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Elise Alonzi Interview
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Elise Alonzi

Describe the project you’ll be conducting with your GWIS Fellowship funds. What do you hope to discover through this research, and how will the GWIS Fellowship help make this research happen?

I am conducting isotopic analyses on the bones and teeth of people who were buried at five medieval Irish monasteries buried between 1400 and 400 years ago. The resulting data will indicate if these people grew up in close proximity to the monasteries that they were buried at and perhaps reveal locales they lived in during different periods of their lives. I am hoping to discover if people moved very often during the medieval period, and I am hoping to uncover whether monks moved more or less than the lay people who were also buried at the monasteries. The GWIS fellowship will make this research happen by funding the chemical analyses of the archaeological teeth and bone than I have collected while on a Fulbright grant to Ireland. The GWIS fellowship will also allow me to create a baseline of isotopic values that are found throughout Ireland by analyzing modern plant samples. The human samples will be compared to the plant samples so that I can estimate where these individuals lived and moved during their lifetimes.


 

 

What’s the coolest thing about your research and/or favorite part of your job?


My favorite part of my job is using many different scientific techniques to paint a coherent picture of peoples’ lives in the past. Archaeological chemists use laboratory techniques to analyze bone and teeth, but in order to interpret the data, we incorporate information from archaeological excavations and what is known about the culture of the time through writings and history. It is fascinating to me that I can use chemical data to understand where a specific person lived 1000 years ago.

How did you end up doing what you’re doing? What was your path to becoming a scientist?


I was encouraged to pursue science by several high school teachers, including both science teachers and an English teacher who noticed a scientific tone to my writing. I was mentored by several archaeology professors during my undergraduate years. They taught me methods of excavation, field survey, and archaeological chemistry in places like Mesa Verde National Park and on the island of Inishark, a deserted island off the western coast of Galway. The field projects were fun and challenging, and the laboratory analyses were really useful to understanding the people of a past in a detailed way. I also saw that archaeologists had a high degree of flexibility to create studies that would answer questions they found interesting, and happily, I was able to combine my knowledge of archaeological chemistry and medieval Irish monasteries in my dissertation project.


What do you like to do when you aren’t working on your science?

 

When I’m not working on my science, I like to do yoga, go running, and foster dogs. Archaeology also provides a lot of opportunities to have fun while working, like helping friends with their excavations and visiting ancient sites.

Do you have any words of encouragement or advice for girls and young women who wish to pursue a career in science?


I would recommend finding supportive mentors, asking for their advice, and following their advice. Sometimes it is hard to ask for advice on an aspect of a project or a plan that worries you, but these are the most important things to seek advice about.
I also recommend attending an archaeological field school because nothing beats hands on experience.

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