Meet the team: Zach Adam

Every month, we’ll highlight a BMSIS scientist and feature them on this page. This month, Zach Adam answers our questions:

BMSIS: Please tell us a little about yourself

Zach Adam: I’m a PhD student studying geology at Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana, but before that I worked as an aerospace engineer for about 3 years. Each week, as I saw that more and more planets were being found outside our solar system by the Kepler spacecraft, I felt that my day-to-day work was taking me further and further away from what I really love and want to study. I realized that I wanted to identify and answer scientific questions about the possibility of finding life on planets and moons beyond Earth. I returned to graduate school, and established a project for myself with funding from the National Science Foundation to find 1.5 billion year old fossils in rocks in western Montana. Fossils this old are really rare and can only be found in a handful of pretty remote places around the world. Finding these fossils is important because we have a really poor understanding of how complex, multicellular life evolved from simple, single-celled organisms. In a way, I’m trying to uncover what we can think of as some of our oldest eukaryotic ancestors.

BMSIS: What motivated you to join the Blue Marble Space Institute of Science?

Zach Adam: I joined BMSIS because I had already worked with many of the scientists that formed the core of the group, and I respected their scientific feedback and insights about the potential significance and applications of my work. I have enjoyed presenting my preliminary results to my BMSIS colleagues and receiving constructive feedback about how to improve the quality of my work, how to present it in a way that is elegant and widely understood across disciplinary boundaries, and how I might expand my work to disciplines outside of my own field of paleontology.

But beyond these very practical reasons for joining, I really enjoy working with colleagues who are interested in more than just publishing scientific manuscripts. All of my colleagues in BMSIS also share a passion for experimenting with new ways of carrying out research and engaging students, teachers and members of the community. For example, the ultimate goal for the last couple of generations of scientists has been to get ‘tenured’, which basically made you the equivalent of a science pension: you have a lot of job security, you focus on research of your choosing, and teaching is not usually a high priority (if it’s required at all) for tenured faculty. But labor practices at universities are changing, and often universities find it’s cheaper to keep scientists in non-tenure-track positions for as long as possible. For practicing scientists, this may mean part-time work, reduced research facilities and funding, and in personal terms, less job security and decreased stability for things like starting families. I love that we’re trying to work with one another to figure out creative ways of collaborating and carrying out research to reduce these very unfortunate circumstances in scientific work, and I love that every member of BMSIS would still engage in educational activities even if (or perhaps even more because) they were tenured.

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