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Kathryn L. Ranhorn Interview
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Kathryn L. ranhorn

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?

As an archaeologist, I will use my GWIS Fellowship to study stone artifacts from Kisese II, a rock shelter in Tanzania that I excavated in 2017. The artifacts date to the Middle and Late Stone Age, a time when early modern humans were evolving in Africa. I will investigate how human technology at the site changed over time, focusing on proxies that are indicative of forager mobility, demography, and cultural transmission. The GWIS fellowship will help me by funding my travel to Tanzania, the necessary research permits, and the cost of field logistics.

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

The best part of my job is interacting with people from different cultural backgrounds, especially in Tanzania and Kenya. Learning about different life ways and languages has broadened my perspective in ways I didn’t expect. Aside from the great people I get to meet, the best part of my job is waking up in a tent every day, seeing wildlife on the way to a site, and spending the day surveying landscapes and excavating sites. I discover something new every day in the field. 



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

My path was not straightforward. I grew up in a small southern town in central Florida. I loved being outside, and I did well in math and biology. When I first got to college (University of Florida) I was pre-med, but after my first Anthropology class, I was hooked and changed my major. I traveled to Tanzania a year later, in January 2008, to study at the University of Dar es Salaam. It was there that I met Fidelis Masao who invited me to Olduvai Gorge, a world-famous paleoanthropology site. I knew pretty much immediately that I wanted to work there forever, but I wasn’t quite sure how. Over the next three years I explored different avenues of anthropology and eventually settled on human origins, particularly archaeology. Great mentors and early scholarship programs, like McNair, were instrumental in helping me find my path. I took a gap year after college, at which point I went back to Tanzania to do non-profit work, and applied to PhD programs for human evolution. I did my PhD at George Washington University from 2011-2017.


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

I enjoy traveling more than anything. I like getting off the plane in a new place, seeing different ways of life, and meeting new people. Back at home I enjoy food, music, and crime shows.


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

Never give up. When you feel down, remove yourself from the situation and surround yourself with positive mentors and role models. I have learned that a lot of my self-doubt was subconsciously fed to me by others. It means sometimes leaving old circles and finding newer, healthier ones. Also, follow the little voice in your heart, however minutely palpable it may seem. It’s your only compass.

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