2010 Romer Prize Recipient
Jennifer C. Olori
I grew up in Rockland County, New York, just 30 miles from New York City and the American Museum of Natural History. I visited the museum (and the Bronx Zoo!) so frequently as a child that I could give guided tours before I started the first grade. My passion for zoology, evolution and the history of life began then and grew through high school. In 2000 I began my undergraduate degree at Cornell University with the original intent of specializing in science education. I enrolled in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology program, and after taking K. Zamudio's class on vertebrate zoology I decided that I also wanted to study vertebrate evolution. I spent two summers participating in undergraduate research on insect and plant interactions and during a third I traveled to Pittsburgh for an internship at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. I worked with T. Pearce in the Section of Molluscs and volunteered in the Vertebrate Paleontology Prep Lab. My experiences at the Carnegie renewed my childhood interest in paleontology and after taking H. Greene's course on herpetology, I knew I wanted to study early tetrapods.
After earning my bachelors degree in 2004, I spent a year working in the University of Texas Computed Tomography Lab where I learned the finer points of incorporating CT technology into paleontological research. In 2005 I began my PhD studies at The University of Texas at Austin under the supervision of C. Bell. Early on I undertook a number of side projects on burrowing snakes and salamander fossils. Through those smaller studies I became interested in the evolution of limb-reduction and miniaturization, as well as the relationships of modern amphibians. Together those topics pointed me in the direction of my doctoral research, which focused on skeletal anatomy and development in lepospondyl microsaurs.
I must thank a number of people for their assistance and guidance during my dissertation work, including A. Milner, R. Schoch, F. Witzmann, and many helpful curators, without whom my trip to Europe to see the Nyrany and other microsaur fossils might not have been possible. I also must thank the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology for their generous Estes Memorial Grant, which allowed me to travel to the museums that were essential for my work. I am very grateful for the honor of receiving the Romer Prize and it is especially meaningful to me to have achieved the award during the annual meeting in Pittsburgh, hosted by the Carnegie Museum, where I first became involved in paleontology.
Photo courtesy of Jennifer C. Olori.