About the Society Awards Past Award Winners 2014 Mary R. Dawson Grant
Dinosaurs and other extinct animals were among my first fascinations as a child. I covered my room in dinosaur posters, encyclopedias, and news articles, in an effort to learn as much about as I could about their long lost world. I was in my early teens when the feathered dinosaurs were starting appearing in China and when my interest in this evolution became cemented. I entered the University of Maryland in 2003 and was fortunate to be admitted to the College Park Scholars: Earth, Life, and Time program, which was run by two paleontologists, Tom Holtz and John Merck. They encouraged me to add geology as a second degree (I had entered as a biology major), and guided my undergraduate career.
I took a year off after earning my Bachelors degrees and began working in a geochemistry laboratory, but in 2009 I was accepted into a Masters program at the University of Iowa to work with Chris Brochu. For my masters, I examined braincase changes in crocodylians using CT scanning and geometric morphometric techniques. This project exposed me to new imaging and analytical methods that I would come to rely on for my Ph.D and made me more eager to focus on dinosaur studies for the next step in my research.
In the fall of 2011, I entered the Richard Gilder Graduate School (RGGS) at the American Museum of Natural History. Since arriving here, I have been focused on illuminating the functional and evolutionary import of shape changes in the brains of coelurosaurian dinosaurs. I hope to understand how the neuroanatomical changes that accompanied the evolution of birds from volant to lifestyles as a reverse analogue to the theropod transition to flight.
As a component of this research, I also perform experimental work on living birds to understand how they use their brains during flighted and non - flighted behaviors. The accelerated pace of the RGGS program has been an important driver of my research success, and I will defend my dissertation next year. I then hope to earn either a teaching or a postdoctoral position at a major research institution where I can continue to expand my research program. I am excited to see where my new findings will take our understanding of dinosaurs as well as to see where my career success will take me.