Meet Carol Tang: Paleontologist and Research AssociateMay 01, 2009
Carol Tang, a paleontologist and 1995–96 American Fellow, wants people to realize that although science is critical to understanding and solving many of the issues we face today, most scientists do science because it is fun. Carol has conducted field research in many interesting places, including England, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico. For instance, wading and snorkeling in the thermal springs at the Cuatro Cienegas basin in northeastern Mexico was all in a day’s work for Carol during one rigorous astrobiological study to find extremophiles — animals that thrive in harsh environments.
Carol says that although she considered becoming a marine biologist, her lack of swimming skills, propensity for seasickness, and dislike of dissection pushed her in a different direction. “Paleontology was just right for me. I could study the evolution of marine organisms but still stay on land — and my specimens have all been dead for millions of years!” explains Carol.
Carol used her AAUW fellowship to complete her dissertation at the University of Southern California. “Although I really loved teaching and doing outreach, it was important for me to focus on finishing up the science and the writing of the actual dissertation at that stage in my career. AAUW gave me the opportunity to really focus and not get distracted at a critical time.”
Currently, Carol is the director of visitor interpretive programs at the California Academy of Sciences, where she and her team design exhibits, train and deploy 700 volunteers, give talks to visitors, staff the resource center, and more. “We work to engage diverse audiences and inspire them to learn more about science and nature,” says Carol. In September 2008 Carol also helped open an innovative new museum in Golden Gate Park that houses an aquarium, a natural history museum, and a planetarium. One of the most innovative exhibits in the museum is called “Altered State: Climate Change in California,” which makes the issue of climate change more tangible for museum goers. Visitors can find out how to lower their carbon footprint, learn the environmental impacts of different foods, and vote on controversial topics.
Looking ahead, Carol wants to instill a sense of the playfulness of science in those around her. “It’s important to me to inspire people to appreciate the wonder of the natural world and to discover new things about it,” she says. Carol is also quick to remind us that “all it takes is curiosity and a desire to keep learning — we are all scientists if we allow ourselves to be open-minded.”