Meghan Rose Forcellati

Laidlaw Scholar, Columbia University
  • Columbia University
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  • United States of America

About Meghan Rose Forcellati

I am a rising junior interested in evolutionary biology, vertebrate paleontology, and evolution. The majority of my interests and experience have been focusing on archosaurs, a group which among other animals includes birds, dinosaurs, pterosaurs, and crocodiles. I would like to tackle larger questions such as how to identify species in fossil taxa through quantifying variation in living groups of organisms. I have been interning at the American Museum of Natural History in Ornithology and then in Vertebrate Paleontology over the past three years. I also participated in an independent research project studying a Spinosaurid maxilla from the Kem Kem beds of Morocco.

I am a/an:

Undergraduate Scholar

Area of Expertise

Science

Research Topic

Biological Sciences Earth Sciences & Geography

University

Columbia University

Influencer Of

Topics

Rooms participated in:

Columbia University

Recent Comments

Replying to Bethel Ikenna Adiele

Week 5

What new skills and/or knowledge have you gained from your summer experience? Have you met anyone who has been instrumental in shaping/helping you conduct your project? Briefly, how has this person impacted you? What have you learned about leadership from this individual, and how might it influence your actions, work, and self in the future?

By virtue of being introduced me to the world of linguistic data analysis, using python, I've started to learn new research methodologies. We're currently running descriptive statistics on the languages and comments from the different online, public forums where conversations on vaccines are held. Though, I am not a computer scientist, merging language and machine learning to discern patterns in vaccine hesitant language provides insight into the public health battle that we are facing right now in the United States. 

My two research mentors, Dr. Dennis Tenen and Dr. Rishi Goyal have been really encouraging and helpful in this research journey. They really exemplify the style of participative leadership, allowing for me and my fellow undergraduate teammates to have a say on how we approach the project. Not only are they keen in hearing our insights and taking them seriously, they are very supportive, open to talk about research but even our personal interests and goals in the future and how they could be of support to that. I am truly grateful for them, and hope to be a supportive leader just as they are!

Hi Bethel: It looks like you've learned a lot of really interesting and useful new methodology for finding solutions to very prescient questions. :) I'm glad you've had this opportunity; it also  sounds like you have really great mentors!     

6th week video: https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/14evnQkg9MyZCM66b8iA6cnLDoxpna5v8?usp=sharing

Replying to Kate Marsh

For week four, I am discussing the difficulties I have encountered this summer. One stand-out difficulty for me was the isolation of working virtually and from home. While I also had an experience like this last summer during Laidlaw, I found the isolation to be much more frustrating this summer, while things were opening up and some of my friends did have in-person opportunities. For this summer in particular, I found it isolating that I only had one meeting a week with my supervisor and did not get the chance to meet any of the other interns. This has helped me decide that after college I would like to work in a collaborative environment and in an office or work environment. I have tackled the problem by communicating with my boss more frequently and talking to friends more outside of work, although I just do not think that this type of independent research is a field I would like to continue longterm. 

My work has narrowed significantly since the beginning of the project. Originally, my role was part of a team working to predict water contamination issues; however, I was moved to an independent research project about just Texas, which then I narrowed to an independent research project about how extreme weather events affect the public water systems in Texas. This project fits my interests in climate change and the effects of weather/nature on human life. 

Hi Kate: Yes! I completely relate to the isolation being super super difficult. It is so, so hard to work remotely! You're very strong for going through this. I hope that you get many experiences in-person in the near future! It's great that you found a project you like, and especially so since your project relates to climate change. If you ever want to set up a Zoom group work session, let me know, because I also have the same issue where working from home feels very difficult. I've found Zooming someone while we're both working helps relieve some of the difficulty (An idea I credit Anna Nuttle for, who suggested we do this to study together during the school year). :)

Week Five:
What new skills and/or knowledge have you gained from your summer experience? Have you met anyone who has been instrumental in shaping/helping you conduct your project? Briefly, how has this person impacted you? What have you learned about leadership from this individual, and how might it influence your actions, work, and self in the future?

I have learned a lot about how to lead a study and what morphological traits can be used to approximate ecology in fossil organisms, which is very useful for trying to reconstruct or understand past extinction events. One person who has been instrumental in helping how I conduct my project is James, the graduate student in my lab who has been overseeing much of the work and who is also leading the project with me. James has been very kind, generous with his time, and patient towards me. Furthermore, he has helped give me advice for what to do if I would like to continue pursuing research like this in the future.

One thing which I've learned is that leadership is something which can be adapted to the person or people who are being led and the situation they are in. I've been working with James for 3 years now. When we first started working together, it was much more structured, and the types of projects we were doing were less individualistic on my end. However, as I've matured, James has helped me get started on being one of the leads in a study and take more ownership of the projects I am doing. I think this was very effective because while I was not ready to lead my own study when I got to college, the skills I learned in previous work with James helped me develop this maturity. James has also always made sure to be respectful and kind towards me. I think having a leader like James, who is personable, empathetic, adaptable, and willing to go the extra mile to make sure that their team is able to succeed is very valuable. In the future, I really hope to mentor undergraduates and help them succeed. I am grateful to have had many wonderful role models who have taught me so much about leadership through their own actions as leaders. :)

Replying to Lillian Rountree

Week Six:

For your final post, upload a video presentation to our site. In your presentation, please discuss your project: why did you become interested in it, what was the goal of the project, what was its significance or impact (real or potential). Finally, please consider how your understanding of leadership (curiosity, empathy, teamwork, resilience, etc.) has informed your work or been deepened by your work.

Here is the link for my video (accessible via Columbia emails)!  https://drive.google.com/file/d/1WMJeZOWgn4ZfHJqwnoluZdsBJboFmcA4/view?usp=sharing 

It's been a really enlightening internship, and I'm so happy to have been able to do it. Good luck to everyone else still working on their projects!

Hi Lillian: You are so confident when you present about your research, and your presentation skills are great! It sounds like it was a phenomenal opportunity and that the work you are doing will have a huge impact for many young women! :) I'm so happy for you! 

Replying to Lillian Rountree

Week Six:

For your final post, upload a video presentation to our site. In your presentation, please discuss your project: why did you become interested in it, what was the goal of the project, what was its significance or impact (real or potential). Finally, please consider how your understanding of leadership (curiosity, empathy, teamwork, resilience, etc.) has informed your work or been deepened by your work.

Here is the link for my video (accessible via Columbia emails)!  https://drive.google.com/file/d/1WMJeZOWgn4ZfHJqwnoluZdsBJboFmcA4/view?usp=sharing 

It's been a really enlightening internship, and I'm so happy to have been able to do it. Good luck to everyone else still working on their projects!

Hi Lillian: I requested access. Can't wait to watch your video! It sounds like you're very passionate about your project and, from your week five post, that you've learned a lot in this experience. I hope you feel proud of all you've accomplished! Please share the video when you get the chance. :)

Week 4

What challenges and/or difficulties have you encountered and how did you go about resolving them? Speak to a specific challenge you have encountered and some of the ways that you tackled the problem.

This week, I tried loading my external hard drive onto the computer, and realized the files had gotten corrupted! I was terrified because even a day of progress is a significant amount of work, and last week I had a particularly productive day, so losing all of that data would have been a huge setback. Luckily, my adviser James saved the day by contacting a colleague at Yale who explained a way for us to import an old copy of the image stack into the external hard drive, and then export ROI's from the old file into a new one we created. I was so grateful that my colleagues were able to help solve this issue as it was a very frightening experience. :)

Another challenge I run into often is handling the work from home situation in general. Because I work hybrid, I am able to appreciate how much of a productivity/efficiency tax there is trying to work from home versus in-person. For me, I work about twice as fast at the museum than at home. The way I work around this is by working slightly longer hours when I am at home and focusing more on goals than on "times." In other words, I try to finish tasks I give myself rather than on working for a set period of time. 

Another challenge I run into is getting nervous about timelines. I find spending a bit of time dividing tasks up into mini-deadlines helps me feel less nervous about how much progress I am making. 

If anyone has encountered similar issues or has similar stories, feel free to share. Advice would be appreciated on tackling these types of problems, as I'm sure other people have much better ways of handling them than me, haha. :)

Week 3

What does a typical day of your research/community engagement look like? Aside from a narrative description, upload a photo, video and/or other multimedia!

I am currently working hybrid. On days when I work at the American Museum of Natural History, I catch the bus and the subway to the AMNH. Once I am there, I badge in and wait for James, my graduate adviser. We usually discuss research together for a few minutes while we set up. Then, I start working on segmenting in the AMNH segmenting room. 

Segmenting is when you label individual bones in a CT scan slice to export them for 3D reconstruction of the fossils you are examining. I do this both at home and at the AMNH, but the AMNH has a computer setup for segmentation which can handle a much larger file size and which is much easier to use than my current home setup. As a consequence, at home I work on a smaller specimen, while at the AMNH I work on a larger specimen which requires more computing power to segment. 

I am able to segment about 7-12 bones per day, depending on the size of the bones, using the AMNH setup. I usually do this while listening to music. I will frequently reach out to James or Dalton, my co-authors, if I have a question about certain aspects of the anatomy. Because bones often get disarticulated during fossilization, this means sometimes which bones are which on the CT slices can be difficult to discern. I also meet with Professor Raxworthy, my adviser, to discuss research questions and also to discuss studying/comparing with extant anguids. 

As I pack up to leave, I always take pictures of the bones of the skull I have completed so far. This way, I can continue drafting the description for the paper even when I am not at the museum. 

Here are some photos! I tried to include some scenic NYC photos to make my fellow Columbians happy. :)

The one where I am wearing blue is in the segmenting room. You can see the AMNH setup with a tablet. The three panels which form an L and are all in 2D represent the 3 axes of slices for the CT scans. You can color on any of these axes, and switch axes if a suture is more visible in a different view. The bottom right panel displays a 3D model of what you are segmenting. You can use it to orient yourself and also visualize your segmenting, to make sure that your segmentation has been done correctly. I do not have it shown in the photo, but I also have my laptop set up, with key papers on anguid research. These help guide me in knowing what shapes the bones are, where the sutures would be, and whether or not there are strange aspects of the anatomy in the specimen I am looking at. 

The others are waiting for/in the bus and in the "Canoe Room" (77th Street entrance) of the AMNH! 

https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1eK26HlleTpFCjMYxWy8PZSj0yrfJ6T5q?usp=sharing

Hi Lillian: Thank you! I definitely am living out my childhood dream and more. I always thought I would only be doing dinosaur research; as a kid, I never would have expected that I'd be studying anguid lizards at the museum! I really hope that you'll be able to have a hands-on opportunity soon. :) Even if your current experience is remote, I'm sure the top-notch work you are doing will open up doors in the near future. I also hope you'll get the chance to meet your adviser(s) in-person and spend lots of fun quality time with them once the pandemic is over!