About the Society Awards Past Award Winners 2012 Dawson - Heers

I first became interested in fossils in 7th grade: “Santa” (my dad) put a fossilized nut in my stocking without knowing what it was; our efforts to learn more about that fossil, and fossils in general led us to many bookstores and prompted many fossil hunting expeditions. I was quickly hooked – especially on dinosaurs. While working on a report in high school, I read that birds were the descendents of dinosaurs; after that, I became very interested in birds.


I attended college at the University of California, Davis, double majoring in Geology and “Evolution and Ecology”. I was still very interested in birds and dinosaurs, and knew I wanted to pursue my Ph.D., but I wasn’t fully convinced that I wanted to research until I completed a senior thesis, under Dr. Ryosuke Motani. For my project I measured center of mass in several different species of birds, in several different postures, as part of an effort to estimate center of mass in extinct theropods. I fell in love with the idea of exploring questions that no one knew the answer to.


I applied for graduate schools my last year at Davis. I actually applied to the University of Montana (UM) at the last minute – I hadn’t even heard of UM, but on a trip to Berkeley I mentioned my interests to Kevin Padian, who promptly informed me that I needed to go to the University of Montana and work with Ken Dial. So I applied. My first interview was with Ken. I immediately fell in love with Montana, and knew I wanted to go there.


Since coming to Montana, I have been working a lot with baby birds, learning how birds locomote both on the ground and in the air and using this knowledge to try and better understand both the development and evolution of locomotor strategies in the theropodavian lineage.


I will be defending my dissertation next year, and then (fingers crossed!) pursuing a post doctorate and a research / teaching position at a university. My greatest dream and ambition has always been to research and teach at a university, and to make an impact as both a scientist and a mentor. I will be forever grateful to all of the people who have helped me along the way, and given me the tools to pursue this dream: my family, friends, advisors, and fellow students.