Scholar Spotlight:
Leila M. Joyce Seals

 

Leila M. Joyce Seals is a geoarchaeologist and women in S.T.E.M. blogger who is passionate about making the sciences accessible to and accepting of everyone. As a woman of color, albeit an academically privileged one, Joyce Seals is aware of the extra obstacles women and minorities face in the S.T.E.M. fields. In addition to academic work, she co-writes and administrates Blog of the LadyGeos (Check it out here), a blog about the personal and professional lives of five women geoscientists. Joyce Seals is also an administrator for The Geology Project (Click here to read more), a Spanish/English bilingual geoscience outreach page. Joyce Seals also serves as past-President of the Association for Geoscientists-Osage Chapter. Through these projects and geoscience outreach in her local community, Leila M. Joyce Seals works to provide support for and representation of women, particularly women of color, in S.T.E.M.

Leila M. Joyce Seals is currently a geoarchaeology Ph.D. candidate and Self graduate Fellow at the University of Kansas. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in anthropology from Binghamton University and a Master of Science in geology from the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez. Her professional interest includes Quaternary landscape evolution and implications for the archaeology of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, coastal and fluvial geomorphology, the Caribbean and public archaeology, geoscience outreach, and diversity in S.T.E.M.

Exclusive Interview

Tell us a little about yourself?

Hi! I’m Leila M. Joyce Seals. I’m a geoarchaeologist, science communicator, and life-in-STEM blogger. I’m Black/white biracial, I use she/her pronouns, and my favorite color is gold glitter. I have two last names because I was born and raised in Puerto Rico, where it is standard to use both of your parents’ last names. As a geoarchaeologist, I am both a geologist and an archaeologist. Geoarchaeologists study the Earth to better understand people and the environment in the not so distant past. Right now, I study soils, sediments, and the way they stack up in river valleys. With this information, I can understand what a river valley looked like thousands of years ago and how it has changed since then.

What first piqued your interest in S.T.E.M, and what led you to the archaeology and geology fields?

I’ve been fascinated by people and landscapes since I was around 7 years old. I always wanted to be an archaeologist because I loved people and learning about other cultures– especially cultures in the past. I wasn’t big into science and S.T.E.M. when I was in middle and high school, but fell back in love with archaeology when I was in college.
As for geology, I fell into it by accident. My dad is a geologist, but I only liked thinking about landscapes if I could think about people living in the landscape. While searching for a graduate program that would suit me, I was offered a neat project that combined archaeology and geology in a way that I found really interesting: I would get to study people and the Earth they lived on all at once. Fast forward to the present and I am now working towards a Ph.D. in geology, with a focus on geoarchaeology.
The more I study geology, the more fascinated I am! It is amazing to think about the planet on great big scales (such as mountain ranges forming over millions of years) and on tiny scales (like how all crystals have a distinct shape (called a habit) and will keep that distinct shape whether they are very small or very large). Earth is an incredible set of systems. Studying geology and archaeology makes me feel like I can zoom in and out on the Earth the way you would zoom in and out on a picture on your phone.

What is your favorite part about your job?

My favorite part is getting to investigate! I’m a very curious person, and I like puzzles. I like taking little pieces of information and putting them together to try to understand the bigger picture.I also really like that I get to be outside. Not every geologist or archaeologist does field-work, which is good because we need people who like to be in labs, who would rather study the world and people through microscopes or computers. But I love spending all day covered in dirt, with the sun over my head.

What is something you wish more people know about your job and what you do?

Geologists study more than just rocks! We study the whole Earth system– from oceans and plants to the atmosphere, and animals that no longer exist. We study the inside of the Earth, and the outside, too. Some of us even study other planets through images and collected samples!

What words of encouragement do you have for junior scholars interested in pursuing a S.T.E.M. field?
Try not to get discouraged if you struggle with one or more S.T.E.M. fields. Just keep trying your best and ask for help when you need it.

Everyone, even the top people in S.T.E.M. struggle sometimes. No one knows everything or is good at everything. This is why S.T.E.M. research is always a team effort. Sometimes that team effort looks like lots of people working together in a lab. Sometimes it’s many researchers each working on a different piece of the puzzle and putting it all together later on. Sometimes it’s just your buddy helping explain something you are struggling to understand.

Try not to get discouraged; S.T.E.M. is for everyone who wants to be a part of it!

If you would like to be featured as our next Scholar Spotlight, please contact Briana Simms at stemedbybri@gmail.com