The University of Texas at Austin
School of Undergraduate Studies
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Amanda Wilson

Amanda Wilson
General Geology

Amanda’s undergraduate research topic is Paleobotany and Paleoclimate Analysis of Fossil Flora from the Elko Formation in Northeastern Nevada.

“At the beginning, my work was just a box of fossils I found while field assisting, and it is cool to see that box of rocks become something more meaningful.”

Faculty Supervisor: Dr. Elizabeth Cassel, Jackson School of Geosciences

How did you initially get involved in research?

My Intro to Geology professor mentioned in class that there were a lot of research opportunities available in the Jackson School. I went and talked to her about it, and she connected me with my advisor, who was in need of a research assistant. I assist Dr. Cassel with her own research, and was recently her field assistant at her field site in Nevada. While in the field, I discovered my fossil collection that I am now analyzing.

Briefly describe your research project.

My research aims to identify a series of plant fossils I found, and to use those plants to reconstruct the climate of the area when the plants were alive (about 30 million years ago). This climate model will help us understand the changes this area of Nevada has experienced from the time of deposition to present. My plants can be used to provide mean annual temperature, mean annual precipitation, and estimate altitude for the region at deposition, which is extremely helpful in understanding the tectonic events Nevada has experienced in the late Cenozoic era.

What was the most rewarding part of your research experience?

Getting results from samples that you collected on your own is extremely rewarding. It’s really cool to see your work through from start to finish. At the beginning, my work was just a box of fossils I found while field assisting, and it is cool to see that box of rocks become something more meaningful.

How has participating in research affected your undergraduate experience?

Participating in research makes it so that I will graduate with more than a degree. I will graduate with proof I have done actual scientific work that matters, and I will graduate having learned something on my own, outside of lecture and lab. Research gives me awesome experiences, such as travel, fieldwork, and professional presentations, which are all things I cannot get from class alone.

Do you think getting involved in research will be helpful to you in the future? If so, how?

Research has definitely made me more prepared for graduate school, both as an applicant and student. I understand the whole research process much better, from field methods to writing and presenting. It has also helped me understand what areas of geologic research I am really interested in and has helped me shape my goals for the future by exposing me to different research projects in different geologic disciplines.

What advice would you give to incoming and current students about getting involved in research?

Don’t be afraid to ask your professors about their research or if they know of anyone who does the research you are interested in. The best way to get involved is to just ask! Also, be aware that as an assistant, you may have to prove yourself by starting with some tedious tasks and working your way up.