined HMNS as a volunteer. I felt at home. Here, you are surrounded by others with a passion for the natural sciences.
What’s your favorite dinosaur?
This is a hard one. It changes for me. Right now, I think Therizinosaurs. It’s such a weird dinosaur. It belongs to a group of dinosaurs called Theropods which are carnivorous. Therizinosaurs is thought to have been the odd one…a herbivore. It also has these 3 foot line claws and a long neck. It’s such a freak and I love it!
What’s been your most exciting experience in STEM?
There have been so many exciting adventures! From excavating my first fossil in the red beds of Seymour, Texas to doing research on Mary Anning’s Ichthyosaurs in England! Oh! The exhibit I helped put together, Sea Monsters Unearthed. I can’t pick only one!
How is it being a AAAS If/Then Ambassador?
The AAAS IF/THEN Ambassadorship is made up of 125 women in STEM professionals. Our mission is to empower girls in STEM. Growing up, I was an active Girl Scout and found every way to weave my passion for paleo and share it with others, especially other girls. As an Ambassador, I get more opportunities to share my passion and be a role model for others. Growing up, my role models were my mentors. Now I am able to give back and share my journey to inspire girls.
What’s something about your field that you wish others knew about?
It’s a hard field to get into. It takes patience and determination. Just because you are not good at all your school work does not mean you are not worthy of becoming a paleontologist! If you have a burning passion for the subject and supportive social group, you can do it.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
Find a good mentor. They will see your strengths and weakness, and with this guide you to achieve your goals. A good mentor will push you, but also be understanding.